By Betty Fitterman
Note: This is Part 2 of a series. Part 1 is “Retirement Reality Check“
September 18, 2012 — Now I don’t want to scare you, but whatever you have saved for retirement, it probably won’t be enough. That’s the opinion of the New York Times, anyway, and I’m here to tell you that I agree.
When I was a little girl, I never thought I’d be a millionaire. Millionaires were rich, for heaven’s sake, and I never thought I’d be rich. Some 50 years after that insight, I was indeed a millionaire, so how come I felt so poor? Too poor to retire, anyway, given that the economy was tanking and some of my friends had many times the savings that I did, and they were still working too.
I resisted the pull to get out of my high pressure job, but my high pressure husband had a Jones to travel, so eventually I gave in. Mostly to save my marriage, but also because my business wasn’t making any money, and I had worked for free for far too long.
We spent almost four years on the road in a souped-up motor coach, and we had the time of our lives. We traveled all over the US and Canada and really enjoyed the lifestyle. Soon, however, it became apparent that if we didn’t take advantage of the depressed housing market, we’d be fools. I didn’t want to live in a bus forever so we put in a woefully stingy bid on a house that three years earlier had sold for twice what we offered.
We got it, to our surprise, a sweet little house in a gated community with a gorgeous pool and really low common charges.
As all that dust settled our elation leveled out, and we took a hard look at our finances. We now had two mortgages, one for the house and another for the luxury coach we’d purchased for half a million dollars the year before. Our savings, once comfortably over a million dollars, had dwindled to less than half that, and were leaking at a terrifying rate. The economy, the cost of diesel fuel, and the upkeep on our monument to luxurious travel had conspired to wipe us out. Then we both got sick, seriously so, and had to deal with that. We’re all better, thank God, but without insurance, we would have had to die to stay solvent. Okay, maybe that’s a bit drastic.
Putting the Bus on the Market
We decided to sell the bus. That didn’t happen, so we surrendered our rolling Taj Mahal to the bank, who has just sold it at auction, at a rate better than we’d expected, but about $100,000 less than our mortgage. We are now in debt to the bank for that shortfall. Fortunately, here in Florida, our IRAs and our home can’t be touched. We have a couple of older cars, but they probably won’t bother to attach them. If they do, we’ll lease a car. No big deal. I’m hopeful that we’ll walk away from this with our designer shirts.
While we’ve put a large digit in the dyke, we’re still leaking and need to bring in some extra money if we want to do the things that make retirement pleasant – travel, go to concerts, and in my case, decorate. Fortunately, the jewelry I’ve been making has been selling and it seems I might have a second career. It’s keeping me in style anyway, with new clothes, shoes and the like, on a regular basis. And I’m saving for those expensive drapes. I don’t need them, but I want them. You get it, don’t you?
When I read in the Times that the typical worker in the US is facing retirement with just $54,000 in their IRA or other retirement account and the average family had just $120,000, I feel rich. I do regret that we spent like rich people when we were making money, and if I had any advice for you, it would be to save more than you think you should, and spend less than you’d like to. And obviously, don’t invest in the real estate market for the time being. Develop a skill for that second career, and remember that in states with lots of old folks, healthcare is just about the only industry that is thriving. If I didn’t faint at the sight of blood, I’d probably take a course in that field and look for a “little job” that I liked doing.
But I’m pretty sure that with a little extra effort, we can bring in some cash and stop the drain on our savings. We would very much like to begin living on the income from our investments, as we planned to do some six years ago.
Meanwhile, our tax advisor has gone white – and he’s so young, poor guy. But we soldier along our merry retirement way, clipping coupons, eating in when we can stand to, ordering twofers during cocktail hour, and eschewing some expensive trips and cruises for the time being.
Call me a cockeyed optimist, or just call me cockeyed, but I trust in the goodness of the universe to take care of us, and I sleep well at night. Hey, I’m Irish. My ancestors probably took in laundry. There you go. Another opportunity in life. See what I mean?
About the author
Betty Fitterman was a writer/creative director at big advertising agencies, then began her own agency in 1997 with clients like Johnson & Johnson, Chubb Insurance, Concha y Toro Wines, and The Samaritans, an international suicide prevention organization. She retired in 2007 and spent four years on the road in a motor coach, kept a lively blog, and is in the process of writing a book about her adventures. She landed in Florida in 2011 and is busy with volunteer work, croquet and creating statement jewelry. Her business, Killer Beeds, was recently featured in Pelican Post Magazine. She doesn’t know how to relax. Yet.
Comments: Any reactions to Betty’s story from your own experience? Let us know in the Comments section below. See also Betty’s other articles under “Adventurous Retirements” (the Mobile Lifestyle) and “Betty’s Thoughts on Retirement” in our Tips and Picks section.