30, 40, or 50? At What Age Should I Stop Planning for the Future, and Live in the Present?

POV

30, 40, or 50? At What Age Should I Stop Planning for the Future, and Live in the Present?

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

I am out for dinner with the husband sans kid, a somewhat rare occasion most people call “date night”, but what we really see as the chance to have conversations without being interrupted by demands for food and attention. Romance is a mere possibility, not the intent. After our usual banter, we get talking about money. It’s something we have been doing a lot of lately – discussing investments and property, education schemes for our daughter.

There is a vacation home that we are looking at that would be ready in the next 10 years.  A lucrative long-term scheme with a private bank that we were considering which offers a good return at the end of 15 years. But 10 and 15 years feel like a long time to wait for our annual seedling deposits to bear a big fat fruit.

The “future” has become this hovering cloud in our sky, blocking our view of the sun just when we’re basking in contentment, reminding us to be prepared for possible rain – not today or tomorrow, but someday. With every passing day we’re getting closer. To what… is something we are yet to discover.

Later, I lie in bed thinking about all the possibilities of our stance when the fund matured. Would we still be married? Where would we be living? What will our daughter be doing in university or elsewhere? Will I be a successful published author by then? Will he have his dream bike garage? Would both of us be around?

In the first five to six years of our marriage, our jobs provided enough to cover rent, groceries, nice dinners, spontaneous vacations, and other indulgences. It wasn’t that we were completely irresponsible about money, we just never contemplated the prospect of running out of it. There were haphazard attempts to sit with budgeted Excel sheets which were eventually forgotten. If we liked something, we usually bought it. Our future was restricted to – can we pay rent next month?

Then we stepped into our 30s. Some of our friends were migrating to other countries, others buying their own homes through mortgages. People were moving on and showing us that they were taking life pretty seriously. Despite swearing to never have children, an unplanned pregnancy came along. We became parents and were jolted by the emotional and financial efforts needed to raise a child. Health issues forced us to make lifestyle changes. 

The notion of long-term security kicked in hard, propelling us to think about a timeline longer than just the upcoming year. We wanted to have a happy and comfortable ever-after with our own assets and a retirement plan. Caught between the YOLO mantra and needing a safety net to fall on so we didn’t end up old and broke, we knew that some degree of planning was necessary. And we needed to get to that PoA sooner than later. 

Nowadays, I expend a tremendous amount of energy in calculations and arguments with my husband over what we consider necessary expenses. Even though we have decent monthly savings and aren’t hitched to any long-term loans, I find myself stressing about things that could go wrong and not having enough.

The “future” has become this hovering cloud in our sky, blocking our view of the sun just when we’re basking in contentment

As a reflex to this paranoia, I resort to a stinginess that kills all spontaneous instincts, letting the idea of the future wrap me in its ambiguous tentacles. At a restaurant, I check the prices first in order to decide if a dish is worth ordering. When the husband suggests last-minute getaways, my eyes pop seeing the exorbitant airfares and I tell him, “Next time.” Before making any purchase, I check a dozen apps for discounts.

I am reminded of the story of 99, where a poor couple finds a bag of 99 coins and then become obsessed with adding the “one more”, losing their sense of contentment while adding to their savings. I’m afraid we are turning into that couple or at least I am. 

But sometimes I wonder: Is the chase for 99 worth it? Where does it begin and when does it end? We cut corners to enable security, chart eager plans for every remaining decade that we believe we have left, clutching on to the present only half-heartedly because living in the moment demands a sort of renunciation that only the brave can manage. Somewhere between overthinking and over worrying, the “here and now” is lost.

Last year, I drafted an ambitious plan for 2019 with a lot of goals for my health, career, and other soul-quenching aspirations. I’d somehow managed to stay on the path and was quite proud of myself. Then in August, just before I was supposed to leave for a trip to Meghalaya with an experiential women-only tour group, I ended up in the hospital with pneumonia. As I lay hooked to a nebuliser, feeling sorry for myself and calculating the financial losses of the last- minute cancellation, I realised that no matter how carefully I plan for every single day or buck, the future had its own tricks up its sleeve.

Fear of the unknown is overpowering. It’s why we rely on weather reports, insurance policies, and astrology. It’s also why I find it really difficult to let go and not worry about what might or might not happen.

The pneumonia incident has helped me strive for balance between excessive cautions and pursuing joy everyday like Robin Williams begged us to do so in Dead Poets Society. It’s a trying journey because we adapt from the world around us; parents reminding us that they won’t always be around to steer us away from crappy decisions, the news spluttering doom with every announcement about politics and the environment, growing children whose demands have evolved to a grander-than-ever scale. I want to live merrily but with plans and a padded savings account. 

I’m learning that being prepared isn’t just about security but going forward and accepting that the future is part fate and part consequence. I was once a girl who gulped Tequila shots without worrying about the hangover. Although I miss that period where I didn’t even worry about how I would make it to work the next day, I like the person I’m becoming – aware of an unfolding destiny, thoughtful about my short and long-term choices, grateful for past blunders while trying to sing “Que Sera Sera”. This is me now; a work-in-progress, a once-accountant, current writer, possible future tea-estate owner.

Fifteen years is a long way to go for me and my family. Maybe I will make it there in one solid piece or in parts or not at all. Until then, the best I can do is order what I want to eat without worrying about how much it costs.

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