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Retiring on a Dime – Or So It Would Seem

Category: Retirement Planning

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.

Posted by Admin on September 18th, 2012


  1. […] 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 […]

    by » Retirement Reality Check Topretirements — September 18, 2012

  2. unfortunately – your story is all too common. However your attitude is exemplary!

    by Stress-Free Retirement — September 18, 2012

  3. I think this is a wake up call. Do your homework and be money smart when you retire! Love the beads Betty!

    by Holly M — September 19, 2012

  4. I congratulate you on taking the leap – I had plans but was scared and than things happened that make me stay. I did not want to be one of those that “die in your chair” but it may be that way. Love your piece.

    by Lynne — September 19, 2012

  5. Deciding or rather knowing when to retire is the key. You retire when you realize you’ve acquired enough assets and possessions to maintain the standard of living you want to live. I “semi” retired at the age of 43. My original plan was age 50 but circumstances led me to retire early. Six years later I don’t foresee outliving my money at any point because I not only planned my retirement finances but my retirement lifestyle.

    Editor’s note: Doug provided a long explanation of his approach to retirement, too long for this comment section. This was only a fragment. We published a slightly edited version of his systematic approach in this Blog at .

    by doug0613 — September 19, 2012

  6. Doug wrote the clearest, most informative piece on retirement I have ever read. If we all planned like that, we wouldn’t be struggling and running out of money. Fortunately I am much closer to a Doug than to the author.

    by TropicBob — September 19, 2012

  7. Thank you for the blog and responses. I very much appreciate hearing how Doug has successfully managed financially in retirement. As Betty articulates so well, it is easy to make a lot of financial mistakes in retirement so it is helpful to hear how Doug has done it. For me, Betty’s retirement would be much more stressful than Doug’s retirement.

    by Everette — September 19, 2012

  8. Wow, I live on so little that I don’t even have to pay or even file for taxes anymore. So my first reaction was not too sympathetic.
    Then I thought how awful it would be to have it all & then lose most of it instead of never having it at all.
    But material “stuff” is really not that important to me, we shop at the Salvation Army for “new” clothes, use coupons & grow some of our food & heat with free wood we find that is downed. Our only frivolous expense is traveling, and we save up for nice trips.
    So Betty, be careful with your money….. and forget about those fancy drapes, make them yourself!

    by Marge — September 19, 2012

  9. Betty, you are so entertaining! Unfortunately, your piece was terrifying as well. Funny just doesn’t make it when taking a cold, hard look at expenses running way ahead of assets. Four years gallivanting around the country in a top of the line motor home. What were you thinking? Wouldn’t four months have been more prudent? Didn’t you get scared at all the money just getting burned up by the motor fuel? You look so glam and young in your picture with lots of years left to live. Hope so, anyway. Glad that you’re Irish (I’m half Irish, but all German — if you get my drift) cause you might have to take in laundry after all.

    by Patricia Kennedy — September 19, 2012

  10. I was watching a report last week on the 5 least expensive places to live in the US. I was thrilled to learn that McAllen, Texas is the 3rd least expensive place and Harlingen, Texas is the number one least expensive place to live. We have spent 2 winters in McAllen, Texas and love it. For us, living in a nice place that we can afford will make the difference and allow us to spend summers in WI at our cottage on a lake and continue our international travels. We will also become Texas residents by staying there 6 months out of the year so we don’t have to pay income tax on our pensions, etc.

    by Susan — September 19, 2012

  11. Susan,

    Glad that you like Texas – sounds like McAllen is a lot less expensive than Houston. As for us, we cannot wait to get out of Texas and head back to east coast! Too humid and hot, high taxes, expensive housing (if one wants to be close to interstates), neighborhood crime. Working for another 6 months and then we’re outta here!

    by Fionna — September 20, 2012

  12. Betty, good you are lucky and have great attitude to make up for lack of common sense. Enjoy doing the laundry!

    by Eric — September 20, 2012

  13. If anyone is interested in a blank copy of the Personal Budget I mentioned in my comment to keep track of every dollar I spend it’s available here:
    It’s just a simple no frills spreadsheet in Excel format. I use OpenOffice the greatest FREE multiplatform office suit on the planet which you can get here: – doug0613

    by doug061363 — September 21, 2012

  14. :lol:Thank you to all who commented on my article. I note that men take a more serious line when commenting on what they perceive as my lack of common financial sense, and women seem to like my attitude. Not sure if it’s the genes or the small number in the sample, but it was interesting. I grew up in a big household with small income, so I know how to “make do” as my mom would say. To the gentleman who commented on the length of my travels, I’d do it again in a heartbeat. It was the adventure of a lifetime and I thank my nutso husband for making me jump aboard. I’ll take living to saving any time. Then again, ask me when I’m 92 and taking in that laundry!:lol:

    by Betty Fitterman — September 21, 2012

  15. Betty, Many thanks for baring your soul and sharing your experiences with your fellow Topretirements members. It takes a lot of courage to be as honest as you have been. I know our members appreciate learning about the fun you had and mistakes you made along the way.

    As for me, I love your attitude. Better to have lived a life with adventure than not!

    by John Brady — September 21, 2012

  16. Well, my need to retire on a dime didn’t come from poor choices in retirement. I had retired once in 2005 and carefully invested the bigger part of my savings into what I thought was a solid investment: Merendon Mining, through IFFL. If any of you chose to google either of those things you would find that it was a Ponzi scheme, and the perpetrators are now on trial in Calgary, AB Can. However, even if they are found guilty, my money is gone, along with some 4000 other investors. So I went back to work in 2010, but cannot possibly recoup my losses, as I am 63. I now work for the State of NY, and unless I collapse at work, can probably keep working till I’m 80. People here do that. But I don’t want to. I’m tired. I have already worked since I was 16. Almost 50 years. And, unfortunately, my health isn’t great. I wouldn’t mind working part-time, but even then, I don’t want to do it in New York, where the winters are long and cold. So what do I do? I am a widow, and I have one small IRA tucked away, and beyond that I have social security. I believe I can earn some income, either working from home on my computer, or getting a part-time job. But since I had to file bankruptcy when most of my money was stolen, I don’t even have good credit. What I am thinking at this piont is one of two things: either buy myself a park model rv in an rv community or a small mobile home pssibly; or rent a two-bedroom place in a tourist area and use one room as ‘hotel’ room on, to help me pay my rent. the downside to the renting scheme is that I may never be in a position to buy anything again, as I will probably never be full-time employed again. So, if anyone has suggestions on how a person with very little money and poor credit can find that dream spot and finally retire, please let me know.

    by Ginger — September 22, 2012

  17. Ginger, You have a difficult situation. As much as I like list and some other good resources, it is only a starting point. It is very hard to make a decision if you cannot really visit the places that you are interested in exploring. What is your present housing situation? Do you own a home now? Perhaps one that was paid off before this situation? It will make some differences in your options. There are places to live that are cheaper than many areas in NY…not sure where you live.

    I hesitate to mention that you might benefit from professional advice on your financial situation. Or perhaps a Geriatric Care Manager or Eldercare manager in your area. Also info on when to take benefits such as SSI and Medicare. Sometimes they can be found free in communities. I hope that you can continue working until 65 or better 66.

    I know some people who owned some very inexpensive mobile homes in FL with permanent fixure to land, but rent on such was high. Not sure what prices are today. The same area had an RV section. It was a very nice, friendly area back then. I do not remember the name, but it was in Pompano Beach FL. I am sure there are other area like that…just beware of land retenal prices.

    by Eric — September 23, 2012

  18. Ginger, The place I mentioned was Golf View Estates in Pompano Beach FL. The couple that I knew loved it. Lots of activities and friendly people and the place was nicely kept with good landscaping. I got a kick out of all the adult tricycles when I visited them (sort of a budget golf cart). That was about 15 or 20 years ago, so I do not know how things are now. But that type of situation can be found elsewhere. I do remember that the land “rental” fees were high (still cheaper than some other situations), but even if I remembered how much, it probably would not be relevant today,

    by Eric — September 23, 2012

  19. Ginger, I live in West TN and it gets pretty hot and humid sometimes in the summer. But TN doesn’t have a state income tax and the real estate taxes are low. We have a 9 year old, 2800 sq ft. brick home on 1 acre and our real estate taxes are $960 per year. There are smaller homes, older homes, and smaller lots (can’t image you would want to mow an acre or more). It doesn’t get very cold in the winter and snow is a rare event and soon gone. We live in Henderson, TN (NOT Hendersonville). The nearest large town with nice restaurants and major stores is about 25 miles away but you can get just about anything you want in Henderson. Also the next county over has even lower property taxes than my county. If you want you can go to and look up Henderson (and Finger – town in McNairy county – next county over). I don’t know what price range RV you are looking at but you may get a house in this are for what you would pay for one. Just a thought and an option to check out. The people are nice and friendly. We moved here from the Chicago area and it took a little adjustment to the slower life style (especially for me who is a type A personality), but then retirement should enable us to slow down if we choose. Best of luck in finding what you want!

    by Barb — September 23, 2012

  20. Great comments! I live in a house that I ‘bought’ in 2007, but it has gone upside down like most property here, so at this point I will probably let them foreclose. It would cost me money to sell. No, I’m afraid my financial status is dire. And yes, I can work till 65 or 66 or 70 or 75, but I don’t want to. I’m tired and my health isn’t great. And the winters are hard on me (I have COPD). I would really like to relocate someplace warmer and not humid, and an area where I can find part-time work. I can get $1500/month Social security right now, and I can probably have about $500/mo more from my remaining IRA. that isn’t much to live on, but I can also earn up to $25K a year before my social security would be taxed. I have good computer skills (I’m a systems analyst now), and I can do accounts payable and spreadsheets, and accounting related tasks. Surely I can come up with some part-time work. So if anyone else has suggestions, particularly in the western US, please let me know.

    by Ginger — September 23, 2012

  21. The reason I mentioned the 65 or 66 is holding off is SSI. But I understand especially the COPD, which is a hard problem to live with. Stress doesn’t help with COPD or health in general. Sounds like you are independent and have thought about income alternative. Is there any chance you can continue in your present job and telecomute? I mention it because of the nature of your work?

    After remembering the nice place in Florida that I mentioned, I think finding a commuity like would be a great choice. I assume that there similar communities in the west. It might also be a choice for others who want a second location in a different climate. It is probably harder to research on-line because you need to be careful to find a well run community. I guess that there are more bad stories than good ones on-line. Good luck with your search. I am not sure if this web site is the right place for that research. I haven’t seen much on these blogs. But I guess this would be the best blog for less expensive alternative. Good luck with your search and if you find a good place to research mobile home communities let us know.

    by eric — September 24, 2012

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