Outliving our Usefulness?

The building I’m looking to rent for the Turtle is old. Out of date. The bathroom looks like it was around in the sixties. That’s the building I actually want. Another has a crack going up the outside wall. Despite having a large parking lot, and guest rooms upstairs, this building is for sale at about the same price as the first building, which is half its size. Around town, I can think of one, two, three, four houses sitting empty and a barn. One is being preserved waiting for a buyer, the others are waiting for the village to decide its worth tearing them down. I pass houses with cars or vans slowly eroding into the landscape.

I know that in several of these instances, the owners are elderly. All that would have been needed over the past years and decades for these houses and cars to be still usable and quite valuable would have been the strength of youth applied to them. It occurs to me that, probably no one bought this house or that car with the intention that they would sit unused until it fell apart.

I assume they were bought to be used. And it makes me sad, and a little bit angry. How much of what the previous generation built is being destroyed simply by neglect? How much waste is there in rebuilding what has already been built and only needed to be maintained? A couple saves for a life paying for a house. Children grow up and get jobs somewhere else. The man and his wife sit in a house that they increasingly can’t care for while their children go out and buy new houses putting themselves back into debt. Ignoring the resources their parents worked a lifetime to acquire.

Parents age until the house is neglected. One of them dies and the other is put into a nursing home. The house now far decayed with no one to repair it, goes on the market for much less than what it could have been. The lesser sum, if it sells when competing against newer homes built with debt, goes to pay for a stranger to look after the parent with a lot of other old people who are treated like invalids and children.

I know. Old people are hard to live with. My wife’s adopted father was sixty-one when she was born. When I met him, he was hard of hearing. Intelligent, full of remembered history, but because of his hearing he just could not engage as well in what was happening around him–though he managed well. He had growing medical issues. That’s what happens when you get old. And, I’m not saying there aren’t situations where we are financially or even materially unable to care for our elders.

But that goes back to the opening about the run down houses. Is it really worth the price, to travel to pursue your career? Is that what should define our geography? A source of money? It’s hard to imagine otherwise, even Jacob moved when the economy was bad. But do we really ‘make’ as much as we think when we move away from family? Yes, the house could actually be too small for two couples. And there’s strife, and what about your other siblings? I’m not saying it should be automatic. I’m just saying maybe we haven’t weighed what we’re giving up. Maybe for all the trouble of living close to family, even in the same house, maybe its still worth it?

Just imagine if you stayed and lived in the same house, or maybe in the house right next door and you didn’t have to buy as big a house because you’re Dad already has a chainsaw and tools and his garage is right next door? Maybe you don’t need a guest room because they have your old room. Maybe you don’t need a rec room because they have one right next door. You also save, not have to travel to see grandpa and grandma. And it’s not like their completely feeble right now. Grandpa will probably keep the shared house or houses cared for, grandma can keep the pantries stocked. The fresh cookies alone would be worth it! Grandpa and grandma’s savings help subsidize your own household expenses, not even counting any social security. You have a sitter for your child that you can trust, just about anytime you need one. You have advice about any subject . . . probably more often than you want . . .

My point is that if we think objectively, a lot of our need for fresh infused cash is created by our insanity of rebuilding wealth every generation. Have you ever stopped to ask, why the rich get rich? Someone might flippantly say, “Most of the really rich inherited their wealth!”

Ding! Ding! Ding!

We say that as a bad thing, but that meant that the previous generation saved for the next, and the next built upon what was already built instead of starting over. They had a family vision. They had a sense of propriety over the family. Instead of saying, “Who’s going to take care of ____ when . . . ?” They say, “How are we going to take care of ____?”

There’s two sides to that. On the backside, children have to think more highly of preserving the work of their parents than of their need to make a mark in the world. And that’s a spectrum. I’m not saying because your parents lived in a town with no other jobs, that you are limited to the jobs there. If you have to go somewhere else to provide for you family than, you have to judge that with God’s help. But remember the work of the previous generation, and remember that generation is your family, too. If you have to move, then how about you plan that when your parents are getting older and transitioning out of their career, how about you plan to move them in with you instead of waiting until it has to be done and you’ve been comparative strangers for years? How about you work to preserve that familial bond?

And that’s mostly the financial side, imagine what it means to your kids and your parents that you preserve that relationship? To see your parents imparting generational wisdom to your children. For your children to see a family identity rooted in faith? To see you taking care of your parents as they took care of you, and as the children ought to take care of you. It’s not just smart, it’s a holy work.

The other side of that is that people working today need to get rid of the idea of retirement and re-enshrine the idea of inheritance. Maybe, I’m lucky that I don’t really see “retirement” as an option for me. But I think that’s a good thing. Retirement back in the days before social security meant that this person was too old to work, and probably needed help to keep up with the normal work of maintaining a home. In fact when social security was foisted upon us, it kicked in about 3 years before the end of life expectancy.

A couple generations ago, no one imagined a prolonged retirement. It was simply an easing of burden before you died. Now we’ve come to see retirement as some kind of ten or twenty year paid vacation. A vacation is fine, but ten or twenty years? Look up the word inheritance in your Bible. God has a lot to say on the subject. God is constantly reaffirming his desire to leave an inheritance to his children. Wouldn’t godliness be to act the same way? Proverbs 13:22 says “A good man leaveth an inheritance to his children’s children . . .

You know what the Bible says about retirement?

Yeah, me neither.

If you can still work, take a vacation, but get back to work. Maybe not the same job. But something. Rather than planning to eat up the saving you built over a lifetime. Keep building that wealth for as long as you can because what’s left at the end is what you have to give to your children. If your children moved and have no real intent to come back, maybe you can sell your house while its still in good condition. Buy another free and clear where they are, get a part time job. And spend part of the time keeping their house in good order? Or if there’s room put a second little cottage for yourself on their land, and use the rest of the sale money to pay off their mortgage. I’m just saying make a plan so that your children are better off when you leave instead of being in the same place you were at their age.

There is no reason for generational poverty–aside from Job-like catastrophe–or even generational stagnation. A couple generations of wise and hard working people should be able to consider themselves wealthy by any standard. And it’s not just about money, but you’re setting the example to your children that you think about your children’s future. And the children that they honor their father and mother. That family vision and identity are important. It’s about family, and in theory that is why we work. If we work to get away from family or to “pay off” our obligation to family then we are not even a family.

The only reason to have a job is because of love. A job gives you money. Money is liquid, a negotiable form of power. You have money so you can buy food for people in need (starting with your family). You have money so that you can buy things that are needed to the goal of godly loving people. Sometimes that means a lawn mower. Sometimes a house. Sometimes a set of drums or some paint or a dog (in case you can’t find a free one).

The goal is not to have a really good time at the end, go out broke, and look back at your children with “I hope you get yours too” written on your face.

PB> (Post blog) To avoid the abomination of death tax, you can give I think 13k per year as a “gift”. Is it possible to “gift” away 13k of your property a year so that sometime before you die, your estate has mostly passed to your children? Just a thought.

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