Monday, June 18, 2012

Living in the Now (or, Dealing with Life as we know it)

In 2006 my husband passed away, leaving me with $650,000 in life insurance and nothing else. Today, I have absolutely none of that money left. I have a monthly income, but all of that money is gone. We had no other retirement savings, and I am now left with a monthly pension and my husband’s social security. While I've shared this previously on this blog, I think it's a topic worth mentioning again, for reasons I'll share below.

One could write more than one blog post about where the money went and what were justifiable and reasonable expenses (and what were not). Money was spent moving a family and their possessions half way around the world. Money was spent making a hefty down payment on a home and furnishing it with all the appliances and electronics to replace those left in Europe. Money was spent sending a child to an expensive private school that required apartment living (to which he had been accepted prior to his father’s death). A year of sitting in front of the computer grieving, eating, and spending online (away from family who might have injected some common sense or an intervention) certainly took care of lots of that money. But that’s not the point of this blog post.

One could also write more than one blog post about why as a couple we had no other financial savings: We were willing to go to Europe to live even if it meant higher costs and less income. We were willing to spend our retirement and our children’s college money on seeing every corner of Europe, believing the end result was worth it (a belief which has in no way changed in my case). We figured that as long as we had no debt and paid our bills, we could spend the rest as we wished, because after all, we worked for the government (a not entirely false assumption, considering my current income). That would not be the point of this blog post either.

The point is simply this: Concentrating on those things can only hold me back. Period. I can get angry about what happened. I can cry about what happened. Folks can comment on this blog about how reckless I was. I can whine about how it’s just not fair. I can spend nights remembering all that money I had and where it went. I can kick myself for not calling my brother the financial genius, the sensible one in the family, and asking him to take care of the money. But doing those things doesn’t help my current situation. Life is about where we are NOW. While how we got there (and whose fault it is) can be educational and worth remembering on some level, what’s important is where I am now, and how I am going to deal with my life from this point. What can I do to live richly in retirement with the finances, skills and other assets I have? The answer is lots and lots.

Awhile back Donna Freedman (whose blog is linked on my blog roll) of Surviving and Thriving and Frugal Cool, wrote a guest post on the blog Get Rich Slowly. This is a blog I visit every day, although I read it sporadically. It concentrates much more on the get rich aspect than I personally am interested in and is generally aimed at a younger crowd-those still saving and planning for retirement, mostly. Occasionally there is an article that hits home and Donna’s was one. This particular guest post was called the The Statute of Limitations on Regret. Obviously it’s a topic that resounds with me. At the time Donna suggested I write about my circumstances. One could write many blog posts on this issue alone, and it may be that I will.

What brought me to this topic today however, was the recent government statistics that many people have lost forty percent of their net worth in the last four years. Bob over at Satisfying Retirement blogged about this situation today, and made many valid points. He's angry, and he wants to know why others are not more angry, outraged even. I left a longer comment on Bob’s blog. To summarize a small part of that comment: the truth is that anger and regret are draining. Whether it’s through poor investments, poor spending habits, the housing bubble, the banking industry or Wall Street, one cannot wish that money back. In some cases investments will rise or return of course. The bottom line though, is that our energies are better spent adjusting our lifestyle to what we have now, and finding a way to live richly in retirement on what we have. Life is meant to be lived, especially in retirement.

Recently I mentioned that I’ve begun a more concentrated effort to have a retirement plan that allows me to do the things I want that are important to me. In that blog post I shared some of the decisions I am looking to make, as well what those are that matter to me. To that end, I will be concentrating more on my frugal retirement, and how I make it work, and the problems and frustrations I occasionally face in living a rich yet frugal retirement. Be assured, this blog will still be filled with quilting and cooking and travel and all the other minutiae of retirement life-I’ll just be sharing how I live that life frugally.

Because looking forward is much more rewarding than looking backward, after all!


  1. Barb, your honesty and realism are so refreshing! I read your response at Satisfying R., and I think you said it all very well. The best we can do is control our own actions today. Yesterday is done and gone. Better to have learned a few things from our experiences and not hang on to bitter and toxic thoughts as M does.
    You are a free spirit and I enjoy reading your perspectives. Thank you so much.

  2. This is such an important post (and actually plays into what I posted yesterday): Here's hoping you learned from the financial mistakes, enjoyed the expenses/decisions you would make yet again if you could, and then relegate it to the past where it justly belongs. What you have now (includes debts and blessings) and could reasonably have for the future are what count. It doesn't much matter how you got here unless you intend to make all the same mistakes over again. But it matters greatly for your financial future what you intend to do with the circumstances you currently have.

  3. I look forward to hearing more on this from you Barb. Your philosophy is the same as mine - we get one go around (as far as I know anyway :-) so why waste it being angry at that which we cannot control? Of course we can/should always look first to see if change is an option, but if it is not, acceptance of our situation is they only way I'm aware of to get back to a place of peace.

    It is clear you live a rich life in spite of, or perhaps because of, your current financial situation. I have been positively influenced by your posts, and approach my life with a renewed sense of appreciation as a result. My "thank you" is therefore overdue.

  4. Barb,
    I just read the article you linked in your post and agree that there should be a statute on regret. I also read Bob's post this morning and made a comment along with the host of others who have an opinion on this topic. There is plenty of blame to go around, but no one to hold accountable, so it's time for us to accept what is and move forward.
    I like your attitude that "it is what it is." You are not blaming anyone or asking anyone for a bailout, you are owning your situation and trying to make the best of it.
    Best wishes for a "rich retirement."

  5. Thank you for the link, Barb. :-)
    A minor quibble: It wasn't a guest post at Get Rich Slowly. I'm a staff writer there.
    And I *still* think you should do a Reader's Story for GRS.

  6. Moving forward seems to be my theme as well these days. You are an inspiration of carefully mixing family, fun and frugality to accomplish much while putting one foot in front of the other.

  7. Sorry about the attribute Donna. May write on this topic for GRS still.......working on an article about frugal (non extreme) travel for the rest of us, as soon as I can stop sounding like a barking seal!

  8. Just to let everyone know, I will follow up on comments in the morning. Im sounding like a barking seal, with a bronchitis cough so bad its making my back hurt (time to face the doctor music perhaps), but I have not forgotten you all.

  9. The post on my blog you refer to generated rather intense feelings on all sides of this issue. It was an interesting day, to say the least.

    Your openness in the comment on my blog and on this post is refreshingly honest. I don't know of many people who would admit to running through their money like you did and not look to shift the "blame." You made choices with your eyes wide open.

    I don't doubt for a moment that you will continue to enjoy your life and make whatever adjustments you must.

  10. Barb,
    It takes me a while, but as always, what you say and how hard you try to get the message to me, somehow, someway sinks in. I did a lot of thinking yesterday and here's what I came up with:

    To make today the start of the new beginning. You are right NOT to look back. I did the best I could, now, the present, and move on from here.

    So, I thought about where I was in 1992. My net worth was $200K just in my home and my net worth in cash was negated because I had 2 car loans and credit cards.

    Fast forward to right now, today, June 19, 2012 and my total net worth, including homes, equity, cash, investments and sellable assets is slightly over $800K. That is quadruple from where I started from. Today, I have absolutely no debt of any kind. Yes, it's true, my PAPER Profit amounts are less and I am a bit low on the spendable cash but, as you told me, if I look at my life right now,'s perfectly OK. I'm OK. I'm going to be alright. I am doing OK. I did OK. I have to stop beating myself up and racking myself up in stressful fits of guilt. Ugh.
    The other thing I came to terms with, is that I just didn't realize how important is was to me going to NYC Broadway shows were. I've been going since I was a little girl and the thought of never being able to go again, upset me something fierce. I know it's silly. But If it makes me so happy, then whatever I need to do, to go at least once per year, then that is what I shall do.
    My sister is going to retire next year and she told me we could go to the discount 'tckts' stall 1 hr before showtime and get some excellent deals. So, next year, we will do that!
    I know I'm a bit thick in the head. It takes me a while to come to my senses. Today is the beginning of the rest of my (retired) life.
    Thanks for drumming common sense into me. I'm such a fool sometimes.

  11. Hi Barb, I just nominated you for the versatile blogger award.
    I admire your positive attitude and agree with your take on regret.


  12. What a great post, I am sure we all have made lots of mistakes along the way with our savings and spending, I KNOW we have. Learning to forgive ourselves and move forward is the only way to go. All we can do is all we can do!!

  13. I'm late coming to this but I wanted to say what a breath of fresh air your perspective is! You can look back with regret but it won't bring the money back or as you have done, continue to move forward and enjoy the life you have now. Excellent post Barb, I read you regularly but rarely comment, however, this post was so excellent I just had to comment.


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