The short answer to the question, should I worry about the market meltdown? Yes. And, duh.
The long answer: In many ways, I'm lucky. Having been mired in debt since graduating from college in 1992 and embarking on the rewarding (but not necessarily lucrative) profession of writing, I haven't had much to lose in the 401K and investments department. And even if I did have a hefty 401K and numerous investments, I'm 38 years old. I think it's safe to say that any Generation X'er or young Baby Boomer shouldn't worry too much about how their savings has been affected. I know that in my case, even if I wanted to retire at age 65--and being a writer, I'm kind of hoping to be at my computer until I keel over at the age of 106-- that's 27 years away. In some ways, that's a lifetime, although, in other ways, it's just around the corner. My point is, the stock market is going to have a lot more ups and downs and bubbles and bursts in the next 27 years.
So in the long-term, do I think someone my age should worry? No.
But in the short term, I'm glad I'm content with the house I bought in 2000, shortly before getting married and about 18 months before becoming a father, because we're not going to be moving any time soon, if, um, ever. I don't have enough saved for a downpayment on a new mortgage, and my credit history isn't going to inspire any mortgage bankers to fight over me. Meanwhile, with my old Saturn having finally keeled over a few weeks ago, I need a new car and already understand that if I'm going buy one, I'm going to either have to save up the purchase price--or accept the fact that the interest rate offered by many lenders is going to be on par with what you'd expect from a loan shark.
Yeah, in the short term, I'm concerned. Maybe even worried.
But in the long term? Trying to find a bright side in all of this, I think this financial crisis is an excellent wakeup call for my generation, which will be good for me, my wife and at least the next generation, including my daughters. I've known for awhile that I need to save more money, and I've certainly tried over the years. It's not easy when you're flying solo, a writer who depends on accountants at magazines to pay in a timely matter, and believe me, they don't. That said, it doesn't really matter. However anyone receives their paycheck, some portion simply has to go to a 401K, an IRA, a savings account -- something.
There's that advice, "Pay yourself first." And while I've always thought, "Sure, that makes sense," I've also rolled my eyes since often it's advice dispensed by personal finance experts who have their own TV shows. It's awfully easy to pay yourself first when you're not worried about how you're going to pay the electric bill.
I'm not saying the 401K should be funded before the electric or mortgage company. But it certainly should be get a cut of the paycheck in advance of shopping at the mall or going to the movies. Looking back on things, I know there are probably plenty of stupid, impulse buys I've made where the money could and should have gone into some sort of "pay yourself first" system.
So I think this financial crisis could, in the long run, be a very good thing for the generations that still have time to sock money away, stop buying on credit and learn how to manage money properly. And if it doesn't end up being a good thing, if we don't start improving our financial acumen and habits and my wife and I wind up living in my kids' basement, in the way that Arthur in the sitcom King of Queens did, then I'll be the first to admit that we will have the retirement that we deserve.
Read how the financial crisis is affecting other WalletPop bloggers.
Geoff Williams is a freelance journalist and the author of C.C. Pyle's Amazing Foot Race: The True Story of the 1928 Coast-to-Coast Run Across America (Rodale).
What the meltdown means to me, a married Midwestern parent