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Calculating the Cost of Your Midlife Crisis

Geoff Williams
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Every age has its inner turmoil. Teenagers, retirees -- everyone goes through emotional angst. But only one age group actually has a name for it. We know it as the midlife crisis.

Getting anyone to agree exactly when you hit middle age is challenging, but the consensus seems to be the 40s and 50s. For instance, Merriam-Webster defines "middle age" as the "period in a person's life from about age 40 to about age 60."

The definition of midlife crisis also varies. But many people agree it's a period when you wake up one day, wondering if this is as good as it gets, or if your life could be better. It's often the reason men and women have affairs, change careers or buy a really expensive car.

The trick to navigating a midlife crisis, however, is to mitigate the financial damage or at least make sure the crisis is worth having. So if you're on the verge of one, here are some common scenarios and the associated costs.

[See: 11 Money Moves to Make Before You Turn 40 .]

Buying an expensive car. "I was clever enough to buy my midlife crisis car, a 765 Li BMW, at the start of the recession in 2007," says Steve Albrecht, a 51-year-old San Diego resident who teaches training classes on workplace violence prevention. He was 45 years old, married and with kids, when he bought a car that had a list price of $121,000 new. Albrecht bought the car used, with low mileage, but it still set him back $55,000.

"I rationalized the $1,100 per month payments as a good example of how well my seminar training business was doing at the time," Albrecht says. "Then my clients started cutting back."

Albrecht, meanwhile, was doing some cutting back of his own."The battery was $600, and the tires, $1,200. I had to make many hard decisions about how to pay for it all each month," Albrecht says. "I didn't have to eat tuna every meal, but I definitely didn't put any savings or retirement away."

Two years later, Albrecht sold the car for $32,000. "Ugh," he says, recalling that painful day.

Having a secret affair. Obviously, this is one of the least defensible midlife crises you can have. Even if you don't spend much and never are caught, it's probably going to cost you -- emotionally, anyway.

But let's look at an affair, just from a numbers standpoint.

From June 27 until July 4, Vouchercloud.net, a coupon and discount code site, surveyed 2,645 Americans over age 25 and marred for at least five years, and asked if they were having or had an extramarital affair. Of the 24 percent who answered yes, 57 percent were male and 43 percent were female.

Respondents were then asked to offer up some details on how much the affair cost. According to the survey, the average six-month affair cost $2,664. On average, those having an affair spent $444 a month, broken down into the following categories:

-- Hotel bills: $123

-- Dinner and drink tabs: $162

-- Gifts: $54

-- Date activities, such as cinema tickets: $69

-- Miscellaneous: $36

So if you're thinking of having an affair and looking for an excuse not to, the cost could be your rationale: You can't afford it. And these numbers don't include the cost of hiring a divorce lawyer once your affair is uncovered.

Quitting your job. "In 2011, I decided to leave my job and join Occupy Wall Street," says Stephen Baldwin -- not the actor, but a guy who lives in New York and works in strategic content marketing.

He says that he wasn't part of "disaffected Gen Y," but was born in 1956, which makes him a baby boomer. "I spent an entire year protesting, making music, helping with Occupy Sandy disaster relief -- basically doing everything that I wanted to do for the first time in more than 30 years," he says.

By the time it was over, Baldwin figures he lost $60,000 -- "about the same price as a reasonable luxury car."

Finding a job again was kind of a hat trick, Baldwin admits. Anyone who feels inspired by his unemployment should be reminded that if you don't have a financial cushion to prop you up while you follow your bliss, you may come to regret it. Still, Baldwin doesn't have regrets.

"Maybe it was mad, crazy, irresponsible," he admits. "But when I think about that year 'in the streets,' I have a lot of happy memories that I'll carry with me to the grave."

Dana Manciagli, 53, of Bellevue, Washington, is also pleased with her decision to quit. She was working a "perfectly great job" at Microsoft Corp. as a general manager of worldwide sales. "I was planning on working there the rest of my career," she says.

[See: The Best Side Business Ideas for Busy People .]

But 18 months ago, her identical twin sister, Tracy, had a recurrence of breast cancer, and the "life's too short" mantra and idea of mortality hit Manciagli hard. Divorced, and with her 20-something kids out of college, she decided it was worth the risk to quit her lucrative job and turn her experience as a corporate executive into a job as a career coach.

"This is what I'm meant to do," she told her now ex-boss. Indeed, Manciagli, who invested a lot of her savings into starting her business, says she has made almost all of it back. Of her new career, she says, "I'm loving every minute of it and with no regrets."

Doing something risky. According to the United States Parachute Association, if you were to tandem jump out of an airplane -- with an experienced skydiver attached -- you would pay between $150 and $250.

According to CostHelper.com, the average bungee jump might cost you $30 to $400, depending on location and height.

Or you could do something really crazy that will cost much more, which could mean an even better return or a harder fall.

For instance, in 2007, Neil Gussman decided to chuck his job and re-enlist in the army. He was 54.

This wouldn't work for everyone. Gussman enlisted at a time when the U.S. military had raised the maximum age, and his prior service helped him get in.

"I cut my salary by 70 percent just as the third of our three daughters was starting college," says Gussman, who went from making $88,000 a year to $25,000.That was tough to adjust to -- and so was being sent to Iraq in 2007 and 2009.

Gussman didn't mind going. He says his wife, a college math professor, had always been the one to "do all these great things," citing his spouse's hospice volunteerism and how she once gave her kidney to a stranger.

Gussman says he felt like he was living in a "pampered rut." He wanted to do something different, and with his wife's job security, they felt comfortable taking the financial risk.

[Read: How to Afford Your Next Midlife Crisis .]

The 70 percent pay cut wasn't completely financially devastating, Gussman says. For instance, one of his daughters was able to get more financial aid, and he says he wasn't doing a lot of impulse buying while deployed overseas. "You almost have to force yourself to spend money in Iraq," he says.

Now 61, Gussman works full time in media relations for a history of chemistry museum in Philadelphia, but he is still a sergeant who serves one weekend a month in the Army National Guard and will until May 2015. He doesn't regret his decision to shake up his life and says his peers shouldn't hold back, either.

"As long as it's something you're passionate about," Gussman clarifies. "Hopefully it's a kind of passion to do something better and not to see how much money you can spend in Atlantic City."

Words to live by.

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