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Generation X’d Out

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January 11, 2013 at 8:09 am
Personal Finance

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I remember once watching a documentary which trekked through the mountainous hills of southeast Asia. It could have just easily been the Philippines as it could’ve been China or Indonesia, though that doesn’t particularly matter. Because the focus of the film was on the rural lifestyles of village people who did not interact with the modern world and did not truly identify with any nationality per se.

What stood out in the simple lifestyle of these mountain people was their funeral tradition. Each person carved his or her own casket. Usually constructed from a single piece of wood, some would take years or even decades to complete their final resting places. One such carpenter who looked to be in his 20’s was asked why he had begun work on his casket at such an early age when surely death was many more years away. His measured response was matter-of-fact. Why would I wait until I am old and feeble, he asked, why not build it while I am young and able?

This young man’s reply has always stuck with me. Though I have forgotten the particular documentary and even the details of the village, I have always remembered the wisdom of those words which revealed such a depth of understanding about the scope of life. This young man understood the inevitability of his death and the necessity to make preparations for it. A stark contrast to American’s his age. So many of us simply set the deadlines on our calendar, but never schedule the time to complete the task.

As Generation X hits their 40’s and 50’s, they are beginning to realize that retirement could be right around the corner. Not. With pensions and social security going by the wayside, Gen X’ers bought their homes in the midst of the housing bubble and their careers have been the hardest struck by the greatest recession since the Great Depression. With personal savings as the only real hope of retirement, many are finding themselves starting from square one at 40+ years of age.

We who are now in our 20’s need to heed this cautionary tale. Though it may seem difficult to save money now at a time when you may be living paycheck to paycheck, the difficulties only increase as you gain more responsibility and your health inevitably becomes a factor. Don’t go out to the club this Saturday. Start bringing your lunch to work instead of eating out. Make the commitment now when it is inconvenient rather than impossible. Because there is a threshold beyond which your efforts will be too little, too late. Bummer, Dude.