I was thirty-five before I started saving for retirement. Prior to that time, I spent everything I made--and, in some years, more--on experience.
I don't regret it. I'm richer for being able to call back a runner's high on the Golden Gate Bridge, and relive slow-breathing zen drifts in coral reef realms. Those investments don't vary with inflation or market fluctuation.
The flip side is that when I'm old, memories will entertain but they won't feed me. This truth smashed me in the head the year I was thirty-five. I'd been playing volleyball on the beach in South Beach. There's a lot of glitz to Miami's South Beach today but it was an area in transition then.
My old junker car was locked but some crackhead had found a way to break into my trunk and take my gym bag, in which I'd hidden my purse. I wanted to go out right then, looking for anything that was dropped. But the sky was dark, the streets unsafe. I did the smarter thing and left, anger bubbling in the pit of my stomach. The next morning I put on my running clothes and went out early to dumpster-dive the area around the scene of the crime. Crackheads don't want silk skirts or women's underwear, they want money. There was a chance I'd find my blouse with the marcasite lizard pin still attached.
The fetid smell knocked me back from the first dumpster I opened. I'd forgotten to bring gloves and I couldn't make myself crane over into the pit and put my hands in the garbage, so I just looked from the top. Which was bad enough. Before I opened the second lid, I took a big breath and held it.
Guys in cars honked and waved as I crossed the street, odes to my figure and their testosterone, until they saw me lift a dumpster lid, when they sped off. A construction crew yelled suggestions about what I could do for them until they saw me open a dumpster and lean in. The longer I searched, the more self-conscious I became. By the time I'd searched six square blocks, the odor of rancid vomit clung to me. In the last alley, a homeless man, someone who had that hearing-voices-in-his-head look, circled out of his way to avoid me.
I opened a 401K, AKA The Bag Lady Fund, that afternoon.