"Don't get old. There's no future in it."

That's what my stepfather, who died four years ago at 84, liked to say. Usually, he said it while hoisting his watered Canadian Club, a drink he liked so much that he received five bottles of the stuff on his 80th birthday. He was not known for his healthy lifestyle.  

George smoked cigarettes for years. He tried pipes. He dabbled with cigars. Finally, he had to give up tobacco when he needed an oxygen bottle behind the driver's seat of his Cadillac. Driving with him to Publix, the supermarket of Sarasotans, always felt like a suicide mission. I kept waiting for him to turn maniacal, like Dennis Hopper in Blue Velvet, but he just needed pure oxygen to get down the aisles.

George abhorred exercise in all forms. At one time he lived at the New York Athletic Club. His best friend commented that the only exercise he got was pressing the elevator button.

But he had a good time. Although he had once talked about leaving a large sum to his sons, we all knew his inner belief in an old Irish saying: "Only a fool would die solvent."

He was no fool.

I am telling you this because I will be 65 this week, an event that gives me a brief license to offer the great lessons and discoveries that attend decrepitude. Here are some:

--- Work (1). I don't understand why most people are retired at this age. They can't all be golfers. I can afford to retire but I still think work is fun and full of challenges. I don't expect the challenges to go away. I don't expect the fun to go away, either.

--- Work (2). Men need to pay more attention to women. They're a lot more adaptable than we are. My wife retired this year, kind of, and she is as happy as I've ever seen her. She works for good causes and is useful. But the money meter is no longer running. The weaker sex (men, if there was any doubt) would probably live longer if we could only see life as a cooperative festival rather than a competitive struggle.

--- Work, Play, and Opportunity Cost. The greatest dilemma of continuing to work is fairly subtle, something you don't think about at 30. Every hour spent working is an hour lost to play. It is an hour from a cupboard that's looking a little bare. At 65 all your major warranties are void. This week a friend is recovering from heart surgery. Three other friends are recovering from prostate cancer treatment. As Gilda Radner said, "It's always something."

--- Money. In the Big Picture it is less important, not more important. Some will criticize this statement, noting that it's easy to say money isn't important when you have plenty of it. But one of the true blessings of being older is that objects don't mean much. Friends do. Objects cost money. Friendship is free. It comes from the unlimited currency of the heart.

--- Investing. I came of age in Boston. There are a lot of smart people there. If you doubt it, just ask them. I could easily populate this column with the brilliant money manager of the moment. I also enjoy listening to smart, articulate people.

But forty years of investing has taught me that rented brains seldom help us build our nest eggs. Rented brains feel a deep spiritual need to build 20,000 square foot log cabins in Jackson Hole with the return on our money.

That's why some readers will think I am Johnny One Note, always writing about investment expenses rather than the hot fund, product, or stock of the moment. But indexing and keeping things simple is the way for you and me to succeed. The other ways are how Wall Street succeeds. Big difference.

--- Wall Street. In the 40 plus years I have been investing the technology and instruments have changed enormously. But much of what our financial service institutions deliver to Main Street still, well, sucks. Wall Street investment products suck because it's all about them and their revenue today. It's not about us and our income tomorrow.

---Sex. Unlike every other media source in the universe, I will spare you the details. But if you are 25, 35, or 45 let me share something you will not learn on TV. Sex will still be a good reason to live when you are 65. You need only appreciate flowers.   You will miss the bougainvillea of youth. But you will adore the orchids of maturity. So George was funny---but wrong--- when he said "Don't get old. There's no future in it."

Old has plenty of future.

On the web:

25 years of change  

The 7 Laws of Personal Finance (Lessons from 20 years)