In 2005, I was married to a man who made close to six figures and I worked when I wanted to. We had almost no savings or retirement. There was a conscious decision to spend that money taking our children around Europe at every opportunity during the seven years we lived and worked there, and I still think it was the right decision. However, in addition to no retirement or savings, we also had no debt, absolutely none. We had sold our house, our car was paid off, we used check cards instead of credit cards. So we lived paycheck to paycheck but incurred no debt. Heck, it was Europe, I could afford a house cleaner two times a week even though I was staying home!
In 2010, I have a small pension, less than $200,00 of said savings and life insurance left, no job in sight, and a college student partially dependent on me and unable to also get a job as of yet! How did I get here!!
Please know that I'm not complaining, just sharing. Although I always made sure we lived within our means, I'm having to learn every day to cut more and more, and most of the time it's an adventure! I enjoy doing it, I enjoy writing about it (most of the time), and I have to do it. But it has certainly been a journey-partly because of idiocy, partly because of things beyond my control, and partly of promises made years ago.
I'm sure there are lots of folks who arrive where I am, with or without the death of a spouse. Savings get decimated, you think you can retire on much less than you thought, children you thought would become dependent are not-so many different reasons that life changes you.
In my case, some of those reasons were beyond my control. As a spouse of a Department of Defense employee, once he died I lost that sponsorship that allowed me to stay in Europe.So my son (a high school senior) and I had to ignore the most important advice of do nothing for a year-we had to do everything in less than a year. Although in theory the government shipped us and our household goods home, in truth there is a fair amount of cost in that. There are things you are not allowed to move (patio furniture, grills, the whole food pantry) or that you pay for yourself (dogs that are with your family years). Because of the military system much of our furniture was not usable and we had already decided would have to be rebought back in the states.
Some of the expenses were those that a financial adviser would probably oppose, but that I had made a commitment to spend. I had promised said husband that our son would go to college-period. And not a community college if possible. So I spent money on tuition, room, board, and extra expenses. My son is getting a degree in golf course administration (a BS) and has to play golf regularly.
Other expenses were things that I needed. but............After renting for a brief time, I bought a house and put a hefty down payment (not paying it off entirely as its not my forever home). I had two kids, two active dogs and felt the need. The Texas housing market is okay, so I'm not in the pickle I might be elsewhere, although I am glad I didn't pay up in full. I went out and bought furniture all at once, iinstead of looking and searching and so on. That paid off car had 200 thousand miles on it and could not be shipped home. So I bought a brand new car (paid with cash and with a plan to make it last to the same mileage, but still.........)
Lastly of course, there are all the expenses that I didn't need and sometimes have nothing to show for. After my husband died, I was at home full time in Germany while my son went to school and finished, before we returned to the US. I sat at the computer all day long and ate and spent and ate and spent. Some of that behavior continued in the US. I thought I could get another job, so I continued to spend as I had in married life. If I wanted it I got it. At no time did I sit down and figure out how much I should take out a year, do a budget or anything close to that until the past year. Then of course, I took a deep breath.
Looking back, some of this could not have been changed in the short term. I could however, have asked some financially savvy relatives to assist me in the money area, and they would have done so with a firm hand. I could have put all non essential spending on hold and stayed in the rental house for a year or so.
But the truth is, I am where I am. Fifty something, with a college student at home, a small government pension, a little bit of savings, a house that is not paid off, good friends, supportive family, a twelve year old dog, and two small businesses that are just starting to get on their feet. I'm still enjoying my life, thinking positive, having fun, and learning how to do all of those things on a lot less than I thought. Hopefully as I learn, other folks will either learn or teach me in the process.