In 2005 I was living in Europe. My husband made a very good salary (I have never made anything but mommy pay) in the high five figures. We traveled to every corner of Europe, staying in mid-range to very expensive hotels. My husband and sons skied and played golf constantly. We had a lovely (four level!) house with four bathrooms (that’ll never happen again!) and five bedrooms. I had a cleaning lady twice a week for the price of lunch out. We did not use credit, had moderate savings and lived within our means. When I wanted a four thousand dollar sewing machine I bought it, and my husband, bless his heart, drove a Fiat Barchetta-on the autobahn (and never, ever with me).
In 2006 my husband died, I was left unemployed, and I had my husband’s life insurance to my name and nothing more. This is not a bad husband issue, as a couple we made a conscious decision to spend our retirement and much of our children’s college money over the ten plus years total we lived in Europe. I don’t regret that decision.
Fast forward to the beginning of 2012. Most of the life insurance is gone, and what is left is invested in things (like a huge percentage of this house). A large portion of this money was “blown” for lack of a better expression. I spent seven months doing nothing but eating and shopping online while I was overseas and my son was finishing his high school education. I mean that I could not sleep, so I literally did these two things all day every day. The rest of the money was spent on private tuition for two college students, moving across the world-you name it. I’m the perfect example of what happens when the average Joe or Josephine gets a large pot of money and is emotionally unready. That however is a separate story and not the point of this missive.
The point is this: In 2012, I live on $25,000 annually, plus additional monies I made from quilting and other small sideline interests. Life has not come to a stop (at least financially, I still do not sleep through the night). This is not the end of the world as I know it. My life includes travel, college, eating out, going to concerts and plays. Owning and maintaining home (and paying a mortgage) are part of that lifestyle. I do not consider life to be tedious, deprived or anything less than the real thing.
Obviously I would be less than truthful if I did not say that things had changed, some more drastically than others. I’m not Pollyanna and there have been some difficult choices along the way-and many that were not difficult at all. Certainly there were some lifestyle changes. Still, somehow I’ve managed to keep those things that are important to me-through creativity, finding alternatives, and in some cases eliminating things that were less than important or gave my life little value.
I continue to maintain and pay a mortgage on a house. Someday I will downsize-but I’d like to put that off for as long as possible. Travel continues to be part of my life. I take part in a variety of hobbies, some of them more than a little costly. I socialize on a regular basis. Most importantly, my time is (mainly) my own and I am never bored.
To keep those things in my life, I’ve made some adjustments. Some folks might say that to have to make these adjustments in retirement is too much. Obviously I cannot speak for them. I would suggest however, that for many retirees, the ability to call all of your time your own is invaluable. In my case, I still eat out at really good restaurants-but only three or four times a year and with discounts. I regularly attend concerts, plays and events-but most of them are smaller and more local (and often free). A couple times a year I spurge on a major play or event, (right now I cannot decide between Million Dollar Quartet, Rain, and Memphis). The rest of the time I enjoy local theater and music-and don’t feel deprived. I stretch out pedicures during sandal weather, and do it myself in the winter. I go to the movies, but usually at noon, and with my own food. When it comes for things for me and the house, I shop the used and discount markets first-and usually come up with better items than the local department store. With the exception of some reference books, I use the library only. My exercise these days consists of walking and occasionally using the pool at the county facility (for a nominal fee). In other words, while I have everything I want, I don’t always have it at the same time.
The end result is that I have downsized my life by half financially, and am still going strong. Life is full, varied and rewarding from day to day! I’m managing to travel, enjoy life, and yes, even add savings on my limited income.
Obviously what works for me will not work for everyone else. For one thing, I would do almost anything rather than get a “real job”, although I do want additional income. Some people may feel the need for spending in other areas. We all obviously have different wants. Some people need more new “things” on a regular basis than I do. As long as I can fix up the house, buy quilting fabric and the occasional new pair of earrings I’m happy. Hitting a mall, upscale or no, is not my cup of tea. It’s also true that I am one person living on one salary-but that’s usually to the detriment of the single person.
However, if you’re ready for retirement, willing to make some adjustments and ready to leave the proverbial rat race, be not afraid. Life can still be good, satisfying, interesting and yes, “fun”. Even on a limited income.