My twenty-three year old daughter is moving into her first apartment. As an undergraduate, she resided in rambling university houses with friends. This time she’ll be living on her own in a rented one-bedroom condo. It’s a significant step for her and, in a certain way, for me.
Observing her map out her next years at graduate school makes me consider where I was in my life when I was twenty-three. Having retired two years ago, it’s worth ruminating on where I might have been today if I had done things differently –or better yet what I did right to get me where I am.
If I could, this is what I what tell my much younger self, the idealistic woman who was intending to study literature and eventually teach English at university, reside in a quaint Victorian in downtown Toronto and publish many books before I retired.
1. Have faith in your talent. Don’t bother second-guessing if you are good enough to belong in your chosen profession or if you are the best in your field. The truth is by the time you get to graduate school teachers and other evaluators have vetted you for twenty years. If you’ve made it this far, you’ll succeed by staying the course.
2. Finish what your start. Advanced education, new jobs, new locations, new friends are daunting and the easiest path is to change direction in mid-flight. Don’t. I didn’t complete my Ph.D and the repercussions have haunted me throughout an otherwise long and successful career.
3. Rely on family, mentors and friends. From time to time, you’ll need a helping hand. Be glad you’re surrounded by people who love and admire you. Don’t be shy asking for advice. At the same time, try not to be too easily swayed. In your heart, you know what’s good for you. Believe what your inner voice is telling you and remember the longest conversation you’ll ever have is with yourself.
4. Plan for the future. Your twenties are landmark years. It’s time to begin saving for your first home, opening a RRSP and TFSA and joining the economic world. Twenty-somethings who put this off, have a more difficult time establishing their independence in their thirties or, God forbid, forties. Saving habits will carry you through the lean years, which are bound to come. Prudent management of your resources will put you in a realistic position to make the life decisions that every adult needs to make. In the case of an RRSP, it can function as the down payment on your first home. Since you can move money in and out of the TFSA account without penalty, it’s a terrific place to save for big purchases or to start the long, arduous climb to ensuring a secure retirement.
5. If you assume that the stars will forever align in your favour, you’re going to be mighty disappointed. Steel yourself for the unknowable and the usual setbacks. The majority of retirees in Canada today are realizing they do not have the income they’ll need to sustain them for twenty years. A recent study by HomeEquity Bank, Dreams and Reality, reveals how vulnerable retirees can be to surges in interest rates, dips in the stock market, or pension variations that can interfere with retirement dreams if you don’t have solid long-term solutions that factor in increased longevity. Another recent study conducted by the Angus Reid Institute showed that nearly half of Canadian respondents retired earlier than expected because of circumstances beyond their control. If you wait until your sixties to figure out what you’ll need in retirement, you’re probably in for a rude surprise.
What Might Have Been:
1. If I stayed the course and finished my Ph.D in English, no matter how daunting the task, I would have been able to teach at the university level. I might have been encouraged to find the time and energy to write books while fully employed. Instead I’m drafting my second book during retirement.
2. I relied too heavily on the advice of strangers rather than my family who knew me best and what would make me successful or happy or both.
3. I believed for many years that the future would take care of itself. It didn’t. The older I got, the more I realized that financial and personal planning wins the gold star every time. Had I started earlier to make sound planning a part of my life, I’d be enjoying a higher standard of living today.
4. Paying down my mortgage and contributing to CPP and my workplace pension are making my retirement years pretty secure. Without these things, I’d be sunk. More personal savings would have made it even better as would moving less often. The first house I purchased –-not a quaint inner-city Victorian, but a 1920’s semi far from the centre of town– was the best, but I’ve moved many times, each time to the detriment of my pocket book.
5. My life has had its share of ups and downs. Without adversity, I’d be a thoughtless and selfish person. Instead I’ve learned that kindness and generosity brings serenity. Being judgmental and nasty only makes you cranky.
As I head into my mid-sixties, I’m most curious to see how my daughter manages her twenties. Will any of my hard-earned lessons influence her? Will the daily grind for Millennials be so different than it was for Boomers, that our experiences won’t help our kids make intelligent decisions?
Either way, don’t let anyone tell you that money isn’t important. It is, but how you come by that money is crucial. By working my entire adult life in jobs I enjoyed and was qualified for —and not counting on someone else to support me— I tried my best to chart a meaningful life and a steady financial future. In the end, what else matters?