Table of Contents
PROLOGUE: MAKING HAY
By most standards we were certainly comfortable-not Bill Gates comfortable, but sufficiently flush that we'd never have to worry about setting up house in an empty Sub-Zero carton. But the question of whether we had achieved a sufficient Number, whether we had enough to shelter us from life's jolts, nagged at me more days than not.
PART ONE: CHASING IT
CHAPTER 1. WELCOME TO NUMBERLAND
Most of us were told at an early age that it isn't nice to talk about money, period. It isn't nice to brag about having money, and it's wrong to envy those who have more than we do. The Number is also hard to talk about because it holds a different value for each of us. What's a big Number to me is not to you. The Number can be a hundred thousand. A million. Ten million. Or infinity, if you're an investment banker.
CHAPTER 2. A FIELD GUIDE
Number chasers fall into four basic personality types. Most people are procrastinators. These are men and women who have reached their forties, even fifties, without any sort of financial plan in hand. Avoidance is the name of their game, fear of lifestyle relapse notwithstanding. Why the sloth? Well, some people don't want to think about old age. Others don't understand how they should invest. All are in limbo, concerned lest they discover they don't have enough to see them through their dotage, or because they can't discuss it with their spouses for fear of starting world war III.
CHAPTER 3. THE EISENBERG UNCERTAINTY PRINCIPLES
We feel discontented about tomorrow. It isn't so much future shock as future denial. There are a half dozen good explanations for why people aren't planning for the next few decades. Call these the Eisenberg Uncertainty Principles, which will guide the twists of the story to come.
CHAPTER 4. DEBT WARP
Debt Warp holds that our whip-it-out credit card culture makes it so easy to buy stuff that people delude themselves into thinking they're more affluent, better set for the future, than they are. Debt Warp reshapes reality and turns age-old precepts about frugality upside down.
CHAPTER 5. THE LOST YEARS
Some people stay in the Lost Years Club forever. Some just accept it, others develop a chip on their shoulder when it comes to money. I know quite a few people who carry these chips. They believe that if there was any justice in the world there would be a direct correlation between the size of one's number and one's ability to be funny, original, and charming at dinner parties.
CHAPTER 6. ALONE AT SEA
The impulse to get out the calculator and start planning is most often triggered by the daydream of an early retirement. This reverie, however, is frequently disturbed by all those nasty questions about how much is enough. So here you are, pushing fifty, your doubles partner is dead, and nobody makes eye contact with you anymore. Suddenly, the bottom falls out of your determined resolve. What time does the game come on?
CHAPTER 7. THE FOREST FOR THE TREES
A show of hands, please: how many of you are ready to devote next weekend and many thereafter to arriving at the conclusion that your number may be inadequate and that you're fundamentally clueless as to how to spend your next thirty years in a meaningful way? Maybe it's your employer's fault.
PART TWO: FIGURING IT
CHAPTER 8. CRASH DUMMIES
Until these four strangers showed up, everyone in this book has been real, their names withheld to protect the anxious and uncertain. But these four case studies, and a few others to follow, are members of a fictional family. Think of them as crash dummies, here to do you a favor. They put their futures on the line - to keep you from driving into a wall.
CHAPTER 9. THE HEALTH AND WELFARE CRASH
The fact that life used to end quite abruptly but now has us crying out "are we there yet?" is one reason a discipline known as financial gerontology has emerged. The pioneer in this field is a social scientist named Neal E. Cutler, who believes that financial advisers need to be retrained to have a better grasp on clients' ever-extending life spans.
CHAPTER 10. COVERING YOUR ASSETS
The Number is a delicate web of risks, some of which are within your control, some not, and some sort of are. The risks that are sort of within your control are how long you live and whether you live healthfully. Have you flossed your teeth today?
CHAPTER 11. ADVICE SQUAD CONFIDENTIAL
The Number keeps many people awake nights, with only the tree frogs to provide solace, yet most of them refuse to seek professional help. They think they can work it out themselves. Are they kidding themselves?
CHAPTER 12. NIGHT SWEATS
There's a giant and unruly industry out there ready to provide you with support and counsel. While this country may have a shortage of nurses, special ed teachers, and tool and die makers, it certainly does not lack for asset managers, financial advisers, accountants, insurance agents, securities brokers, bankers, and trust officers, all eager to make your acquaintance.
PART THREE: FINDING IT
CHAPTER 13. DOWNSHIFTING WITH JUNG
Is the Number about money, or is the number about meaning, fulfillment, and life's true calling?
CHAPTER 14. SUN SPOTS
Del Webb was to the American way of retirement what Ray Kroc was to the hamburger patty. He was the one who, for better or worse, hammered together a new American Dream designed expressly, as it turned out, for midlife downshifters.
CHAPTER 15. A NEEDLEMAN IN THE HAYSTACK
Is the Number about downshifting, or is the Number about something more profound? Are places like Sun City the true destination or just a step in the right direction? Is the Number about where we want to be, or who we want to be?
CHAPTER 16. DEEP BREATHING
Just because you may know how to ladder a bond portfolio doesn't mean you can now skip happily out of Number darkness into bright Number sunshine.
CHAPTER 17. BOTTOM LINES
Even if there are no universal truths about the Number, there are some bottom lines. A bottom line doesn't reach as far or as wide as a universal truth; think of it as a universal truth you get on sale.
APPENDIX: THE NUMBER, QUICK AND DIRTY
Here's a formula you can use to calculate what your Number really is - especially if you know what truly matters.