Never Enough Money But Always Too Much of It

Meeting with CFPs feels very adult and yet very depressing at the same time. Too much shit has gone on in the last few months to handle, and on top of all that I’m turning 35 next month which seems like a substantial age which no longer has the veneer of youth on it at all. Thirty-five is, if you live to 70, middle age.

I’ve spent the last decade-and-a-half obsessing over money in somewhat nonproductive ways. Twice a month I’ve typed my networth calculations into my trusted google spreadsheet that goes back to my early 20s when I had about $20,000 or less to my name (that’s now over $600,000.) I know I spend too much on things I don’t need still, but spending is the only thing that makes me feel in any control in this crazy world. Of course that sense of control is not real and fleeting.

My question du jour is if I should pay a CFP $5000 a year or ~1% of my portfolio ($6k and growing) to help manage my family’s finances, or if I can (and should) do this on my own. I feel like even though I’m probably much more fiscally literate than most people my age, I’ve gotten to the point it’s time to bring in the experts. No more randomly buying Vanguard funds and individual stocks… I don’t even know if I’ve beat or lost to the S&P 500. And I don’t have life insurance. Or a will. Or an estate plan. Or an open dialogue with my husband about money.

The keeping our finances separate plan works well until it doesn’t. I realize that right now as the person who makes more money he’s allowing me without guilt to spend as I wish with the money I earn–but one day the tables may turn and I may choose to or no longer be able to work… what then? Perhaps I can save enough to “early retire” but in reality that doesn’t seem possible. I mean–maybe, if his family really contributes $1M to our joint housing in the near future–and we find a cost-effective duplex for something like $1.5M, and I pay the mortgage off as quickly as possible so our fixed expenses are very low… then, perhaps my expertise in my industry can garner me a few freelance contracts a year that will cover maintaining my lifestyle and also getting my car fixed every once in a while.

I just hate this suffocating feeling of locking myself into anything financially. I called a loan agent at a bank to learn more about mortgages and get a sense what we’d qualify for. He went through some basic questions and when he got to the part about debt he didn’t believe me that we have no debts. He asked me about 10 times… “you sure you don’t have any debts” and he was shocked. I told him there’s about $1000 on the credit cards and that gets paid off monthly. We drive used cars, paid in cash. Our credit scores are 755 and 800+. I guess we’ve had the privilege to avoid debt and beyond that neither of us believes in spending more than we have.

So why, after 35 years of that working, change that now?

I’m not so sure. In theory, owning property and not having to pay for a chunk of it (since his mother WANTS to gift us that money and she’ll be living there as well) is smart financially. Even with her $1M in cash we can’t get a place for all of us… we’ll need to spend $1.5M to $2M. And the $1.5M options will likely require either a lot of work, a huge commute, or both.

I go back and forth on what to do. My latest and greatest idea is to rent a house or townhouse with his father that’s much closer to my work. We pay $2400 a month for our one bedroom and his father pays $1800 for his tiny apartment, so together we’d have $4200 without changing what we’re paying to rent a house. There isn’t much you can get for $4200 that would work for us, but bump that up to $5000 a month and there are some reasonably nice houses near my office that we can rent. The price will go up annually, and we’ll lose our rent control, but realistically how long can we last in our one bedroom apartment with a child anyway? The plan was one year…  but I’m starting to think six months, max.

I don’t know. I want someone to come in and provide all the answers. My father seemed like the type of person who would do that in my life, but we never talked about money. He didn’t understand how I managed my money, or why I chose to rent a small apartment, or perhaps he didn’t care. All he cared about was me getting married and having children… and not needing him to fund my life, I guess. I’d like to ask him what to do still, but he’s gone, and I know I never could ask him about finances because he’d make some snide comment and make me uncomfortable–either saying I’m rich and expect me to pay for everything and judge my semi frugal lifestyle choices, or he’d be concerned about my finances and offer to provide support even though, as I now know, he didn’t have the resources to provide at all. But, I wish I had a father who I could talk to about money, especially since that’s what he did for a living. I thought about telling him what I had in the bank… I wanted, more than anything, for him to be proud of how well I’ve saved, how smart I was with my money… but he’d just think I was a failure for not being able to afford a home, or a failure for being able to afford a home and choosing not to.

It doesn’t matter now since he’s gone, dead to cardiac arrest and a host of suspicious medical decisions and actions and non-actions that will haunt me and fill me with guilt until the day I die. One day I need to write all that out, but it’s much too painful right now, and I’m spent. I’m petrified of this horrid negotiation with HR and my boss about my maternity leave that has gone on far too long, I’m reeling in PPD-tinged grief and a lifetime of depression raging through my veins and causing daily meltdowns, gasping for air and unable to find any in a fully-oxygenated room.

And I try to tell myself, hey, dad lived to 67, that’s really good–that so many people lose their lives much younger. That tsunamis and mass shootings and disease take so many far too soon. He lived his life and made many decisions that led to his passing, though it’s unclear if he could have lived longer if the doctors didn’t completely mess up and fail to communicate or provide him proper care.. but how can one cry over 67 when so many fail to make it that far?

Still… I cry. I mourn the loss of my father, as confused and complicated as our relationship was, and how sad I was for him as he lived his life with so much anxiety and feeling like he could never fully provide for a wife and family that overspent left and right. I keep thinking this is just a nightmare and I’ll wake up and he’ll still be there, and we’ll still be figuring out how to navigate the healthcare system and get him the care he needs all while he makes it through one delirious episode after the next, and we wonder how far gone is his, but surely he’s not all gone.

He is. And that’s life. I sit in my rocking chair and stare at the little person I’ve created now 8 weeks old and am in awe of how fast he’s grown. I know the coming years will storm by and I’ll be left on the other side of them, wrinkled and grey, still wondering what happened. I can’t believe how slow childhood goes and how fast adulthood shoots by. I’m fighting my mind that wants time to disappear so everything hurt less and my heart that wants everything to slow down even if it hurts more.

So here I am, on extended disability leave and counting the days until I have to go back to work… to a job I don’t feel confident in (though I actually like, mostly)… to one I must keep in order to provide for my family. I understand what my father must have felt like as the breadwinner although as a woman and one who has a husband who has a job I’m not in this all alone–but still alone in being capable of earning enough income to create the life I want for my family (although to be fair my husband’s future inheritance is maybe worth equal or more than what I’m capable of earning in my lifetime.) Still, that’s a long time off and today I’m looking at this life and wondering what it is I want, because it’s becoming more clear with the passing of my father, the birth of my child, and my own aging officially to my mid 30s. I know I want a sizable family–2 to 3 kids–and a home large enough to accommodate us all, and the funds to travel on occasion to trips to local camping grounds and distant adventures. And I want time–which seems to contradict all of that–time to see my family and not have the years pass by and before I know it I’ve afforded a decent house and a few vacations and other than that I’ve never seen my kids (that’s what life was like for my dad… maybe he liked it that way… but I don’t want a life like that.)

I’m continuously terrified of trying to make this work. I am a mom now and that’s really all that matters. Time will disappear if I let it, or if I don’t, but maybe I can grasp it tightly and try to slow it down a bit–cherish every day, every moment, every baby freakout and future temper tantrum and teenage meltdown… and the sweet moments as well. I’ll try to avoid this crippling anxiety… the spinning in circles about every what if even if one may eventually be the what if that pans out. And, I’ll see what I can do about making the money situation be ok… enough ok that it won’t be a disaster for my family if I lose my job or just can’t work due to my mental state. I’ve got a long way to go, but I think I at least know the road I ought to take.

 

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4 comments

  1. georgehpuck says:

    May I suggest that 1% per year is entirely too much.

    MOST CFP’s are going to jam you with too much in bonds and/ or suggest a whole web of annuities or whole life garbage.

    At most 15 or 20 year term life insurance, follow up with just a standard boring Vanguard S&P 500. If you want to get fancy put some into the Vanguard fund that tracks the whole market.

    Its not a standard recommendation, but I just don’t see any reason for bonds in this environment with bond yields near all time lows.

    If anything, dig up a fee only CFP, spend a few hundred dollars for a couple of hours to go over things like retirement, trusts, wills etc.

    Don’t, please don’t spend $5,000/year to have someone underperform the S&P 500.

    The only advantage to a CFP when picking investments is they are more likely to encourage you to begin investing and to stay invested in a downturn. You can do both for a LOT less than $5,000/year.

    Look with a small portion of our portfolio we dabble in stocks, but there isn’t anything magical, and frankly, our low cost Vanguard funds have whipped up on the part of our portfolio we dabble in.

    Hope my encouragement helps.

  2. Angie says:

    I lost my dad three days before I had my first child. I’m so sorry that you’re dealing with both life changes simultaneously. Best of luck in these hard times.

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