After spending several weeks down in Florida, I’ve had the chance to observe many different stages of retirement styles. It’s quite apparent that there are different shades of living arrangements whether self imposed or happenstance. Retirement inequality, however is alive and well. We have the luxury condos or townhomes where the rich and successful retirement planners dwell. And we have the less than desirable neighborhoods where, for whatever reason, retirement planning just didn’t go as well.
Sarasota has a growing homeless population as does most of the United States. I think the saddest sight to see is the elderly living and begging on the streets. Over the weekend, my sister and I met our brother in downtown Sarasota for dinner. As my sister and I got out of her Mercedes Benz convertible, we were approached by a rather sad looking woman asking if we had any money to spare. My sister said she had no cash, only charge cards (which was a silly thing to say). Me? I can’t bear to see a woman, especially one in her 50’s suffer. I told her yes, I had some money. As I approached her I could see that she had all of her clothes about her, bundled up and stuffed into bags. She was very distressed, almost on the verge of tears.
I told her I understood. I told her I know what she was going through. I told her I didn’t have much cash. But whatever I had, I would share it with her. I had a $20 bill and a $10 bill. I asked her if $10 was alright. It was and with that we both wished each other to have a good night. I went on to have a lovely $50 dinner with my brother (I put it on my charge card). The woman on the bench was still there when we got back to the car.
We can’t be mean to people such as this woman. We can’t blame them for what happened to them. We can’t shrug and say she should have planned her retirement better. Things happen. Many older workers today are being pushed out of their jobs simply because they are in their 50s or early 60s. None of this was in their retirement planning. Ditto to the many folks who have been renters for years only to find their rents doubled and tripled thanks in part to the greedy builders who will only build luxury condos and townhomes.
I’ll be honest with you and tell you a little secret. When I had my Florida condo I was astounded at how fast the taxes and HOA fees were rising. It didn’t take me long to calculate that that rising rate and our fixed incomes weren’t going to suffice for very long. That second hand smoke was probably a gift from God. It compelled me to sell and get the heck out of there while still financially intact. The other day I was feeling a little bit sad and nostalgic for what happened to me until I met this homeless woman. It doesn’t take much anymore to find yourself out on the street. DH lost his job in his 50s. He’s just been lucky he keeps finding day work here and there. And he’s also lucky that we didn’t fall prey to lifestyle inflation. Somehow I managed to keep everything the same. Lucky us.
Forced early retirement means a downgrade in lifestyle. It means living low to the ground. When we’re a bit broker than we expected, stripping down to the basics can finally show us who we truly are. We do what we have to do to survive. The world doesn’t come to an end just because we have to take it easy. DH and I can’t afford things like we used to but we’re finding the substitutes work just as well. State Parks can be just as fine as privately owned RV parks or national chains. Reclaimed products can work equally well as the newer stuff. We have to master the art of “patience”. Something we used to know nothing about and I have to learn to say the word “no” more often than I’d like. To a former shopaholic, it’s been very difficult! But I’m doing it.
For the first time in like forever, when my older brother invited my sister and I to meet him for dinner, Kathy and I paid for our own meals! My brother breathed a sigh of relief. Kathy’s bill came to $28. I had to have a cocktail and a cappuccino in addition to my entree (same as Kathy’s). My bill came to $50. Kathy goes out to dinner often. Me? Rarely. She has the Mercedes. I had the money to help another.