Aging: Will You Still Need Me, Will you Still Feed Me?
The first chill winds of the fall season of your life waft gently across your face as you open the mailbox and see the first overture from AARP with your name and address on the envelope. That time has arrived. AARP is the harbinger of what becomes an avalanche of offerings that arrive between your 50th and 65th birthdays. AARP is a very large insurance company cloaked as a consumer advocacy organization. When you turn 50, these folks know and are quick to let you know you now qualify for their services.
Exactly when you qualify as a “senior citizen” is not firmly established. In the case of AARP, the number is 50 trips around the sun. The reason for this milestone choice is that they are selling you something and don’t really care if you feel retired and/or elderly. They just want you in the fold, writing recurring checks for their products. For them, the sooner the better.
The discount age selected by a hair salon I frequent is 65. They don’t want any of those young whippersnapper AARP members enjoying that sweet 20% discount too early in their dotage. No, sir. For the stylist, you have to be a “real” senior. My grocer next door will give you 5% off on Tuesdays if you’re over 60. They want to bump up sales numbers midweek when most customers are toiling away at their day job.
If companies struggle to get their pitch to you through the US Postal Service, they may choose to take a broader marketing approach by advertising on television – usually during news programs and Golden Girls reruns – ostensibly watched carefully by their target demographic. Some of my all-time favorites depict a handsome couple with gray hair strolling the grounds of a vineyard, a glass of varietal in-hand. They gaze lovingly at each other, not a care in the world. Some versions of this winery theme show the male member of the pair holding up a hygrometer of the vintage, inspecting its alcohol content. This indicates they aren’t just visiting some local vineyard for a sampling, but THEY OWN THE WHOLE DAMN PLACE, AND SO COULD YOU IF YOU WEREN’T A LAZY SLUG!
Bui it gets better. I also really look forward to the advertisement showing a buff, silver-haired gentleman squeezed into a shimmering wet suit, holding his surfboard and staring out to the incoming waves as the sun lights up the wispy clouds as it sinks below the horizon. I tear up every time. I always wanted to work 50 years so I could drop $800,000 on a condo on the North Shore of Oahu, then spending my idle days surfing in the Pacific Ocean. Ugh, back to reality….
Fisher Investments has targeted me with ads that pop up during my online experiences. Their banner depicts not one, but a squadron of multi-million-dollar yachts tied up at a marina. I am assuming someone in the organization calls this ‘aspirational marketing’ when they pitch the ad agency ideas. Yachts, surfing, French wineries? You, too, could aspire to this gilded, genteel lifestyle if you just invested your $52,167.00 of 401(k) funds with these guys.
A couple years ago, I found myself having a lovely meal in West Yellowstone, Montana, sitting at the table next to actor William Devane. If you’re my age, you may remember him from a few roles in cop shows. More likely, you recognize him today as the television pitchman for a company that sells you gold and silver coins for investment purposes. It’s a great secret, you know, among billionaires, so they can multiply their fortunes many times over. It’s such a fantastic investment (and a secret), this company spends millions of advertising dollars trying to sell you their gold and silver coins to you: the middle-aged couple watching the news in your family home in Kansas. Big secret. Billionaires. Just between us.
Of course, these portrayals are nonsense. As you approach your later years, you realize all the saving and investing should have started waaaaay earlier than your plans for buying an estate winery in the South of France. You no longer have a body that can tolerate being dashed against the coral reefs of Hawaii. You get to this stage and realize your yacht has sailed, as it were.
There is an old adage stating you can hear the Almighty laugh simply by telling Him your plans. This is true. As life moves inexorably forward, we are faced with challenges and hardships we could not have predicted. We encounter blessings unheralded as well. The secret isn’t investing in gold coins. It’s in enjoying the trip.
When the mail starts arriving for your Medicare plan options at 64, it’s a good time to look back at how you got here. A much younger colleague of mine recently worried aloud about what professional legacy he would leave the world. An acquaintance of us both made a not-so-tongue-in-cheek reply. He said, go to that surfing beach, stick your thumb in the ocean, and then pull it out.
All we have at the end are our memories and the good deeds we leave in our wake. Sure, save some money, dream of relaxing on a beach, and try to pay off your debts before you get old. That’s about it. Get ready. Your senior years will soon be arriving in your mailbox.