let’s talk about money, part iii: long-term financial goals and plans

Like most people who’re concerned enough with money that they feel compelled to blog about it, I have a variety of long-term financial goals, none of which are especially groundbreaking and all of which have been written about by smarter people in better formats than on this blog.

However! This blog (and everything else in the world) exists mainly for my own benefit (amirite ladies), and publicizing your goals is supposed to keep you accountable, so here are my long-term financial goals, in excruciating detail:

  • Financially (and practically) assist my mother now, during her retirement, and into her old age
  • Amass enough wealth to comfortably retire before I die
  • Amass enough wealth to comfortably retire before 60
  • Amass enough wealth to comfortably retire before 40(!)
  • Amass enough wealth to have the option of comfortably raising children with my partner (biological or adopted, assuming I have the option)
  • Maintain my current standard of living and avoid lifestyle inflation
  • Financially assist my brother and other family members as needed
  • Create multiple income streams, especially passive or semi-passive ones
  • Work on only things I care about and believe in, because I want to, not because I have to for the money
  • Become less attached to material possessions
  • Share my good fortune with others and spend money on causes I care about

Most of these goals are vague as hell, but if you shoot for the moon, even if you miss, you’ll still end up among the stars, &c., &c.

I mean, at one point not so long ago, I had “buy a house in San Francisco” as one of my goals, which is, like, basically impossible unless the market tanks, but really, a house is not a terrible thing to aim for. Even if it turns out I can’t afford a house down payment after, say, 10 years of saving, I’ll still have accumulated 10 years’ worth of savings, which sounds pretty great to me.

I won’t be going through this list in order, but my retirement goals are the most measurable and concrete ones (though the only goal that is absolutely necessary is financially assisting my mother – everything else is just me wanting to taste that trust fund kid life where I can pursue something that’s not necessarily lucrative without worrying about the financial repercussions of my actions on my present, my future, and my family), so let’s start there.

  • Amass enough wealth to comfortably retire before I die
  • Amass enough wealth to comfortably retire before 60
  • Amass enough wealth to comfortably retire before 40(!)

Barring total economic collapse or massive surprise hospital bills (or both), I’m definitely on track to at least comfortably retire before I die, as long as I stay employed at my current income level for the next few years, and employed in some capacity until I turn 95 (which is all assuming I live to 100, which I truly hope I don’t unless I somehow maintain the body of a 20-something for my entire life). I find this somewhat reassuring.

Retiring before 60 should also be feasible in the optimistic scenarios where I remain gainfully employed at my current income level until retirement, the economy doesn’t collapse, and no incredibly expensive health issues come up, but, y’know, life happens.

I’m not sure retiring before 40 will be possible given that I don’t think I want to leave San Francisco (which, in case you haven’t heard, is hella expensive, like literally right this moment the #1 most expensive city in the U.S. expensive (or #2, depending on which metrics you use, i c u, nyc)); I am and will be financially assisting my mother, hopefully for decades; and I may or may not raise (expensive) children, biological or not.

But while it’s nice to think about retiring before 40 (or of having the option to retire before 40, or having the option to pursue a less lucrative career path before 40), I’m not going to worry about it until I feel comfortable with my odds of retiring before 60, because the amount of money needed to retire comfortably (by my standards, which means buying groceries at Whole Foods without wincing and ordering drinks other than water at restaurants) is staggeringly, dishearteningly large.

And for someone who enjoys a healthy dose of comforting nihilism, it seems absolutely futile to be saving for a future that may well not be waiting for me. Who the hell knows? I could get hit by a truck tomorrow and all this planning will have been for naught. I’m only guaranteed the present, so why bother planning for the future at all?

Why bother? WHY BOTHER?!

Two reasons:

  1. Life is easier with money than without money.
  2. It is hella hard to be old and have no money.

But there’s no point in making yourself suffer every day so you can meet your financial goals of the future, when the fact is that any of us could die tomorrow.

Which is why I think it’s important to spend money and time and effort on experiences that you value, and to live near the people you love so you can see them often, and to practice being grateful and mindful and self-aware. Money is just a tool to make your life easier. Living your life is what counts.

Anyway, let’s move on to my non-retirement financial goals.

  • Financially (and practically) assist my mother now, during her retirement, and into her old age
  • Financially assist my brother and other family members as needed

As I mentioned above, financially assisting/supporting my mother is the most important financial goal I have, the one that has guided all my major life decisions to date. (e.g. choosing to attend a public high school and a public college, attempting to pursue a secure and well-paying field of study, giving up on that field of study because I needed to take care of my mental health first so as to not be a financial burden, gambling my future career on a coding bootcamp, asking for more money during negotiations, &c., &c., &c.)

I feel that it would be an oversimplification to claim that practicing financial filial piety is just a result of my being Asian American. My mother has never told me that I should “honor my parents,” although my religion textbooks did, nor has she ever expressed any hope or expectation that I might help out (practically or financially) as she gets older.

What she has done, instead, because the second most Chinese way to show love is through acts of service, not words (the most Chinese being through food), was take care of my grandmother. Even before my father died and we moved in with my grandmother, my mom (and everyone else in the family, let’s be real) treated my grandma with such affection and veneration that it was impossible to not learn by example.

And so, because it’s simply part of my fundamental understanding of the world, I am morally unable to not take care of my mom. Perhaps at some point in the distant future, I will be exhausted with the immense task of elder care (which I would argue (though not from experience) is just as taxing as childcare and possibly more emotionally draining), and perhaps I will consider the possibility of a nursing home, or a hired caretaker.

Perhaps I’ll entrust the care of my mother to someone else, but if that comes to pass, no matter how tired I may be of cooking and cleaning and counting pills, I know in my bones I would never be able to shake the feeling of guilt that I have abandoned her and left her to die alone in a strange place with strange people.

But I still might consider a nursing home, regardless of my conscience. I’m not the most patient or practically useful member of my family – I mean, I didn’t learn how to drive until I was 22 and I still can’t parallel park – so I could imagine a future wherein I choose to exempt myself from the practical realities of elder care.

But as the most highly compensated and financially established person in my family, I could never, ever leave my mom to fend for herself financially. Part of it is just that it’s illogical for anyone else to assume financial responsibility when it impacts my cash flow the least, but most of it is that… well, I love my mom.

I was talking to her the other day about her retirement savings, trying to ascertain how much she had saved so I could estimate just how much assistance she would need. She said she was embarrassed to tell me, because she felt like she was a failure for not having saved enough, and that people would judge her like they already had in the past, for things like keeping my brother and me in private school even after our household income was halved or more than halved when my father died, or turning down job opportunities that would have paid more but forced her to spend less time at home.

And I listened to this and thought it was ridiculous that people were judging her for making decisions that were best for her children. Can you imagine being a third grader having to attend a new school and make new friends while grieving the death of your parent? Or how much harder it would have been if, after my father died, my mom started working longer hours and spending less time with us when we needed her the most? How could people judge her for raising children that loved her so much that when they grew up, they wanted to support her, to provide for her, to give whatever they could so they’d never have to see her sacrifice her own happiness for theirs ever again?

When people find out that I’m helping my mom with her mortgage, they usually say things like “That’s so nice of you!” or “Your mom’s lucky to have you as a daughter,” and I find it baffling, because allocating a portion of my paycheck to making my mom’s life more comfortable seems hardly enough to repay someone who suffered for me and my brother emotionally, physically, and financially for so many years. It’s not a matter of being nice at all, unless we’re talking about being nice in the way that not murdering someone is being nice.

I feel only somewhat less compelled to financially assist my brother, and significantly less obligated to financially assist my other relatives, but having the option to do so would be nice. (Most of them won’t need much assistance, as far as I know, and all but one of them have children who will probably assist them like my brother and I are doing for my mom. The one relative who doesn’t have children is probably financially secure just based on his profession, but I haven’t actually asked.)

It’s difficult to calculate exact numbers for this, but given that by the time my mom retires, we’ll have finished paying off the mortgage, I can very roughly estimate that she could live comfortably off about half my normal expenses, so my spending would increase to 150% of my current spending. This doesn’t take into account healthcare costs, which may be substantial and which may increase, but my mom does have some retirement savings, so if I can supplement what she draws down in retirement with cash from my normal income, I think we’ll do just fine as long as I’m working.

(Naturally, it follows that I probably can’t retire very early since I want to support my mom. But maybe one of us will win the lottery.)

  • Amass enough wealth to have the option of comfortably raising children with my partner (biological or adopted, assuming I have the option)

I’m really, really not sure that I want to have children. As a 26-year-old woman, I realize that this may change in the next few years because of my own biology, and one day I may wake up feeling bereft because I’m not holding an infant who inherited my unibrow and myopia in my arms, but at this exact point in my life, I am grateful that I don’t have a baby.

I started to write about why I think I don’t want to have children, but I got so incensed that I had to tone my words down until I sounded like a robot, so I gave up.

The gist of it is that when it comes to biological children,

  1. It would be morally irresponsible and selfish for me to have a biological child instead of adopting.
  2. It would be environmentally irresponsible for me to have a biological child instead of adopting.
  3. I am morally uncomfortable with condemning someone to life (the world is at least fifty percent terrible, &c.)
  4. I’d like to keep my vagina intact.

But even raising children – biological or adopted – is something I’m not sure about. Children are an emotional, mental, physical, and financial commitment, and frankly, I’m not sure I can take care of a child and still have the capacity to take care of myself (and my mom). Maybe if I weren’t already committed to providing for my mother, I would feel more free to raise children. Or maybe I’m just not parent material.

To be honest, unless assisted suicide becomes more acceptable, I continue to be terrified of dying alone without my family (presumably my adult children) around me – which is the main reason I’m even hesitating about being childless – which is incredibly selfish.

If you’re reading this and thinking “You just don’t understand…” or ” You’ll understand in a few years…” …look, I know. I am fully expecting my biological clock to start kicking me in the ovaries in the next couple years to let me know that I really need to have a baby rightthisveryminute.

Regardless of my doubts and hesitations, I want to have the option of raising children with my partner, at least from a financial perspective. (I wouldn’t do it as a single parent if I could help it – that shit is hard.) According to this semi-outdated article, it costs around $400,000 to raise a child in San Francisco, to which I say Life Is Meaningless, and Time Is A Human Construct, and also Hell To The Fuck No. I’ve got other people who already exist on this planet to take care of before I earmark my money for a nonexistent child.

In theory, it would cost me closer to $200,000, assuming my partner would shoulder about half the financial burden, but that’s still a lot of money. It really should be feasible as long as I stay employed at my current income level, but it would cut a big swathe into my savings rate (and probably my sanity).

But I’m told it’s worth it, so who knows.

(As far as the importance of this financial goal… it’s probably the one I care about the least, but I feel it would be unwise to not plan for the possibility of children.)

  • Maintain my current standard of living and avoid lifestyle inflation
  • Become less attached to material possessions

First of all, let me say that minimalism is nice to think about and very aesthetically pleasing, but the reality of my life is that I get anxious about not having backups of things, and the reality of most people’s lives is that getting rid of perfectly useful items or the sake of decluttering is financially stupid, because you’ll just have to re-buy the damn thing when you need it again in the future. Like, who couldn’t use an extra set of nail clippers? Why wouldn’t you want to buy toilet paper in bulk?

I will never ever need a flashy car (just a safe and reliable one, or, like, a self-driving one, ideally), nor do I want a Pinterest wedding with a dress that costs several thousand dollars (although tbh I would probably shell out for an antique Victorian gown), or an engagement ring that costs so much I’d basically be wearing a mid-size SUV on my finger, or a McMansion (unless I moved my entire extended family into it, but I think a better solution would be to have a cluster of normal-sized houses near each other).

I don’t like owning the newest iPhone or designer handbags (a side effect of going to college in Berkeley and not wanting to be mugged on the way home). I don’t give a shit about having a dishwasher in the kitchen (although I love a double basin sink), and I don’t actually care that much about traveling. (!)

(Vacations? Yes. Relaxing? Yes. Traveling? Nice, but I get stressed out by planning, packing, and feeling like I’m not doing enough Stuff to make the trip worth it even when I actually want to just go to my room and watch Netflix and do a sheet mask.)

That being said, I own waaay more clothing than is necessary (because I like to switch up my style pretty often). I buy $200 shoes (because I have problem feet). I like eating out (as a social activity). I would pay thousands of dollars a year in extra rent to have a place with good lighting and airflow (because I get migraines).

So I’m not as frugal as I could be, but that’s because I have a pretty good idea of what makes me happy (and what doesn’t), which informs my decisions about where to spend my money. Beautiful, high-quality t-shirt? I couldn’t care less. A handful of vintage jewelry at an estate sale? TAKE MY MONEY.

I don’t want to ever get to a point where I’m spending money on things I don’t care about just because I can. Like… I just really, really am not ever going to need a six-pack of canned sparkling water (or “millennial juice” as my coworker Lewis puts it), and I can’t see myself ever being someone who eats out every night (instead of, like, cooking rice and microwaving frozen vegetables and scrambling an egg and calling it a meal).

I also hope I never get used to having too many luxuries. As with many if not most philosophies in my life, this mindset comes from a place of fear. I want to avoid lifestyle inflation because I am afraid that it will breed dissatisfaction and ingratitude for the luxuries I do have (housing! running water! prescription glasses!), and a day will come when those luxuries will be taken away, and I will suffer greatly because I used to take those luxuries for granted.

The main way I try to avoid lifestyle inflation is by keeping my discretionary spending at a fixed dollar amount (not a percentage!), so that I’m always working with the same amount of money, regardless of my salary. I find that the dollar constraint breeds more deliberate spending (even though I don’t always manage to stay under budget).

Another thing that’s helped a lot is having a basic plan for partner-related spending. (Most of our spending is food-related.) As a general rule, my partner and I only eat out 1) for convenience or 2) for love. If the exhaustion and time-suck of cooking is going to make our Thursday evening worse than spending $15 on dinner, we will spend $15 on dinner. (The same cannot be said of Saturday evenings, on which we tend to cook.) Similarly, my partner derives such a disproportionate amount of satisfaction from going out for breakfast that we try to do it once a weekend. It is well worth a $20/person breakfast to see him happy, because, after all, he could die tomorrow.

In terms of material possessions, I strongly believe that most things are just things. They don’t matter! They are tools for pursuing joy and contentment and wonder, just like money is a tool, but the thing itself is rarely as important as the time it saves you, or the skills you learn with it, or the feeling it invokes in you.

I once cried when my sheer gray DKNY tights got a run in them. Then I realized how ridiculous I was being and decided I didn’t want to cry over material possessions anymore. It would have been one thing if it were a sentimental item, or if damaging the item would have caused great financial suffering, but crying over something that could easily be replaced?! Pointless. Far better and safer and wiser to roll with the punches, accept your losses, and save yourself the unhappiness of mourning over things.

Material possessions are not made to last, and neither are you.

Once again, my philosophy stems from a place of fear: Far better to invest in things that can’t be taken away from you – your knowledge, your skills, your relationships – than in things that are merely things.

  • Create multiple income streams, especially passive or semi-passive ones

Having an income stream outside of my salary is extremely appealing to me (though I’ve yet to do anything about it), mainly because I’m afraid I am going to burn out in my current industry (or be fired) and become unemployed before I’ve had time to save enough money.

It’s also important because there’s a cap on how much my salary can grow unless I change positions (and become a people manager), which is not something I’m sure I want to do (or will have the opportunity to do, or can do). I am not an ambitious person, at least in terms of my career. (Which is probably why I’m a Ravenclaw, not a Slytherin.)

What I hope to gain from having multiple sources of income is more freedom and autonomy, so that I won’t be so reliant on my salaried desk job that I can’t walk away if it’s making me unhappy.

I don’t really know where these other income streams are going to come from, but I do know I’m not particularly interested in working multiple jobs to make it happen, because it would eat into my happiness. (I mean, for example, working 9 to 5 during the workweek and then working an hourly part-time job on the weekends. That would make me miserable.) Things I’ve thought about but have yet to pursue: real estate, some kind of freelancing or consulting (which is not passive), monetized websites, self-published books, or selling some kind of product(s) online (also not passive).

A passive or semi-passive source of income would be ideal because it would mean I don’t have to trade my time for money, or that if I do, at least I’ll be getting a good exchange rate.

But I’m not at a place where I’m motivated enough to figure out how to make this happen yet. So let’s move on for now.

  • Work on only things I care about and believe in, because I want to, not because I have to for the money

I once had a job that paid well and made me feel fulfilled and challenged and balanced. It felt good to come in to work on Mondays, and my coworkers were competent and kind and fun, and I felt like I was working on something that actually helped people (specifically, teenage girls).

I would love to find that again. I would be so happy with myself if I could divert my time and effort into, say, helping teenage girls, or LGBTQ youth, or the elderly who live alone. Or being more of an activist when it comes to environmentalism, or feminism, or politics in general (especially local issues like affordable housing and homelessness and women in STEM).

But I can’t right now, because work takes up my time and energy in a way that leaves me needing every evening and weekend to recharge. In an ideal world, my work would involve helping others or furthering good causes, but right now, I need a steady paycheck, and that is a goddamn shame.

It’s a shame for everyone, that we’re not allowed to exist, that we lose the right to be alive, unless we can be economically productive in a society that feeds off the many to fatten the few. Sometimes I think about the amazing art and literature and innovations that never had a chance to exist because people have to sell their souls to the capitalism machine in order to survive.

Like… don’t get me wrong: I love money. But I love money because it allows me to do things I want to do. I would gladly pay higher taxes if it meant others could have their basic needs met, so that they too could do things they want to do instead of worrying about how they’re going to feed their kids. I don’t know. I just… Humans evolved to be social. Capitalism violates the social contract of looking after your fellow human being, and I hate it.

Anyway.

In the absence of needing a paycheck, the other pursuits I would love to explore (but which don’t necessarily help others) are all creative: writing, cooking, drawing, sewing, sculpting, photographing, filming, editing… the list is hella long, but I want to get good at so! many! things!

And I can’t, because I am tired, because I need money.

  • Share my good fortune with others and spend money on causes I care about

This is quite similar to the previous section about doing work I care about, except I want to amass a large amount of money (or have a large, steady stream of income) so I can put not just my time and effort into people and causes I care about, but also my dollar$$$. In my very humble, possibly uninformed opinion, it is wildly important – like Top 3 Things People Forget When They Come Into Money Through Work, Luck, Or A Combination Of Both important – to remember Toni Morrison’s words:

When you get these jobs that you have been so brilliantly trained for, just remember that your real job is that if you are free, you need to free somebody else. If you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else. This is not just a grab-bag candy game.

I wouldn’t be where I am if some well-meaning alumni didn’t establish a scholarship for high-achieving Asian American students, or if people didn’t make learning resources for computer science available for free online, or if, like, public schools and financial aid didn’t exist.

And so I have to free someone else. I have to, because I think it’s morally wrong to have benefited from the help of others and to not pay it forward, or at least pay it back.

Can you imagine how good you would feel, or how good you would make someone feel, if, every week, you could go around topping off a few people’s crowdfunding campaigns so they could reach their goals for, like, gender confirmation surgeries or life-sustaining medicine for their pets or escaping toxic or abusive home situations?

That’s the kind of impact I want my money to have.

In conclusion…

To recap, my long-term financial goals are as follows:

  • Financially (and practically) assist my mother now, during her retirement, and into her old age
  • Amass enough wealth to comfortably retire before I die
  • Amass enough wealth to comfortably retire before 60
  • Amass enough wealth to comfortably retire before 40(!)
  • Amass enough wealth to have the option of comfortably raising children with my partner (biological or adopted, assuming I have the option)
  • Maintain my current standard of living and avoid lifestyle inflation
  • Financially assist my brother and other family members as needed
  • Create multiple income streams, especially passive or semi-passive ones
  • Work on only things I care about and believe in, because I want to, not because I have to for the money
  • Become less attached to material possessions
  • Share my good fortune with others and spend money on causes I care about

I’m sure many others feel the same as I do about taking care of their parents, or retiring early, or having kids, or helping others, but I think there’s value in articulating what you want and why you want it.

In writing this post, I’ve realized that basically, I want to amass tons of money so I can take care of my physical, mental, and emotional needs, which will better enable me to be charitable at home and in my community, in that order.

And that’s good to know, because some days, I wonder why I’m doing any of this, why I bother trying to save money at all when I could just… die instead.

And the answer is that I’m doing it for other people. I’m doing it because, well, in the words of Wonder Woman, I believe in love. Because only love will truly save the world. And if I’m already here, using up resources and raising hell, I might as well try to 1) wring as much happiness as I can from this godforsaken trash heap that is life, and 2) leave this world better than I entered it.

I hope I do good.

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