Monday, August 4, 2008

Gather Ye Rosebuds and Get Ye Flask?

So Heather Havrilesky wrote an article in Salon (first in a series) about how she and her husband were never going to be able to afford to retire.

Specifically, she found out that to enjoy the same standard of living she is enjoying now, when one considers inflation and whatnot, she would have to save $47,000 a year.

(Her current standard of living, she notes, is not a particularly extravagant one. She claims to avoid eating out, seeing movies, and buying anything that isn't on sale.)

It gets worse:

Toying with retirement calculators was so exquisitely painful (and such a profound waste of time) that by the next day, I had upped the stakes with college savings calculators. How much should we be saving each year to send my 12-year-old stepson and 2-year-old daughter to public, in-state universities? One thousand dollars a month, of course. (Private schools would mean saving 2K a month.) Now let's see, let's throw that 12K-a-year minimum in with the 93K a year we're supposed to be saving for retirement, and what do we have? One hundred five thousand dollars a year in savings. Now tell me, who has an extra 100 G's lying around each year, aside from some of your more enterprising rappers?

And then she notes that even with all the savings in the world, one lost job or one medical emergency could wipe out everything she's set aside.

It's something I've been thinking about lately, as I try to figure out how much apartment I can afford and whether I can afford to live in a neighborhood that doesn't cover its houses in iron cages.

I've done the math. I can put 1/3 of my salary towards housing and live on the other 2/3 and put a few hundred dollars every month into a savings account.

But if I were able to spend less money on rent, I could have more money to save.

And what if the recession gets worse and food prices go up? What if something happens to my job? What if I have some kind of outstanding medical expense?

In short: how much savings do I need to have to feel safe?

I've had my savings wiped out twice before. Two summers in a row. Both times I managed to put $1000 aside even on my grad-school-and-temp earnings, and both times a roommate ditched me and left me to suddenly have to pay twice as much rent until I could find another person to share the apartment. (For those not in the know: when people share living spaces they do not generally get separate leases. If one party flakes, the other party is still required to make up the full sum of the rent. This protects the landlord but not the roommates, obviously.)

Of course, with that trend I should perhaps forgo roommates altogether and live in a slightly more expensive studio, bargaining less saving power against knowing for sure I won't have to spend it all paying for a roommate who's skipped town.

The other half of the equation is how much savings do I need to have to have fun?

To wit: my company gives people a very generous amount of vacation time. People take it, too; and because of the nature of the job, most people -- even the entry-level ones -- seem to use it to go abroad and educate themselves.

But I've done the math for that, too; and I'm guessing that taking a two-week trip abroad will just about eliminate everything I can manage to save during the year.

So. Rosebuds or retirement? Vacation or staycation? Start saving for the unexpected major expense that will undoubtedly happen in the next forty years, or accept that whatever you save still won't cover any, let's say, overwhelming medical bills? After all, a savings wipeout is a wipeout whether you've got $100 or $100,000. In the end you're still left with $0.

Meh. It's not an argument, unfortunately. I grew up on the idea of saving. And even though I kind of know Heather Havrilesky's right and my generation won't be able to save "enough" to retire (never mind college funds), I still want to put away everything I can.


ctrlalteredmind said...

With the roommmates issue, there is the other direction you could go (perhaps, never visited DC so dunno how things are there) - but you could get a room in a bigger house with 3 or 4 other housemates. That should sufficiently buffer against chances of 1 or 2 people dropping out. I toyed with that idea initially when I was hunting down apartments. It also makes for less rent and shared utilities expenses, provided everyone can get along well of course.

I'll butt out of the vacations or staycations decision - although my perspective has been to not worry about saving too much for at least 1 to 2 years after getting a job (that time frame, sadly, is now over). After all, there is only a finite time over which you'll be this young, right? I know you're not one of those people who try to think they're 13 even when they are 30.

Blue said...

See, my view is the more roommates, the GREATER chance one of them will flake. ^__^