Spending with Confidence: The Fred Mertz Complex

A couple of weeks ago, we talked about Retirement Planning with Uncle Jed. And we promised that we’d turn our attention to some other TV characters in future weeks and see what kind of financial planning lessons we can learn from them...

Sometimes, you’re surprised when you find out what TV characters were like in real life. Like Aunt Bee, for example. If you only knew her from Andy Griffith episodes, you’d assume that Frances Bavier was exactly the same person in real life.

Not even close. In reality, she was incredibly unpleasant to be around. She felt that her New York City acting pedigree wasn’t being fully utilized and that her dramatic talents were being overlooked on the show. She was easily offended during filming and everybody on the production staff always walked on eggshells around her. In her later years, she moved to Siler City where she died as a recluse with 14 cats.

So that’s always surprising for people who only knew her as Aunt Bee. But on the other hand, some actors in real life are actually pretty close to their character on screen. William Frawley, known by most as Fred Mertz on I Love Lucy, fits that bill.

He was a crotchety curmudgeon on the show, and apparently even more cantankerous in real life. His career was filled with spats with producers, and he was once fired for punching another actor in the nose. When Desi Arnaz called him to offer him the job of playing Fred, he told him that he’d be on a short a leash. He behaved well enough to avoid being written out of the show, but didn’t exactly make a lot of friends during the show’s six seasons. (And apparently Fred and Ethel despised each other in real life).

But it’s the character of Fred Mertz, not the actor William Frawley, that we want to focus on today.

Fred was a tightwad. A cheapskate. Parsimonious. Niggardly. Miserly. Penurious. Use whatever vocabulary word you want, but he wouldn’t spend money on anything. Always taking the cheapest way out. Complaining about every penny he had to spend on anything. It was probably the most defining element of his character.

And while a lot of people don’t realize it, they actually become Fred Mertz once they retire.

That happens because they don’t have an income plan. See, when you’re working, you don’t have any trouble spending money. You spend money with confidence because you’re confident that you’ll get a paycheck next month to replenish the money that you just spent. But that mental paradigm changes when you shift from earning a paycheck to now living off your savings.

If you don’t have an income plan in retirement, it’s hard to spend with confidence. Without an income plan, you just have a big pile of money sitting there. And you’re hoping that you can take a small enough chunk of money out of that pile each month so that you don’t have to worry about running out.

I’ve seen a lot of people who actually have plenty of retirement savings—more than enough to give them the lifestyle that they want for the rest of their lives. But because they’re worried about outliving their money, they don’t pay themselves as much as they could. Which means not taking the trips that they want to take, or not giving as much to the church as they want to, or not taking the whole family out to eat, even though they really want to.

Or maybe they actually do all of those things, but they don’t fully enjoy it because they’re worried about the price tag. There's a little voice in the back of their head that's telling them that they’re spending too much.

An income plan tells you where the paychecks are going to come from, not just next month, but for the rest of your life. And once you see it on paper, and see how you need to invest in order to make the income plan work, you wouldn’t believe the confidence that you’ll have.

Get an income plan. Spend with confidence. Don’t be Fred. Nobody really liked him.