Many of you are no doubt familiar with the old saw about friendship: If you want a friend in this life, get a dog. Well, I came up with a take-off on this old saw for wealth-building: If you want to be rich in this life, don’t have friends and children.
My new saw is rather witty (if I do say so, myself). And it certainly has merit. Friends, after all, especially if they’ve developed a fondness for high-end goods and services, can be a major drag on your finances. And children, given the cost of food, clothing, shelter, health care, and education, will be a major drag on your finances.
But how empty would your life be if it were completely devoid of friends and children?
So friends and children are definitely cool. And if surrounding your life with friends and children means your quest for financial independence is delayed by twenty years, I would encourage you to forego early retirement and have friends and children. Financial independence can wait. Having a brokerage account with a lot of zeroes is great. But having a decades-long relationship with loving friends and children is profoundly better.
Who from the Fab Five Will Step Up?
On the friends front, Mrs. Groovy and I have done exceedingly well. We’ve always had great friends. In fact, I’m getting together this weekend with friends I’ve known since 1973.
But on the children front, Mrs. Groovy and I haven’t done so well. We got married in our early 40s. It was the first marriage for both of us. And before we got married, we decided not to have kids. We just felt we were too old to do parenthood correctly. Now maybe we were wrong. Maybe we had the physical and emotional fortitude to pull it off. But the thought of having a 15-year-old when we were 60 really unnerved us.
So, yes, not having kids will always be one of our deepest regrets. I can’t imagine the joy one feels when one is holding one’s newborn child.
But there’s something else that concerns me about being childless. There’s the emotional and spiritual side of having kids, and then there’s the practical side of having kids. At some point in the future, Mrs. Groovy and I will become physically and mentally feeble. Who will step in at that point? Who will protect us from the scam artists that prey on the elderly? Who will find a suitable nursing home for us should that need arise? Who will make sure we die with dignity?
Over the past ten years, I’ve lost all of my grandparents. (My last grandparent, Nanna Groovy on my mother’s side, died this past February.) And as each of their connections to this mortal world began to slip, it was their children and grandchildren who rushed in—willingly and lovingly, I may add—to provide comfort and care. It wasn’t their friends who scoped out nursing homes. It wasn’t their brothers and sisters who managed their finances. It wasn’t their cousins who made sure their meals were prepared, their medications were taken, and their doctor appointments were kept. It was their children and grandchildren.
Mrs. Groovy and I are not without hope. We have three nephews and two nieces—the Fab Five, as we call them. And they are actually very nice young men and women with sound morals. They also have a great role model in Mrs. Groovy. Mrs. Groovy and my brother-in-law have done yeoman work in caring for their elderly aunt. Their aunt, an identical twin of their mother, was the mother of Cousin Joe who sadly passed away last month. But even before his untimely death, Cousin Joe was in no position to care for his mother. If Mrs. Groovy and my brother-in-law hadn’t stepped in to fill the void, Groovy Aunt, who is suffering from dementia, would have been screwed. And I shudder to think how the past few years of her life would have played out.
So the odds are favorable that one of the Fab Five will be there for us when our bodies falter and our minds turn to mush. But you never know. Things happen. The Fab Five may have their hands full with their own parents.
In financial planning circles, it’s common to think of only two phases: the accumulation phase, where the goal is to create the largest nest egg possible; and the withdrawal phase, where the goal is to provide retirement income and make sure the nest egg lasts. But perhaps we should consider another phase: the incapacity phase.
Who will manage your affairs when you’re no longer able?
This is where children come in. Your best defense against the perils of the incapacity phase are your own children. True, children don’t always do right by their parents. And, yes, others can certainly fill the void (nieces, nephews, social workers, etc.). But who will feel the greatest need to manage your affairs well, to be your strongest advocate? Who will raise holy hell if a doctor, health aide, or bureaucrat screws up? More than likely, it will be someone who has your DNA.