Long ago, when I was a child, I had a dear friend who was — or seemed to be — totally loaded. When this young man grew up, he went into the minerals business. He did fabulously well, at first. He had two Rolls-Royces and an immense house. He had a private jet. When he went to a fine restaurant, he would order one of every entree just so he didn’t miss out on anything.
Then, he made an enormous bet on commodities prices and personally guaranteed the debt. The price moved against him. He could not service the loan, and he went broke.
Now, he’s in his 70s, and he’s in poor health and he occasionally gets money from me. He also gets a tiny Social Security check. He lives extremely modestly and is apologetic about asking. In grim tones, he tells me he has no one else to ask.
A few days ago when he said that, a shiver went through me. I have enough savings for now. But what if some catastrophic thing happened? My parents are long gone. Most of my friends are living modestly (with a few exceptions, none of whom would be willing to help me in any meaningful way). If I ran into serious trouble, I would have no one to ask for help.
I am not asking for pity. By most standards I have enough. But here’s my point: as we age, and as our parents pass away and our strength is not what it was when we were 30, bad things can still happen to us financially. If they do, who is there available to help us?
We, ourselves, are the only ones we can reliably count on. The younger us has to be the one who cares for the older us. The young Ben Stein who made a bit of money and saved and invested it, is the one who is the only one who is available to help the mature Ben Stein. That’s the way it is for almost all of us.
I agree that this sounds obvious. But it’s endlessly amazing to me how many Americans there are out there who count on some money magic for the future.
There is none. There are just careful, sensible plans for retirement and for the older years. They are a whole lot easier if you have a reputable professional helping you with a plan. Warren Buffett likes to say that an idiot with a plan can beat a genius with no plan — and he’s right.
Where money and aging are concerned, you have to be your own best friend. You have no choice — except poverty and fear, and those are poor choices.