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!