September 1988 seems like ages ago. With an employee number starting with 274, I just got asked at the mobile range, “Why are you still here?” Well, the truth is, I was one of the five youngest members of Class #248. At age 54, I still have some work to complete before riding off into the sunset and joining those at the Retiree Roundup.
As many this year look toward retirement as the next chapter of life, I seem to share one regret with many others … not knowing more about personal finance sooner in my life. An executive from one of the supplemental insurance carriers that works with PPOA asked me recently what their company could do differently to assist PPOA members. The first thing that came to mind was identifying a mechanism to bridge the financial literacy gap among many of our younger (and not so young) members.
Neither the County nor the Department impart any fiscal wisdom on to its employees. Here is your check. Sign up every October for insurance. Be a good employee.
School systems in the past few decades have removed classes involving basic living skills, e.g., home economics, from the curriculum. How many in this generation even know what a checkbook is, let alone how to balance one or track spending?
The world today is complex with an abundance of opportunities, yet many people, including my children, come out of school/college lacking the ability to survive financially, especially here in Southern California. Gas prices have doubled in the last 30 days. Who can afford a starter home on one income in the greater Los Angeles area?
In my years on the Department, and now as PPOA president, I have borne witness to or have shared in the devastation of loss experienced by many families. Oftentimes, these tragedies are exacerbated by the financial decisions (or lack thereof) made by their loved ones prior to their passing. Be sure to designate your beneficiaries and update them throughout your life. You will go through many life experiences accompanying the ups and downs of your career. Those experiences — marriage, divorce, kids, promotion — all play into your future. Be prepared along the way. Create a living trust to protect your assets and specifically outline your personal decisions in case you are somehow incapable of communicating those desires yourself. Educate yourself on every aspect of the benefits provided to you by the County, whether it be the retirement system, medical insurance or disability benefits. With that knowledge, solicit information on any supplemental insurance that you feel may be needed to fill in any deficiencies in your life or that of your family.
Seek assistance from a financial planner early on. It is never too late. The world is more complicated, yet more information and tools await you in your smartphone than were ever available before. Use them wisely. Educate yourself on the benefits of compound interest and consistent saving/investing and start as soon as you can. Stop watching TikTok videos and use the budgeting apps, investment websites and cryptocurrency tools that are all available in the palm of your hand. Take the time and make the commitment to yourself and your family to utilize the resources available as well as the salary and benefits of your career to live a long, healthy and prosperous life.
I pass this information on to you from the many friends and family who are/have retired in the past few years. This information is not my rantings, but the advice provided to me by many smart people who now live very comfortably in the chapter after their careers in law enforcement. Many have asked me to pass on these tidbits, such as ensuring you always have a significant amount of time on the books for unforeseen circumstances. You do not want to be short of time toward the end of your career. Others want to remind you that it is never too early to start planning your retirement by attending a LACERA seminar or calling for a one-on-one counseling appointment. And don’t forget to review all the details of your personal financial statements at least once a year. You would be amazed at how many previous subscriptions or charges you may have forgotten about, which add up monthly/annually.
My life experience, career and now body remind me that while 1988 seems like yesterday, this Department has provided for me and my family for over three decades. In hindsight, I could have done many things better. It is my hope that reading this article will impart at least one nugget of experience to you, as well as provide a personal checklist to remind you to take the time to make the financial health of yourself and your family one of life’s priorities.
PPOA is proud to be your union. We stand ready to assist with these concerns or any others you may have. Thank you for being a member of the PPOA family.