As I wrap up with my work this evening, looking at a spreadsheet of retiree names and numbers, I can't help but wonder about the number floating next to my own name when my time comes - and those next to my parents and other loved ones.
Account Balance: $2,592,223
Strange how a lifetime of saving and setbacks, windfalls and expenditures condense into a single figure. Viewed through a spreadsheet, it's easy to forget that a lifetime of stories and experiences pour into each and every number. Heartbreaks, near-misses ... the unexpected expense, the well-deserved raise ... it's all in there, a tidy figure that they trust me to invest for them wisely.
Account Balance: $1,694,926
Each number is the distilled confluence of that person's ambition and circumstance, effort and blind luck, multiplied by the weight of time; stories of triumphs and disappointments blurring together to a single sum that must sustain you throughout the twilight of your years. If you're lucky, the number is comfortably large, large enough that I can help you make plans for how to distribute six-figure shots of cash to your favorite causes or relatives.
Account Balance: $224,891
Then my eyes drift to the other figures ... figures of people who have twenty or thirty years of actuarial life-expectancy, but only ten year's worth of money to live on. If you're one of those poor bastards with more life left than money, the choices I present are much grimmer - I become the bearer of bad news, the prophet of doom who must walk people through unpleasant possibilities: they desperately need the high-average-return that aggressive investments yield, yet their already-precarious financial situation makes them unsuitable candidates for such a portfolio. I gently suggest cutting expenses, returning to the workforce, or liquidating assets ... but as much as I'd like to help, nothing will change the fact that their trip to the terminal station of life will be one spent in steerage, an eye on that declining balance, hoping the figure next to their name is depleted right when their train pulls in the that final stop.
And to you, Constant Reader ... may the stories of your lives be abundant with meaningful moments, and may the number next to your name remain sufficient to care for you and your loved ones for as long as you live.
Account Balance: $0.00