Ron and I have had “meet with a financial planner” on our to do list for a while now.
Like 5-6 YEARS.
Perhaps if you have lots and lots of money, the idea of meeting with a financial planner sounds fun – like “Oh, here’s a smart person who’s going to help me figure out how to manage ALL MY GLORIOUS MONEY! I CAN’T WAIT!”
But for people like us (in debt, variable income due to my job), it definitely lands in the the no-fun zone. Because I don’t even have to go to the meeting to guess he will say, “You need to pay down your debt. And save more money,” at which point I will explain that I have been TRYING to do that for years, but it is really hard to save money when every penny of what you have is spoken for via creditors and basic living expenses. In the past, he would also have needed to tell me to stop continually shopping, but fortunately that’s not part of my story anymore. But even minus the compulsive shopping, we’re still digging ourselves out of the hole, so we’re not in a place to be making huge contributions to a savings account either.
I also always fear a finance person is going to tell me I need to give up my creative career and do something sensible and reliable if I don’t want to have to work until I’m 90. It took many years doing jobs I didn’t like/hated and some intense fear-surrendering to pursue a career as an actor, and I’m grateful to be making a living at that, however modest it may be sometimes. I may never be wealthy as an actor, but I have never been happier, even when things aren’t going my way. But I’m afraid if I meet with a financial planner, they will advise me to pursue something more lucrative, and my deep-rooted money-fear will kick in and I’ll find myself behind a desk again.
So needless to say, it’s been an easy meeting to put off.
But since we’ve been diligently working on our finances this year, Ron finally asked around and got a recommendation of a finance guy through his work, and took all our paperwork in to him for evaluation. Keith, our new finance guy, plugged our numbers in tohis various charts and graphs and tables and algorithms and whatever else smart math-type people do with that stuff, and then said we needed to meet with him to go over everything.
Ron set the meeting up for eight-thirty in the morning. EIGHT-THIRTY. In the MORNING. I know, I know, that is not really early in most people’s world. My best friend has already been at work for an hour and a half at that point in the day – and she’s been awake even longer if you figure in her commute and getting herself and two kids ready for school. Parents of young children are reading this and thinking, “Try not having more than two continuous hours of sleep for a WEEK, you wimp.” Parents of young children who also work full time are probably thinking, “EFF YOU.” Or they simply fell asleep, because they are exhausted.
But it is early to ME. Remember when I said I’ve never been happier in a job than I am now? Not having to be behind a desk somewhere by 8 or 9 a.m. is a vital part of that happiness. Getting ready for work while it was still dark out was my life for about fifteen years. I don’t miss it. I may not have as much money, but I am very well rested and usually in a decent mood as a result. So suck on that, haters.
In addition to dreading the early hour, numbers and math have never been my thing either. Language arts are my thing. I can write an essay and win a spelling bee in my sleep. But as soon as people start scribbling formulas and percentages, I glaze over. Terms like “annuity” and “dividend” and “mutual funds” are all things that have been explained to me, but if pressed, I could not really tell you what they are, outside of the general heading of “financial terms”. I can memorize pages and pages of lines for a show, but I can never remember the difference between a regular IRA and a Roth IRA, despite having had someone painstakingly explain the difference to me on multiple occasions. When I did have desk jobs, my most dreaded meetings were finance meetings where we talked about budgets and monthly numbers and year end numbers and I had to sit there and sagely nod and pretend to be following it, when I was secretly thinking about what I should make for dinner that night based on the current contents of my fridge.
So the thought of talking numbers – probably super depressing numbers too – with Mr. Smarty Pants Money Guy Keith at EIGHTY FREAKING THIRTY IN THE MORNING sounded really, really craptastic.
But, with Ron’s prodding, I dragged myself out of bed and we made it to the meeting. We met very nice Keith The Money Guy in the pretty lobby of a downtown hotel. He had a kind face and didn’t seem scary or intimidating. But he was carrying a boring navy blue folder, which I could only guess contained a bunch of glossy handouts with stupid photographs of things like a couple kids running happily across a field or a family walking on a dock together. I instantly started to go dead inside. I hate marketing materials like that. They are such bullshit. It’s as if the marketing team thinks those photos will elicit some kind of positive response in people, like “Hey! If I buy into this program, I can walk on a dock with a loving and attractive family TOO!” Maybe that works for some people, but I always find myself totally distracted by the picture, wondering things like, “Where is that family going? Or maybe they just got back from somewhere. Was it fun? Was it a vacation? Did it rain the whole time? Is this their first marriage, or is it a blended family? Did the wife’s first husband die, leaving her alone with that little boy until she met this attractive blonde guy in his stylishly rumpled plaid shirt? Did they sleep together on the first date? Is the baby girl from the husband’s previous marriage, or did they have her once they got together? Do they secretly favor her as a result? Oh, that’s right, this is not a real family, it’s just models in a print job. I wonder if those kids were nice to work with, or if they were assholes. I once did a print job for an insurance company and had to put a little girl in a car seat over and over again and she kept kicking me in the chest on purpose and her real mother just giggled and thought it was cute. And I had to be nice about it because if I yelled at her and made her cry we would never get the shot and I’d get blamed. The craft services on that job was great though. Speaking of food, I’m kinda hungry. What should I make for lunch? Hmm…what are the contents of the fridge right now?”
We hadn’t even sat down yet and I was already trying to mentally escape the conversation. The fact that we were in a hotel lobby made it exponentially worse, as a constant stream of people bustled in and out, giving me plenty of fodder to pull my attention away from the discussion at hand. I really, really tried to focus as our guy reviewed our materials and made his suggestions for what we do with our money. But staring at weird little colored pie charts to illustrate my 401(k) (why did he pick that color palette? It was so…sludgy. Like faded jewel tones. Did the company make him use it? The greens were so close together you could barely tell them apart. Maybe he was color blind, poor guy), confusing graphs (Hey! The line is going up, that’s good right? Oh, it isn’t necessarily a good thing? Now I’m depressed), and imposing tables of numbers (yawn), was proving to be more than I could track with. Not to mention, it was a dog-friendly hotel, so not only were there people to watch, there were really cute dogs too. And we were sitting next to the table with the coffee service, which brought every guest and their random conversations within eye and earshot, all of which were more compelling than the meeting I was having. I even got up at one point and got a second cup of coffee, which totally took me back to my days of working in a corporate office, when I would drink five cups of coffee before noon because I was procrastinating on the boring stuff I was supposed to be doing. It’s amazing how old habits come back when you’re under duress.
The meeting finally ended when our parking meter was about to run out. We took our boring blue folder, shook hands with nice Keith, and left. I honestly can’t tell you much about what we’re supposed to do at this point, because in case it wasn’t obvious from he above paragraphs, I wasn’t paying that close of attention. Am I proud of that? No. I know this stuff is important, and will have a big impact on our future. I know it’s not fair to put the full burden of understanding and decision making on Ron. I know “I’m just not interested in this stuff” is a lame and immature excuse. All I can say is, I’m a work in progress.
But hey, at least we can check “meet with a financial planner” off our list for the first time in half a decade. I will promptly be replacing it with “try to understand information from financial planner.”