Jun 10 2008

Saving for Retirement vs Living Your Life

Carlos Portocarrero

Bungee Jumping

When I started reading about retirement accounts like the 401(k) and the Roth IRA for the first time, I immediately became paranoid. Even though I was in my mid twenties, I was already nervous about retirement — it’s just the way I am. I mean, what would happen if I get to age 75 and don’t have enough money to live? Who would take care of me? So right away I made saving for retirement a priority. Ever since, I’ve contributed the full amount to my Roth and I’ve gradually bumped my 401(k) contribution from 4% all the way up to 8% (I’m saving for a down payment so that’s why it isn’t higher).

But that’s a good thing, right? And what does a bungee jumper have to do with retirement? I’ll tell you why: saving for retirement is a smart, responsible thing to do — but you can’t let that get in the way of living your life today. There are things you won’t be able to do when you retire (physically, for the most part) that you may want to do at some point in your life. So guess what? That means doing it now. Things like bungee jumping.

Earlier this year M and I went skiing together. It was a great trip and we had a lot of fun. But when we were planning for it I was a little skeptical. Do we really need to go skiing? Paying for a hotel, the mountain pass, the ski rental, travel expenses, etc. — all that stuff adds up. Money I could’ve easily put into my Roth IRA account. Eventually I came around and I’m really glad I did, but it was a good reminder that, while saving for tomorrow is a good thing, you can’t forget about today. Now we have a picture of the two of us in full ski regalia with snow falling all around us. A picture we can look at when we’re old and wrinkly and reminisce, “Ahh, that was a good trip.”

Frugal Dad recently wrote about stopping to smell the roses, and that’s how I was reminded of this whole retirement vs. living thing. I’ve written about it too — but when you’re so worried about the long-term stuff and trying to be a responsible person, it’s easy to forget. So skiing and bungee jumping are good reminders.

Have you ever not done something because you were more concerned about the future than the present?

Apr 11 2008

Stop and Smell the Roses

Carlos Portocarrero

Smell the Roses

I love lists, especially when it comes to books. So I peruse as many lists as I can—which includes all the awards that are out there. I’m always in search of the perfect book (which is why I had readers pick my next book) and when the Pulitzer Prizes were announced this year I felt all cocky when I saw who won for fiction: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (which I reviewed)—one of my favorite recent books.

But it also meant I didn’t have a “slam-dunk” book to go out and read because I had already read it. So I started looking around to see who else won a Pulitzer. I remember doing this last year and finding some great, entertaining newspaper articles this way. So I scrolled down and that’s how I found this incredible story in the Washington Post called “Pearls Before Breakfast.”

It’s about one of the most talented violinists alive and an experiment designed to answer a most intriguing question: when faced with a world-class talent doing his/her thing, would people be able to recognize that talent? It’s a really good article and I don’t want to spoil it for you so go ahead and open in it up in another tab (or window) and come right back here when you’re done.

Ok, ready? How good was that? I like how the one kid kept trying to get a good look but his mom wouldn’t let him—a child could tell this guy had something special. And what about the guy? Kudos to Joshua Bell for doing this and being honest about the feelings it caused in him. And god bless the video they decided to record—it makes the whole story even better.

But what does this tell us about our inability to slow down for a second and enjoy something beautiful? It’s scary to think that something so incredible could be happening right in our faces and we wouldn’t even know it. Yes, we’re in a rush because we have lots on our mind, but still . . . shouldn’t we be able to stop for a few minutes and enjoy the little things?

I like the woman who stood there at the end of the video. Can you imagine her experience? She saw him in concert and now she’s standing there—amazed—watching him perform like a street musician would.

Anyway, I was just blown away by the story and the way it all went down. It reminds me of Once, a great film that went mainstream after it won the Oscar for best song.

Let this be a wake up call to everyone out there who is rushing to get to work, rushing to get back, or too busy to even look up. The next time you see someone performing in an unexpected place—stop and look around. You may not be witnessing genius, but you may be on camera somewhere.