Money, Quincy, and Amazing Grace
Born in 1947, Quincy was an inquisitive child interested in all-things-electronic and technical. Like Sheldon Cooper of “Young Sheldon” television fame, his favorite store to poke around in was Radio Shack. In 1977, Radio Shack introduced the TRS-80 home microcomputer featuring a 12-inch video monitor, a cassette recorder, and a cassette tape containing the games Blackjack and Backgammon. It cost $599, a stretch for the young father but Quincy really wanted it. His wife, Grace, surprised him with the purchase on Christmas morning. As an outgrowth of his interest in the expanding world of micro computing, Quincy became an early investor in emerging companies such as Intel, Microsoft, and Apple, among others.
Quincy was not a speculator. Actually, he was quite conservative. He bought stock in companies he believed in, reinvested dividends, and held on through market ups-and-downs. He had some clunkers, but in the main, he built a core group of long-run winners. He and Grace, a school teacher, had three children. When they in succession headed off to college Quincy used his stocks as collateral for loans from a local bank at favorable and tax-deductible interest rates, sparing his children from college debt burdens. Graduate school was on them, however. When Quincy and Grace, retired they had a paid for home, a tidy financial nest egg, and a strong flow of dividend and interest income. Financial freedom allowed them to travel the world in comfort.
Even before they both retired, Quincy and Grace took their three children on adventures around the United States and abroad. They were active in their church and Grace put many miles on a station wagon shuttling children to and from sports and cultural activities. An avid tennis player, Grace’s older daughter called her mom “Amazing Grace.”
Quincy and Grace embody what we call WOOFs, well-off-older-folks. Per “The Wall Street Journal,” 10/9/2023, seniors age 65 and up comprised 17.7% of America’s population, the highest percentage since 1920. They’re an economic and “spending force to be reckoned with.” As the Journal noted, they accounted for 22% of consumer spending last year, the highest share since recordkeeping began in 1972. Americans age 70 and older control almost 26% of household wealth, and they’re spending it on hobbies, travel, sports, home renovation, and other interests. They are key donors to local, national, and transnational charities, often involving time and talent in addition to treasure.
Like all consumers, rising prices for food and essentials bite, but seniors did get an 8.7% cost-of-living-adjustment in Social Security payments this year. Of those they still have a mortgage, many locked in low rates when money was cheap. Medicare helps to cushion the rising cost of medical care. Retirees aren’t worried about layoffs or job losses, unless such things adversely impact their grown children. The WSJ quoted Ed Yardini of Yardini Research, a respected forecaster, who thinks that spending by seniors will help to prop up the economy, avoiding a deep recession. This thinking parallels a comment made by this writer in a previous column that the WOOFs will save Delta Airlines from a shortfall of premium-fare-paying-business-flyers flying first class domestically and Delta One internationally. The WOOFs are flying up-front on planes and buying suites on cruise and river ships.
The oldest baby boomers turn 77 this year. The Journal noted that boomers control $77.1 trillion in wealth. But as many seniors find out, the Bank of Mom and Dad never really closes. Many are assisting grown children with challenges, including helping to pay for private elementary or high school expenses or college tuition for grandchildren.
A 2021 Gallup poll found that church membership and attendance strongly correlates with age. Sixty-six percent of traditionalists, those born prior to 1946, belong to a church, synagogue, or mosque, versus 58% of baby boomers, 50% of Generation X, and 36% of millennials, also known as Gen Y. Quincy and Grace are even more active in their church now that they’ve retired. Seniors increasingly comprise the bulk of volunteers and donors. Their giving patterns and philanthropy objectives often reflect religious values. Grandma and Grandpa are setting an example by attending religious services and church leaders need to step up, working to attract more young people to participate in organized religion.
Quincy and Grace are fictitious characters, but they represent a composite view of families who have achieved financial independence over my many years of active financial life planning counseling service. They used debt prudently and invested in quality stocks over the long run, recognizing that ownership of potentially appreciating assets was the answer to ever-present inflation that varied in intensity over time. They drove used off-lease cars and shopped for bargains, especially when the kids were growing up and expenses were high. Grace clipped coupons and was a good shopper. They maintained adequate levels of health and disability insurance, insurance on home and autos, as well as umbrella liability insurance, very important when they had teenage drivers in the family. Both Grace and Quincy carried levels of life insurance designed to support the family in the event of death of either one or both of them. Planning for death and disability is a prudent part of any financial plan.
When mom and dad get older and need assistance, when one passes away, becoming a widow or widower, they may depend on an adult child for help, often a daughter. Grace and Quincy arranged a family meeting with their adult children and their financial advisor. They put key documents in place along with instructions, a “family love letter,” so that when emergencies occurred, the family was prepared. Lives well lived.