The boomer generation started out so … groovy.
DH = Dear husband
A boomer trend: waiting
Les Kotzer is a Toronto lawyer, and when a woman in a fur coat came into his office with her well-dressed husband, his automatic impression was that the two – both in their late 50s – were well off. After finding out that the fur-clad woman was a substitute teacher, he asked her husband about his profession. “Harry’s not going to tell you this, but he’s a waiter,” answered his wife. When Kotzer asked at which restaurant he worked, she corrected his misconception. “Oh, Harry’s not that kind of a waiter. He’s waiting for his inheritance.”
I was fascinated in a morbid sort of way by the cover story of Maclean’s magazine this week. Photos of people not much older than I am, and their happily aging parents, a little younger looking than my mom, brought it close to home. Images of elderly parents, blissfully unaware of their children’s thoughts as they wait not-so-patiently for the transfer of wealth that will happen when mom and dad pass on.
Boomers’ impact over the decades
The boomers have always been just ahead of me as a generation. I have childhood memories of going downtown with my family and seeing hippies. I couldn’t take my eyes off of them. Young men with long hair. Young women with flowing skirts. Tie-dyed t-shirts, head bands. They clustered together in public spaces outside with a peaceful defiance and were, in my eyes, groovy.
As I approached my twenties, the boomers were redefining adulthood with their yuppy culture. Images in ads of the well-dressed, high-living, glamorous yuppy captured my imagination. The lifestyle of my parents, in comparison, seemed flat, dull, deprived. I had some awareness of the influence of ads at that time, but little awareness of how profoundly I personally was being influenced. I wanted what those yuppies had. The clothes, the big house, the travel, the fine-dining … My loftier plans to end poverty and generally save the world were rather stifled by the needs of my less acknowledged ambition to yuppify.
And we all know where that got me: in debt. What I didn’t quite grasp before reading this article in Maclean’s was that I’m sharing my plight with my role models. But I sure don’t want to share in the coping strategy that many boomers seem to be using to deal with their debt problem. 50% of Canadians nearing retirement expect to carry their mortgage debt into their retirement, and there is no shortage of consumer debt among them either. “. . . [T]he average person aged 56-65 is carrying $27,000 in consumer debt, such as credit cards and car loans. They’re going to need cash to maintain their standard of living, say experts, and their desperation is starting to show. Court files are replete with challenges to wills involving claimants nearing retirement age, while the sheer nastiness of family battles is on the rise. ‘There is a degree of entitlement there,’ says Megan Connolly, a Toronto wills and estates specialist. “It’s this attitude that . . . what’s my mom’s is mine.'”
Guarding against a bad trend
It’s a sad closing chapter for a generation that started out so cool. Of course not all boomers are in this situation, but the trend is disturbing to say the least – something to watch out for. Have I ever thought about a future inheritance in a way that shows I’m relying upon it? I would have to say that I have. In our worst years of job loss, career uncertainty, and financial stress, my future inheritance had the comforting promise of a safety net. Nothing in line with the nastiness described in the Maclean’s article, but something to take note of nonetheless.
When DH and I started our journey out of debt, mom was rendered speechless by our total of $257,000 in the red, and she thought debt-repayment for us was a hopeless goal. “Just wait,” she once said during the early days of our journey, in the sense that it wouldn’t be so hopeless one day. I knew exactly what she meant. My mother is at perfect peace with her own mortality, and she’ll occasionally refer to it. But after almost three years, DH and I are nearing the half-way point, and mom, who never fails to ask, “So how’s the debt?” is impressed.
“I want you to stay alive,” I said to her recently, in a rare burst of frankness on this sensitive topic. “I want you to be there when we make our last payment. When we become debt-free.” “Well!” said my mom, her voice charged with new optimism. “That’s something that’s worth living for.”
Gillis, Charlie. “The Inheritance Wars.” Macleansca. Roger’s Publishing Ltd, 09 Mar. 2015. Web. 14 Mar. 2015. <http://www.macleans.ca/society/life/the-inheritance-wars/>.
What do you think of the “waiting” trend? Your comments are welcome.