Personal Finance Education at the Class Reunion

July 20, 2009 by  
Filed under Retirement Planning

I’ve returned from my 40th high school reunion weekend. I had a fabulous experience, nostalgic and otherwise.

One of the advantages of attending a class reunion is that there is no benefit in  – and therefore no need for –  pretending  how young you are or where you started in life. Your classmates already have that information. The related advantage is that if you have a large and diverse class as we had (576 strong), you can learn a lot from the 40 years of subsequent career and life experiences of your classmates.

Because of our ages, some of my classmates (e.g., school teachers)  have already retired, others are closing in, and others have suffered severely from recent economic events. Those in the latter category are having to regroup and rethink their plans. There is a lot of information and wisdom that can be absorbed by asking questions and listening to the answers.

In other words, a class reunion is a perfect environment for receiving a condensed but effective personal finance education.

I tried to take advantage of learning opportunities at each of our reunion events. If I ran into a classmate who had retired, I wanted to know if he or she enjoyed it, if it was as fulfilling as they had hoped, and if they were looking to “unretire.” All of the responses I received were either positive about the retirement experience or “it’s too soon to tell.”  That was encouraging.

One of my classmates had recently been forced into deciding between retiring or continuing to work for his long time employer but in a substantially less desirable situation. He chose retirement and seemed content about his decision to escape the corporate environment.

A few others in my class – looking back 5-10 years – had been perceived by us to be high rollers in areas such as commercial real estate development. This weekend we learned that at least for some of them, times and circumstances have radically changed, and in a negative way. That was unfortunate. It reinforced the importance of saving and investing when times are good so that you can weather the storm of a poor economic environment.

A couple of classmates were apparent victims of age discrimination. One had been a long-time employee in corporate sales. Nine positions were recently eliminated in her 50 person sales group. All but one of those terminated was over 50. (The ninth was 46.)  The lesson to learn from that experience is to try to put yourself on a career path where the decision-maker about your future is you, not a soul-less corporate bean counter.

A couple of classmates showed up carting around oxygen tanks or manifesting other signs of chronic, disabling conditions. At age 58, that’s frightening. I felt bad for them. I was relieved that I had purchased long term care policies last year for Mrs. ToughMoneyLove and for me.

There are many other stories that could be told about the Class of 1969 and personal finance. I’m not going to bore you with all of them. I do want to emphasize this:

Go to your reunions for the fun and friendship. While there, take advantage of the opportunities to learn about money and life. Watch, ask questions, listen and learn from your classmates. Their successes and failures provide lessons that are far more powerful than anything you can experience in the classroom.

Thanks again to the Class of ’69.

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3 Responses to “Personal Finance Education at the Class Reunion”
  1. It’s quite interesting how those considered “high rollers” just a few years ago aren’t exactly the ones being envied at this most recent reunion- I suspect those who are most comfortable now are those who were much less flashy during the boom times.

    You mentioned that there are a few classmates who have had serious health issues- do you have any idea how many of your 576 haven’t survived? At my 10 year reunion, I was surprised to find that 4 from our class of 90 had died- 2 car accidents, 1 cancer, 1 in Afghanistan. I’d be curious to see what the numbers will be like at the 40th reunion.

    As a side note, there was quite a bit of foolishness at our 10 year reunion- people renting cars, putting on a show. I certainly hope that type of showboating disappears as time goes on!

  2. I’m only 33, and even at my age 15 years after graduating, it’s interesting to meet people from high school and see where their paths have taken them. Some, who were the popular and successful in high school (by our standards back then) now aren’t doing quite as well. Others who weren’t popular or athletic now seem to have high paying and interesting careers. Of course a ton of them are balding, overweight and aging.

    I recently joined a softball team comprised of alumni from my high school. It certainly gave me a glimpse into how much people’s lives and perspectives change over the years. Guys who were once the class clowns and always in trouble at school, are now responsible family men – living a lot like their fathers – and dealing with their own children. Some, sadly, are still trying to live out their high school glory days.

    Very interesting.

  3. cjbr549 says:

    I attended my 20 year reunion in 2006. My graduating class was 52, about half that showed up for the reunion. We are lucky I think that we have only had one death so far, a girl who died in a car accident the summer we graduated. I come from a rural farming area, and so far as I can tell only me and one other person in the class completed a four year degree. I am an engineer and the other is a high school principal (he was our principal’s son, ironic). But there are others that are successful and many had some college. Frankly, if you don’t intend to move away from the area, the investment in a degree is pretty worthless, as there is very little opportunity for an educated person there. I enjoyed seeing them and look forward to seeing them again. Also, there was already someone there with severe health problems. We don’t expect to see her at the next reunion.

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