How Retirement Finally Forced Me To Get My Financial Act Together.

There’s nothing that can cure a financial screw-up, such as myself, than the reality of the cessation of steady paychecks coming into your life anytime soon. When you’re on your own, such as in retirement, you tend to get your financial act together pronto otherwise you might find yourself in financial hot water. There’s no doubt in my mind, looking back over my lifespan so far (thanks to my steady diary diet since I was 14 years old) that I’ve made several financial bad decisions. I had the mis-pleasure yesterday of re-reading some of my diary notations dating back to 2005. I kept making the same financial boo-boos over and over again and yet I couldn’t figure out what I was doing wrong. Now, that I’m fully retired and ‘woke‘ so they say, I have seen the error of my ways. I’m happy to report I’ve corrected so many of those financial boo-boos. I would have given anything to have told my 2005-self what I was doing wrong!

Perhaps those financial mistakes I made were all part of the growing process. Maybe we all need to go through that in order to become wise and competent. I don’t know. I’m just so glad I finally got my financial act together, learned to live within my means and faced my true financial identity. I’m also glad that ‘better late than never‘ can apply to me. How many people are still walking around dazed and confused, not having a clue on what to do? Who’s to say that I have learned it all yet? Perhaps there are more lessons under the covers I have yet to learn? In any event, bring them on. I’m ready for the challenge.

It’s perfectly alright to admit to yourself that you don’t know everything. Making mistakes, however, as you age, gets a little tricky. The older you get the greater the fear you have of making any errors. You have less time to make up for your mishaps. The faster you get your financial house in order, make your corrections, the better it will be for you in the long retirement haul.

The most important thing you can do in retirement, IMHO, is to create a budget and stick to it. Figure out how much income will be coming in to your life and match your expenses to it. You quickly find out what needs to be cut, what needs to be added and how to adjust your lifestyle to equal your new financial challenges. Three of the top mistakes most retirees-to-be make are: underestimating what your expenses will be in retirement (health expenses are the greatest concern), assuming Social Security will cover ALL of your expenses. They won’t. You still need a back-up savings account. Finally, not having a withdrawal strategy out of said savings account.  (click here for more info).

birds flying over a rainbow.jpg
I believe I can fly. I believe I can soar.

Lastly, not everything I’ve done has been wrong. I’ve made some pretty good, sound financial decisions that in the long run, have turned out to be excellent choices. We need to celebrate our good decisions as well as our bad decisions. The main great one being selling our marital home in 2001 and downsizing to a less expensive, brand new, custom built, fully paid-for home in a less expensive area (lower taxes, lower utilities and lower home maintenance costs). Every day we live here turns out to be better than the previous day!

Locking away $200,000 in untouchable funds back in 2005 turned out to be a godsend in 2019. No matter how desperately we needed money back in The Great Recession of 2008, we never touched this money! Good thing because it turned out DH had a lot of unemployment over that time period and we would have drained this special account. Instead we learned how to live as extremely frugal as possible and meet each and every financial challenge that came our way.  We’d have practically nothing now in our retirement years if we had tapped that untouchable resource.

Since I was the lower earner over my employment years, it was beneficial to us, for me to take early Social Security at age 62. This choice tided us over till DH, the higher earner could collect a larger Social Security check nearer his full retirement age. This decision turned out to be a very good choice for both our bottom lines!

Finally, I learned from my mother’s early death at age 59 that you have to live your life fully each and every day. You really can’t wait or think you can live out your dreams after you retire. Some people, such as my mother, never get to live that long. My mother worked hard her whole life and sacrificed everything for her children. She never took a vacation and went without too often to count. When she finally took her first vacation, at age 58, she and my dad took a 6 week trip to Italy. Upon arrival my mother felt ill. They came back home after only 3 weeks. My mom went to her doctor, had a series of tests and was finally informed that she had an incurable, terminal rare cancer and given only 3 months to live. My mother lingered for 11 months and died a horrible, horrible death.

My mother’s early death taught me to take risks, travel as much as possible while still young and enjoy each and every day fully! My risks included starting two businesses that eventually went bust. But I wouldn’t change those experiences for anything. Thankfully, DH and I traveled a lot while we both were gainfully employed because now, in retirement, my husband has been diagnosed with a rare heart defect and he couldn’t travel now like we did back then even if he wanted to!

As I sat on my mother’s death bed and watched her life slowly slip away, I vowed right there and then that I was going to be daring and carefree and live out my life to its fullest. My mother never got the chance. But I did.

I may have been financially foolish over my lifetime but what I ascertained in experiences can’t be duplicated or bought. So, my main advice to you is yes, follow the retirement financial guidelines suggested but please, oh please, if you have the urge to soar, take it! You just may never get that opportunity again.

Best of luck.

Regardless of R. Kelly, I often played this song to myself for inspiration and encouragement:

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20 comments

  1. Whatever your mistakes, they couldn’t have been as bad as a lot of folks! Sounds like you made pretty good choices. We put our money in real estate. Our apartments were a great choice–the rental houses not so much due to the housing market collapse in 2008. We needed those to appreciate and they didn’t much. We made some money, but n ot what we should have. The apartments are still great cash flow and not sure if/when we sell them. We should have been “retired” long ago.

    Your story about your mother sounds exactly like a story of a friend of a friend. Happened exactly like that. I guess it was a couple years ago maybe. Their names escape me. But they went on vacation like that and she got sick over there, died very quickly. My own mother died of a massive stroke at 64. I have just outlived her as of this July. Unfortunately, since we aren’t ready to sell, and maybe also didn’t make the best choices, my husband just took a lower stress superintendent job (he was a project manager for years, had our own business a lot). Maybe a few more years. And I take care of Dad and my adult son with Downs,had to stop teaching at Northern Michigan University because of Dad’s health and my son, so these scenarios scare me.

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    • HI Lynn. We only did well with our New York real estate holdings. We didn’t fare as well with our Florida condo. Our Rhode Island beach house was a complete disaster. especially when we tried t rent it out. Tenants aren’t always the better people.
      I hadn’t realized how bad it was for us during The Great Recession of 2008 till I went back and read my own personal diaries I kept during that period. My husband was out of work A LOT!!! Even though we were debt free, it was a struggle paying for groceries, maintaining the cars, buying gas and paying the property taxes! I had no idea. I guess we just push these bad memories out of our brains.
      I’m turning 69 soon, so I have outlived my mom for 10 years. And these last 10 years have been jam packed with fun, adventures, grandkids….so many things my mother missed out on. Oh well.
      My husband is a project manager also. Thankfully he can still pick and choose what he wants to do, which he does. But unfortunately, he still has to work somewhat, so that’s a bummer.
      I understand the life of a caregiver and you have a double whammy: your dad and your son. That’s gotta be tough sometimes. Kudos to you for taking care of them.
      Thank you so much for your comment and for sharing your life story with us. I appreciate hearing from you.
      Take care 🙂

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      • Oh yeah, tenants! They are no fun mostly. We have had a few great ones at our apartments. But we have 32 units, so there are plenty of bad ones! And the rental houses were worse always. Since my husband was in construction, real estate seemed the best way to make money when you didn’t have a lot of down payment money–and it was. But we spent more than we should have, too. I’m sure we’d have been fine if not for the housing market disaster. If they were going to give 100% loan to value to people, the least they should have done was put it on fixed mortgages, but when their variables went up, they all walked away. Ruined the rental market first (we didn’t know what was going on), then the rental market came back but our houses were worth nothing here in Michigan. My husband had to work in Florida and other places, had to even drive a truck overland for several years, when there was nothing out there. We get along.

        I like how you find finances fun and challenging. I feel that way about my diet (and to a lesser degree finances!). It’s not that you or I are materialistic–it’s a challenge to see how little you can get along on but still eat well, do a few things. We also downsized in 2006 or so. Sold the home my kids were raised in. Bought 35 acres in the U.P. and made a garage into an industrial camp/home. We live there mostly full time, keep an apartment downstate in our building. But it’s been a challenge to live well, yet simply for the last 15 years. I’m sure if we hadn’t, we’d be in much worse shape.

        But now I live full time in Elk Rapids with my dad since his home is set up much better for him with his health problems. We hope to keep it in the family since my family has been in this spot since 1850, my great grandfather running last steamboat in our area. I’m still struggling some with these adjustments, but will get them done!

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      • Lynn, my sister still has several tenants that she has to deal with. Most of them are in NYC which has their own set of landlord/tenant laws. The new thing now is that squatters can now be considered tenants if they can somehow remain in the apartment for 30 days. All judges give tenants six months, so that point is moot! So, the new tactic tenants have been pulling on my sister is if my sister doesn’t give them back their security in full, plus let them stay in the rental unit for the last month for free, they threaten to become squatters. Many landlords now, faced with this new challenge have to pay off their tenants, sometimes exorbitantly just to get them to move out!! Two of my sisters last tenants pulled this crap and she had to pay THEM to get out!!
        I had a few tenants in my lifetime. None of them turned out well. Never again.
        I think that my husband and I live well BUT in reality, we are probably in survival mode. We’re keeping everything floating and balanced but….but….there’s that ‘but’….who knows?
        I hope and pray we’re doing everything right.
        Thanks again for sharing your story with us.
        Best regards to you dad and to your son. Hang in there. I know its not easy. 🙂

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      • Oh my gosh. I thought we had things bad with tenants a lot! I can’t imagine that. Overall, it’s been worth it for us, but it’s not for the faint of heart. We’ve been doing it for thirty years now.

        I am pretty sure you are on top of things. And you’re having fun. 🙂

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  2. I have been planning trips like crazy because you aren’t guaranteed tomorrow. 2020 will find us cruising to Alaska, Caribbean and New/England/Canada as well as a trip to Seattle and Las Vegas. It’s our 25th anniversary year and we are doing it BIG.

    I’ve also shifted focus to paying down our home earlier than expected as we are presently deciding to stay put in retirement because our kids and grandkids are HERE.

    Thankfully I’ve had a very frugal, hardworking husband and our nest egg has grown to a nice tidy sum. I’m so very grateful.

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    • Sharon, you guys have done extremely well. Pat yourselves on the back. It’s been a lot of work, I am certain but you will reap the rewards later and you will be ever so grateful.
      I just got off the phone with my sister. She just came back from a cruise from Russia and she is now off next week off to Rome to catch a boat to cruise through the Greek Islands! I asked her to speak with their cruise director (she’s part of a group that cruises every year) to seek out a single lady who needs a room mate. That room mate is going to be me. There is no reason why I can’t go on these cruises with my friends just because my husband either refuses to go or can’t go due to health reasons. There is just no reason for me to keep staying home. I’m healthy for pete’s sake AND since only one of us will be going, I sure as heck have the money! LOL!
      So, hopefully by next year, I’ll be cruising to somewhere! LOL!
      That’s good about staying in your home. I totally agree with that. People run all over to resettle, thinking the grass is greener, but sometimes it’s just not. I like where we are. It’s affordable, tons of free things to do and I’m near my kids. Our plan is if we should ever need to be placed in assisted living or a good quality nursing home, our NY home can be our ticket to get in. If not, we’ve already discussed with my youngest daughter and her husband that we are going to leave this house to them. Still in the discussion stage, so we’ll see.
      Thanks for you comment. Haven;t heard from you in such a long time. Ditto on Instagram. Hope all is well. Peace & hugs!!!!

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      • Hi Cindi,

        I’ve stayed quiet on social media, but I’m hoping to start blogging again. I’ve changed my thinking on so.many.things that I’m trying to figure out how to start up again. For instance, long term care insurance turned out to be a bust, which I’ll explain why, and Amazon Prime has done a 180 for me. I just have to sit down and write.

        I’ve also been busy looking into an encore career for myself (not needed, but wanted). I’ve been toying with the idea of becoming a travel agent, specifically in the cruising industry. I should have something figured out before the end of the year. “Sea you soon travel” just may come to fruition.

        NCL cruiselines has a great option for the single traveler, but better yet, just grab a friend and go! My husband and I LOVE cruising, because of it’s all inclusiveness. Neither one of us gets seasick, so it’s a huge plus. We are now getting ready to cruise to Caribbean on Holland America (new ship and itinerary for us) at the end of October. Cost was unbelievably inexpensive so we are chancing it even in hurricane season. It’ll be good for my husband, especially since just losing his Mama.

        Anyway, I’m sure you’ll be hearing more from me in the future. 😉

        xoxox

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      • Hi Sharon. If you become a cruise trabvel agent, I just may be your first customer. What a fantastic idea! That would make a perfect encore career. You would be so good at it because you’ve taken so many cruises.
        It’s true what they say about long term insurance. It’s not as good as it used to be. Rising costs have hindered the industry. People are better off aging in place or doing what my dad did: hiring daily help.
        I’m sorry to hear about your husband’s mother. It’s tough losing one’s mom, regardless of age. It hurts.
        If you do start up blogging again, let me know. I’ll be the first to sign up!
        Thanks for checking in.
        XOXOXOXO

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  3. HiCindi! Thanks to the link to your blog. I think that I could use some of the great advice you have here. So sorry about your mom and I agree that you have to do thing that make you happy when you have the chance even if it costs you a few bucks. You can’t take it with you. That’s for sure!!

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  4. For us, the first thing that motivated us to get our finances focused was getting me to be able to stay home with our daughter when she was three. Once she was in kindergarten I found part time jobs in the school system. It was so worth the effort we put into being debt free. The other thing that motivates us to stay on task is to be able to travel as a family. I know how fast childhood goes, and in high school kids are often busy… we have been to England, Ireland, Toronto, and Santa Fe.

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    • Hi Jen. That’s so wonderful. I totally agree with you about traveling as a family. Every year, until my girls left for college, we would take a two week family vacation every February to someplace warm. Some years it was a different Caribbean island. Other years it was somewhere in Florida, like Key West, Miami or Sarasota. I was able to take all of us for a 15 day, all inclusive trip throughout Italy back in 2007. My dad had died, left me some money and I took my entire family back to my dad’s small little fishing village where he was born, located on the Adriatic sea. We all got to meet my dad’s family and we all learned a little bit more of where we all came from and who we are. Priceless, for sure!
      I’m sure you and your family have wonderful memories to share. My girls favorite pictures are still the ones I took of them during those vacations. Over the years, it means a lot to our kids. They never forget!
      Thanks for your comment and for sharing about your financial motivation moment!!

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  5. Cindi

    Every time you blog I find myself nodding in agreement. We have a paid off home and no other debt but only have about half of what you put away for retirement. We are both on Social Security and live as frugally as we can. DH is in poor health and we basically just putter around. Today we were at the gourmet café AKA McDonalds and hubby said maybe we were foolish but we still have a wonderful life. DS is well established and even the psycho kitty is thriving.

    Your sophistication will always be way above mine, but I like to think that I still have a little common sense left. BTW that picture of your mother and grandmother was lovely.

    Best wishes from Best Bun.

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    • Best Bun, you have a lot of common sense. You have that paid off home and savings and live the good frugal life. Your husband is correct: you are living a wonderful life!! Geeze, I wish you lived by me. I’d invite you guys over for coffee and we’d have a grand old time!
      Thank you so much for reading my blog and for being here. I appreciate your kind thoughts and wishes.

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  6. So hopeful that PC gets his questionable job situation resolved and that we can plan a vacay somewhere with the coming new year. Your advice is always so sound, Cindi. Thank you for sharing from your experiences.

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  7. You always provide such good insights Cindi! DH and I have spent more than we should traveling but I can’t say I regret it AT ALL as I have too many friends and family members who either became disabled or died without doing anything.

    DH was diagnosed with prostate cancer 2 years ago and is ok so far, BUT his numbers have been going up steadily. At this point, we want to enjoy our lives (within reason and without going broke). I’m not too concerned with paying for our trips with a credit card, as I know we have the funds to pay it back when we return.

    I agree with you, after seeing your mom die the way she did we have to live our lives the best way we can, within reason.

    After a 20 year civil marriage, DH and I recently got married in the Catholic Church. This was very important to me, specially given his diagnosis. We had a very small family celebration and as I did all the arrangements myself and held a small party at our house this kept costs extremely low. We had hoped to do it during our vow renewal in March but did not get the church’s authority until 2 months ago.

    Since DH has been ill I am determined to live each day in full. When his numbers came back higher 2 months ago we saved for and booked a trip to Portugal in November.

    I agree with you about going on the cruise with your sister, even if your DH isn’t interested in going there’s no reason why you can’t enjoy yourself.

    Another great post as usual.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Teri. I’m so sorry to hear about your husband. My prayers are with you two.
      I loved those photos of your re-marriage. You looked so beautiful and your husband is so handsome. You both make a lovely couple.
      Congratulations.
      I was thinking the other day that if most people follow Dave Ramsey’s strict rules, they’d never have any fun in life and would probably die never experienced what they could have in life. Sometimes credit can be a very good thing. It’s not ALWAYS bad. Sometimes credit can get a business started, save a life, bring joy into a home…..without credit, I don’t think the world would keep spinning, IMHO.
      Enjoy Portugal. I’m certain it’s beautiful. I’ve always wanted to go to Barcelona and I think this time it’s going to come true. My sister is working on it. I didn’t even think of traveling alone but time is a wasting. Nobody here is getting any younger.
      Thanks for your comment. 🙂

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