Life Lessons from Nina Bargiel
Old Enough to Know Better is a weekly column of non-advice advice. It's taking everything women are told about aging, tossing it in a dumpster, and setting it on fire. There are a hundred columns out there telling you that you’re aging wrong. But I’m here to tell you: They’re right.
Welcome to middle age. You’re doing it wrong. But don’t worry. I can help.
So, So, So Re(Tired)
I got my first grown-up job at 21. I was working in the mailroom at UTA, hoping to make my way up the ranks to becoming an agent. What I was really doing was waking up at 5:43 a.m. every day to deliver the trades to each agent's desk, making sure to place it exactly where they wanted (corner of the desk, on their office chair, atop their keyboard, folded into an origami crane that spelled out "Am I really doing this for two hundred bucks a week?")
I wasn't thinking about retirement. I was thinking about how to get through the day without being called a "stupid cunt" by Jim Carrey's agent's assistant. (I told her I wasn't stupid.)
In my 30s, I had brief success as a television writer, partially responsible for bringing Lizzie McGuire — and crimped hair — to the masses. (I'm only sorry about one of those.)
I wasn't thinking about retirement. I was thinking about how to get my next job, because in TV, it's all about the Next Job. (I was also thinking about how to make my ass as small as possible, which is a complete waste of time and resources.)
By my late 30s, I was married to someone who was in similar financial straights as mine. We lived in a cheap apartment in a great section of Los Angeles. Our neighbors were an Irishman falsely accused of murder in Italy, a Canadian who had outstayed his visa, a Peeping Tom, an alcoholic whose dry heaves at 6 a.m. were the world's saddest alarm clock, and a hoarder landlady who was on a first-name basis with the exterminator since our building had a standing monthly appointment.
I wasn't thinking about retirement. I was thinking about how to plug all of the holes in my walls with steel wool to keep the vermin out. (I was not successful.)
Have you ever done a re-watch of Sex and the City? The show is dated in so many ways, but none so much as the fact that Carrie Bradshaw could afford to live in New York City as a writer of a weekly sex column. Later she discovered she couldn't afford the down payment to buy her apartment because she had spent tens of thousands of dollars on Manolo Blahniks.
Remember when a weekly sex columnist could afford Manolo Blahniks?
(Mr. Blahnik doesn’t even know how to wear shoes but I bet he saved for retirement.)
I wasn't taught about financial planning. My dad is still working at 74. (But he works for himself, so it's only partially out of necessity.) I missed the Internet boom of the early aughts as I was still scraping by on Hollywood assistant gigs (though I did graduate beyond being called a dumb cunt.) By the time I was making money, the country was barreling headfirst into a recession. And then I rode the unemployment wave with everyone else, assembling whatever gigs I could and selling myself short on Craigslist Casual Writer Encounters (aka eLance.)
The Internet has all sorts of great advice on how we should save for retirement. Get rid of your debt! Develop a side gig! Make sure you have multiple income streams! A more realistic plan would to be build a time machine, go back to before you were born and pick rich parents.
There's a commercial with a Bespectacled White Man in the park asking people how much money they have. (Which is normally the first step to robbery.) But in this case, he makes the point that a little bit of money adds up over time. Saving for retirement is as easy and fun as a game of dominoes, except in this game of dominoes, the tiles get larger and larger and larger and then eventually crush you to death, releasing you from all financial burdens of life.
Which is a perfectly valid retirement plan.
I'm a grown-ass woman and I still live in fear — even when I'm working — of looking at my financials. If bank statements were Pokémon sitting in my living room begging to be caught, I'd still let them roam free. Maybe you're more responsible than I am. Maybe you were a better planner. Maybe you're less terrified. Maybe you were born to rich parents. (Shut up, Ivanka.)
Or maybe you're like me. In which case, take my hand. Remember what G.I. Joe said?
If you're in the U.S., start here.
I'm 43 and I'm starting to think about my retirement.
Nina Bargiel is a feminist killjoy on the Internet and a TV writer in real life. She wrote the bra episode of Lizzie McGuire. You're welcome.