Unpredictable future

One of the services offered by the Pension Boards of the United Church of Christ is personalized financial advice. The Boards contract with a firm of professional financial advisors and those of us who have our retirement funds invested with the Boards can access a personal advisor over the telephone and consult on retirement plans and other issues. We have taken advantage of the service and have given our financial advisor the information on our pension savings and other investments, retirement goals, housing costs, and other items, which have been entered into a formula that the firm uses and gives projections on what to expect in retirement. Of course the formula makes all kinds of assumptions, such as how long we will live, what the inflation rate will be, what our needs might be, etc. In the end, the advice has value, but it isn’t a solid prediction. There are simply too many variables to control. As carefully as I try to consider the advice we are receiving, it does seem like a lot is left to luck and timing and a whole lot of guessing.

One of the people who has gained a lot of attention for giving financial advice is the author and podcast host Suze Orman. From 2002 to 2015 the Suze Orman Show ran on CNBC television. She has an extensive background in finance, having worked for Merrill Lynch and serving as vice president of investments at Prudential Bache Securities before founding her own Suze Orman Financial Group. She is author of ten books on the topic of financial planning. She also happens to be about the same age as I. So I found it interesting that there is an article in the Style section of the New York Times proclaiming that Suze Orman has gone back to work after retiring. Basically the article says that the unique financial situation posed by the coronavirus pandemic inspired her to feel that people need additional financial advice on how to weather the storm.

I probably have a unique and rare sense of humor, but it strikes me as funny that someone who has invested most of her life advising people how to plan for retirement was so quick to abandon her own retirement plans.

It is also reassuring to me.

I’ve been reluctant to think or speak of retirement. I know that retirement is upon me. I’m one month away from the end of my ministry in this congregation. I’m in process with the Pension Boards to begin drawing down the funds that have been invested for my retirement. I’m on my way to officially becoming a senior citizen. But I also have, in the back of my mind, a sense that I still have something to contribute. I could serve the church in some ways going forward. I might have a bit of a job. At least right now the prospect of being retired has its attractions and its fears combined. So knowing that someone who is considered to be the best financial planner for retirement has changed her plans shortly after retiring seems reassuring to me.

It enables me to not take the sessions with our financial planner too seriously. I am grateful for the service provided by the Pension Boards, but it isn’t the whole picture of the rest of my life. I’m glad there are some unknowns.

Facing uncertainty isn’t reserved for those who are my age and thinking about retirement. I have a friend who is fairly new in his professional career. He is highly educated and so far has been successful, but he is unemployed and seeking a new job at a time when companies that are hiring are slowing the process and many aren’t even offering face-to-face interviews. He’s nervous about what comes next and worried about how he is going to support his family. He makes jokes about becoming homeless, which isn’t an imminent threat, but we both know the jokes express his fear of an uncertain future.

There are plenty of college graduates who ae living through the end of their academic careers in very uncertain times. Not only did many have to leave their campuses before the end of the term and figure out how to complete their courses over the Internet, the whole process of job searching has also been altered. With so many unemployed by the attempts to slow the spread of the virus, these college graduates are facing a very unsettled job market that is simply offering fewer jobs than they anticipated. It is so different from where I found myself when I was their age. I had completed interviews and accepted my first professional job during the spring before I completed my graduate education. I had a place to live lined up and a job with a salary and even funds for my move before I had to vacate my student apartment. That kind of security doesn’t exist for the majority of the class of 2020.

High school graduates who are heading to college don’t even know if their colleges will offer on campus education the fall. They may be facing a need to live at home while studying online instead of moving on campus as they planned.

Uncertainty about the future is part of what it means to be alive in these times. We all have different levels of tolerance for uncertainty and risk. Some of us worry less than others.

One of the things that we haven’t discussed with our financial planner are the assets of family and community that we have built up over our lives. Unlike some people, we know that we will be making our moves inside of the community of the church. We know that we have a ready-made group of supportive friends waiting us wherever we move. And we have strong family relationships. There are people who care deeply about us who are ready to spring into action to help if we have need. That was clearly demonstrated last fall when Susan became ill. On the day she was moved to the ICU our son, my sister and one of her sister arrived at our home. During her recovery her other sister and our daughter came to help. We had continual help for as long as we needed it. Those resources remain and they are even more valuable than stocks and bonds and savings accounts.

There are unpredictables in our live, Fortunately faith, hope and love remain regardless of the other variables.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!