Retirementand savings

By Alan Koenigsberg, M.D.

My mother was always a teacher. When I was a child, she was a high school teacher who taught bookkeeping and accounting. She was of the firstborn generation in America, born in 1922, and as was the habit back then, she lived with her parents until she married my father.

Before I came along, however, she taught at a business school, which is where she met my father. My father was also first-generation, both of their parents having come to New York City from Poland just after World War I.

My father was in the Army Air Force division during World War II and was a bombardier instructor. When he finished his service, he went to business school to finish his degree in business and my mother was his teacher.

Accounts vary, but my understanding was that he pursued my future mother and they married after he graduated, in 1948.

I explain all of this to provide background for the following. One would think that with all of that financial and business background, my parents would have diligently schooled me in saving, investing and establishing a retirement account early on.

Not so.

In retrospect, I imagine that since they were both employees and had pensions, it didn’t occur to them that I wouldn’t have anything like that.

When my mother retired from teaching from the New York City public school system, she had a lifetime retirement of about 80% of her salary.

My father didn’t have the same level of pension, but he had one. Because of that, combined with the fact that we had always lived frugally, they were fine financially.

I went to college, medical school, internship and residency and then established my own solo private practice. I knew nothing about finance, retirement, investing or the business side of a practice. That was 40 years ago.

When I got married and we had our children, I realized it was necessary to instill in them the importance of saving and investing at an early age. When one starts early, one has time to grow investments. While that is obvious, I had not been taught that. Being a physician gave me an excellent background in medicine, but little to nothing about the financial side of life.

I opened an investment account for our oldest with some of his bar mitzvah money and, years later, he looks back on this event with considerable pride and comfort. I plan to do the same for our other children.

For those of you who have children or grandchildren, if you haven’t already, you may want to consider doing the same. While this may be patently obvious and bordering on insulting, it was a novel concept to me at the time.

When one is 30 and starts investing, one has 40 years for those investments to grow. Based on my readings, there are far too many older adults who are barely getting by. While I don’t know the specifics of their situations, they may not have had the opportunity to save or invest anything while they were younger.

They may have assumed Social Security would pay for everything. They may have assumed Medicare would cover all their medical expenses. My guess would be they may not have thought about growing older at all.

So, for the future generations that come after us, let us help them get a solid start to a healthy financial life and give them some potentially lifesaving advice. They will most likely roll their eyes, but we will have planted some powerful seeds.

Alan Koenigsberg, M.D., is a practicing psychiatrist and clinical professor of psychiatry at UTSW Medical School in Dallas. He can be reached at akoenigsberg@mac.com.

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