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Retirement Reality Check

Category: Retirement Planning

By Betty Fitterman
Note: This is Part 1 in series. Here is the link to Part 2: “Living on a Dime, Or So It Would Seem“.
When we retired in July of 2008, we thought we were set for retirement. After all, we had over a million dollars in the bank, had just sold both house and condo, furniture and cars, and we’d settled in for a wonderful ride across the country in our new home, a classy motor coach with all the bells and whistles anybody could ask for. Little did we know.

If you want all the details of our three-year odyssey, you can see them all on my blog, but for now I want to talk to you about the money. And where it went. And went. And went.

First of all, there was the market, which dipped like elderly dancers doing the waltz. We’re still waiting for them to get back up. We watched as our balance plummeted below the million-dollar mark, even before we’d spent any real money.

Then there were the realities of mobile living, which, while cheaper than living in a landed home in New York, were more than we’d expected. We didn’t pay taxes anymore, but we did have bumps and bruises, flats and floods, all of which cost lots of money to fix. It seemed to me that every repair cost us $2500, but that could just be my flair for the dramatic.

When our floor buckled under a murderous onslaught of water while we were out one day, and the brakes got softer with each stop, we decided we needed to replace our coach with a newer model. Needless to say, we fell in love with a beauty and mortgaged ourselves to the tune of $300,000 to possess this siren of speed, this goddess of glide. We threw caution to the winds, and our money went with it. Anyone with any experience at all knows how a vehicle depreciates once it’s off the lot.

Not six months later, we landed in Florida and made the decision to look for a house. Not a huge house, just a modest house in a gated community. With a pool. We found it, and took on yet another mortgage. Then there was the matter of furniture, the majority of which we had sold, so we had to furnish this house with fresh stuff, all of which cost money, not that I ignored the Florida Estate Sale rounds, a favorite activity of people down here.

That brings me to today, and our dwindling resources. We are down into the under-fives at this point, and were told by our financial advisor that unless we got some source of income, we’d have to die in two years. We had been spending way above our projected level all along. Now our bus sits idle in a storage lot, a white elephant that costs us over $2000 a month in payments and storage fees, and so far we’d had no luck in finding a buyer offering even close to our asking price. We may just give this baby back to the bank. So much for good credit.
I didn’t plan to work again. I’ve traveled the country, started my novel, met lots of people, learned the game of croquet, joined the Arts Council, gone to concerts, thrown dinner parties and sold my hand-made jewelry enough to know it’s not the path to riches. It’s been a great four years, but it’s time to grow up and plan for my future.

We are currently weighing the benefits of starting a new business together versus getting jobs with real salaries, although they will likely be less than a third of what we made while we were at the top of our respective games. We figure if we work part-time we can stop the drain on our nest egg and still be able to go out to dinner, and hopefully, travel again.

Moral: Read the “Top Ten Misconceptions About Retirement” article on this site and commit it to memory.

Meanwhile on my side of the great divide, four years after the fact, I’m practicing saying, “Welcome to WalMart.”

But don’t ask me where anything is. Please. I’m retired.

About the Author:
Betty Fitterman is a frequent contributor to She was in advertising for over 30 years before her retirement. An award-winning writer, she was EVP/Creative Director and a member of the Board of Directors of Lintas Advertising until 1997, when she and her partner Frank DeVito formed DeVito Fitterman Advertising, which today is a successful agency serving blue chip clients like Johnson & Johnson, Ricola, ASCAP. Fujifilm and Arch Insurance, among others. To read her humorous observances on mobile living, visit her blog at You can find her Topretirements articles in our Tips and Picks section.

Comments? How is your retirement going? Is it turning out better than expected, or perhaps not quite up to expected par? Please let us know in the Comments section below.

Posted by John Brady on February 1st, 2012


  1. Wow, such a somber ending for an always imaginative, informative, often funny, always entertaining odyssy of travel across the US. Your comments are for heeding by all of us.
    But I would say our lifestyles may differ, especially what makes us fulfilled. I have purchased for cash a 1989 RV in good shape for a similar travel experience and purpose, but may forego doing several years on the road to compact our journey into a year or less; just too much in travel expenses right now. Purchases have been made in my last few months of work so I won’t have to buy stuff when income shrinks to a fraction of my current good salary. I also would welcome, and plan to have, a cash-paid home, even a manufactured home, after my current house is sold in this ‘down market’, but will avoid any mortgage, unless a small one for tax purposes. My days of the big mortgaged Victorian (current) are changing to the new freedom of smaller is better. As to dinner parties, glad I have friends that love to entertain; I love to go.
    Guess I’m only saying that most of humanity exists on much less than we’ve been programmed to have. But as I have just programmed my new big screen TV (hope it goes 30-40 yrs like the Zenith!), I’ve also tried to reset my priorities to this new bold age.

    by Carey Mebach — February 2, 2012

  2. 🙄 I would love to write a book about my first ten years of retirement. I have the notes at hand and some segments completed. BUT — how to have it published? Is there a market for such writing?

    I love the honesty of this Betty Fitterman piece. Wonder how the house in Florida is working out?:cool:

    by margaret curtis — February 2, 2012

  3. I appreciate her honesty, but I’m amazed at how she could make such serious mistakes. Maybe never managed money before. Class A is the most expensive RV in cost and in upkeep/travel expense. Setting off to live a life of travel and luxury without planning is a recipe for ex-retirement. Abandoning your former lifestyle, failure to account for market changes, and re-doing the same mistakes are just more of the same.
    CM, I wish you well — at least you’re making some of the right choices. Maybe you can write your own blog…
    I hope Betty Fitterman will compile a “look back” on all the mistakes made and how things might have been different “if”.

    by Rich Beaudry — February 3, 2012

  4. If a poll was made for the following what would be the result –
    Can you live as comfortably in retirement if all retirement sources combined equaled to 75% of your net income the last year you worked and you had no mortgage payment in your retirement years?

    by BillyBap — February 3, 2012

  5. Billy,
    I’d assume you’re speaking of a good wage, not near poverty levels. I’ve figured that without a mortgage, in a less than average tax state, with no medical issues and paid-off cars, one should make it at 40-50% of previous income levels. It all depends, as we read in Betty’s article, on desired lifestyle. What do the current retirees think, and what’s their experience?

    by Carey Mebach — February 6, 2012

  6. […] By Betty Fitterman Note: This is Part 2 of a series. Part 1 is “Retirement Reality Check“ […]

    by » Retiring on a Dime – Or So It Would Seem Topretirements — September 18, 2012

  7. Carey, I couldn’t agree more. I found our lifestyle changed significantly when I retired … all for the better! We retired in ’96, bought our first motorhome in 99 and are now on our fourth (all upgrades). Living in the eastern Oregon mountains, we like to head south for the winter … leaving before the snows come to return when the snow goes away ~ 6-7 months. We took social security at age 62 and have been able to live off that entirely. We’ve yet to tap our savings (except for buying new motorhomes). We don’t have any mortgages and have few bills. Our home was designed to be low maintenance so there’s no problem leaving it for extended periods. Like Betty, we’ve traveled all over the USA, extensively in Canada, and even took the MH to Alaska for a month or so. Life is good.

    by dick epler — September 19, 2012

  8. I forgot to mention one other factor. I can fix almost anything and I do my own preventative maintenance. I’ve never bought an ‘extended warranty’ or service contract. I’ve always bought new motorhomes and have been able to get all the ‘infant mortality’ stuff fixed at the factory before the standard warranty expires. I’ve also never bought from a dealer. I like to find a broker who will do the paperwork so I can take factory delivery. This brings the price of the motorhome down considerably … roughtly 35% below list on the base and 45% on options. Generally, blue book (or NADA) after a year is still close to what I orginally paid.The whole idea of all of this, in my mind, is to use knowledge to reduce the need for other services (aka money).

    It works for us. But I certainly wouldn’t disparage anyone else’s lifestyle choices … especially Betty’s. In so many ways, Betty is a very rich lady. With her attitude and multiple talents, I’m sure she’ll attract a host of folks who will help her do anything or go anywhere she wants. I love reading everything she writes.

    by Dick Epler — September 19, 2012

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