Monday, April 29, 2019

money freakout thoughts

Lately, I've been waking up at 2 in the morning, completely freaked out, almost panicked. A little piece of reality has recently lodged itself in my brain, and it's this: I'm going to turn 50 in the summer of 2020, and I have no idea how I'm going to pay for my own retirement.

The idea of retirement does not hold a lot of draw for me. I don't know if I will ever "retire" in the conventional sense. But the reality is, getting older usually  means losing some of your capacities, whether that's mental, or physical, or both. And even if you are that rare bird who continues to be strong and work at a high level of mental functioning after middle age, your capacity to earn money will be greatly diminished. People get forced into retirement all the time, and there is no guarantee that I will be able to continue working as long as I want to.

I would really like to know how I've gone from a normal person who thinks about retirement as something that definitely only happens to other people, to someone who is suddenly in the grip of recognizing that the future is coming for me and I better figure out how to get ready.

Being able to make a living as an artist has been one of the greatest privileges of my life, yet this privilege has cost me a lot of money. I don't have an employer who is giving me matching funds into a 401k plan. I pay self-employment tax, which theoretically helps to pay for my social security and contributes to medicare in the future, but after I'm done writing off every business expense that I possibly can, I'm not giving a whole lot to my own social security fund.  I received an estimate a few years back on what my monthly social security check will look like when I'm 65, and the sum was enough for me to buy a few rounds of cocktails for my bridge biddies at the old folk's home.

And when I say "old folk's home" I mean a cardboard box under a bridge.

So all of this has suddenly got me... a little bit panicked.

And I know that I am in a better position than most of my self-employed artist colleagues. I'm good at saving money, and I've always had a savings account that I usually put more into than I ever take out. I've been that way since I was a little kid. So I'm good at piling up money, and for some reason I thought that would be how I survived in the future, not that I liked to think about that very much. But what I'm coming to grips with is unless I hit some kind of jackpot, I'm actually never going to be able to save enough to take care of myself in the future. I have to figure out ways to make this money grow. The investing I've done is so limited that it's a bit embarrassing.

Also, I just have to make more money. Problem is, I now understand the limits of making money at pottery better than I ever did before.  I've had those years where I've grossed 6 figures in sales, and it is fucking stressful. Talk about waking up at 2 in the morning. I'm not interested in running a factory or having a bunch of employees. Been there, done that, no thank you.

I can raise my prices, make bigger and fancier work, and I think there is an income stream there... but that runs me into a wall I've been hitting lately, which is my need to diversify. I'm not sure that making money off of just making pottery is even that smart. Yes, it's taken me 20 years to creep up to this realization. Believe me, I don't like it either.

There is so much to say here, and this post is pretty long already, so I'm going to break it up. While I think about what to write next,  please post all questions, ideas, and 2 AM money freakout thoughts in the comment section. Thanks.


  1. I freak out daily. I am 52 and been at it half assed part time. No savings and little input to social security. I’ve started looking for a “real job” actually been looking forever. It’s scary getting old!

  2. Yup, I just jumped in clay almost full time this year at 36. And now I'm working my ass off to do shows while also going back to school and trying to figure out how to get a bachelor degree in something that won't suck.
    I'm solving the no retirement freak out by simultaneously working on plan B. Although I'm going to have to give up clay and everything to go to Europe for two years to finish my degree. It's about 80k less there ��

  3. Dear Whitney, I am well familiar with waking at 2 am in a state of panic. I've been doing it ALOT lately! I have also been in a state of fear/worry about "forced retirement" or about my sweetie or myself getting very ill. It is terribly stressful and painful to recognize these very human vulnerabilities. It is also very hard to look at that giant hill of retirement without feeling utterly overwhelmed. Because I obsess over these things, and read about it obsessively I will first say this: There is a stupid amount retirement prep advice that will present you with an unachievable goal. This is because investment companies make quite a bit of money on mutual funds and want you stuffing those accounts. The truth is knowing what you will need is REALLY hard to peg accurately. So here is my advice in list form:
    -You have decided that retirement is now a priority. This will help you achieve your goals!
    -There are MANY people who put off investing in retirement until VERY late in life.
    -You and your sweetie are in good health and you have many people who love you. These things will make aging much much more enjoyable.
    -congratulate yourself on your achievements! This can also be a part of identifying what provides you support and funding.
    The most important thing is to begin, and to do what you can.
    I think the fact that you have set next summer as a marker of significance shows you are preparing!
    Love you very much!!!!
    Call me!!!

  4. talk with a financial advisor! can you make this easier on yourself by slipcasting the forms? could you teach all your wisdom and charge more for it? It would probably be less strain on your person. Some thoughts from a new potter~