Retirement plans, 401(k), investing, savings, wills, life insurance, who gets the kids, and who knows your passwords?
I write all of this from the heart. Last week I had the very sad and unfortunate experience of attending the funeral of a dear friend. She was a single mother and left behind two almost adult age children who are not yet prepared for a life without a parent. I can write this knowing that my friend was always a fan of my column, and one of my biggest cheerleaders. Her unexpected death has brought up many important questions- the kind that singles tend to ignore or forget to plan.
If there is one place singles could do better in their lives, it is planning for the future. Let's face it, way too many singles are waiting for marriage to plan their futures. Women are particularly bad about not saving for retirement, or buying a home, or even committing to a real career path, because their plan is to get married and not need to worry about any of that. This is a bad idea. A really bad idea.
Singles, do you have a retirement plan? Do you know at what age you will be able to retire? Or do you plan to die at your desk, at the job that ended up being the focus of your life, because you never found love, marriage, and a family of your own?
If you get sick and hospitalized tomorrow, who will help you? Do you have family nearby? Do you have a friend who will be able to drop everything and hold your hand at the hospital? If you miss a lot of work, how will you pay the bills? Or will you be suddenly turning to family members and your ward to save you because you failed to prepare for the future?
Who Gets the Kids?
Single parents, both mothers and fathers, in the horrible and unfortunate event of your untimely and unexpected death, do you have someone put in writing who will take custody of your children? Will your ex get them? Will that person be in a financial position to take your children? Will he or she make it a priority to keep your parents and siblings a part of your child's life? Did you pick your child's “godmother” because she was a fun friend at the time? Or did you pick the most responsible person? And again, more important than anything else, did you put it in writing where someone will be able to find it?
I am fortunate to be named the “godmother” to the children of a few of my dearest friends. Over the course of the past week I have thought a lot about what that role could actually mean someday. For now I am the fun “fairy godmother” who comes for visits and sends presents. I despise even the idea of thinking of the death of my dearest friends. But as I was forced to confront the idea this week, I had to analyze myself in a new light. How would I handle taking on two children in the middle of horrible grief? Would I move to where the children currently live? Would I make the kids move to me? How would I help them keep a relationship with their cousins, aunts, and uncles? Would I become a part of that extended family? How would my extended family take in and accept the children? These are all awful and morbid thoughts that I would prefer not to face or confront. But in light of my friend's death, I felt forced to confront them and I am glad that I did. And I take comfort in knowing that my friends who have chosen me to care for their children, have asked themselves these questions, and have a strong plan for the future. Please, single parents (and married ones too), have a plan, including a financial one, for the care of your children! And discuss these issues with the person you plan to make your children's guardian!
Money, Money, Money
No one ever likes to talk about money. But then, no one likes to talk about being single either. So let's make it even more uncomfortable and talk about being single and money.
In spite of how Hollywood portrays singles, with lots of disposable income, no worries, and lots of shopping sprees, I can't think of one friend who actually has that lifestyle. In fact, most of the women I know are underpaid, overworked, in debt, and have little in savings. Sure, this is also a problem for married couples as well, but when you are single, it is a different and bigger problem. First of all, you and you alone are responsible for your problems. Someone else can't get a job to help bail you out. You have to clean up your own messes. And in the case of a fortunate and blessed event in your life, such as a marriage down the road, you will bring your mess into the marriage. Is it really fair to expect and force someone else to pay off your debts, and make up for your financial mistakes? If you won't make the necessary changes to get financially healthy for yourself, do it for the gift you could bring into a marriage. Wouldn't you much rather go into a marriage with a large nest egg, and sound financial future? If it is true that most divorces are over money, start today to prevent a divorce, by getting financially sound while you are single, so that you don't start off a marriage with problems.
Retire Tomorrow (or Never)
It is an unfortunate reality that men know more about retirement and investing than women do. Why? I've never really been sure. My theory is that when fathers are giving sons lessons on how to tie a tie, they also explain the concept of a 401(k). But I digress... The plain and simple fact is that single women lag behind significantly when planning for retirement and a future. Again, I can only surmise based on personal interactions, but my theory is that this is because most women are crossing their fingers and hoping they will get married someday, and will not need their own retirement package. Men tend to be a little bit better. But again, it is a sad but true fact, that most men don't start worrying about their futures until a woman enters the picture, and he suddenly has to.
Everyone, single or married, needs to have a retirement plan. Retirement plans are not just for when you turn sixty and decide you are done working (if you are so lucky). Retirement plans can also save you if you get laid off, and find yourself out of work for a few years. Trust me, I know. I was laid off two years ago, and only finally found employment three months ago. My 401(k) was my saving grace during that time.
The Unglamorous Subject of Food Storage
I blame the eighties, Reagan and Gorbachev, the Cold War, and most of the movies I saw as a kid where Americans beat Russians at something, for the funny idea that we will use our emergency kits and food storage while on the run, trying to escape the bad guys, cooking over a fire, while somehow grinding wheat to bake bread in our dutch ovens. There seems to be this funny prevailing idea that we're stocking up food for the apocalypse.