Back in August 2019, when hubs and I decided to upgrade our 17 foot RV to a more spacious 22 foot model, we did so strictly because we came to the conclusion that our roaming days were over. No more did we want to travel here and there. We decided we just wanted to travel to ‘there’. One spot. For as long as possible. We decided on two main spots: a two to three month winter venture into Vero Beach Florida and a one to two month summer venture into Newport Rhode Island. In other words, we wanted to stay put and be beach bums.
There’s been an explosion of RVers on the road these past few years. Everyone and their brother seems to own RVs nowadays. Because of this, booking a campground or resort stay has become challenging. You literally have to book a trip a minimum of at least one year in advance in order to find a vacancy. So imagine my dismay when I tried to book a January vacay back in August only to be told (several times) that each location was completely booked. Finally, it came down to me getting out the digital phone book and personally making real phone calls and actually talking to people before I was able to ascertain a ‘spot’ at an RV location.
There was a problem however, with the location. Number One: the RV location was actually a trailer park for the over 55 crowd. Number Two: other than a coin operated laundromat, there were absolutely no amenities (but you did have a full hook-up which consisted of water, sewer, electricity and decent quality WiFi). Number Three: please see Number One. This was a trailer park, with very low monthly rates, thus attracting people who were financially challenged. A top tier resort RV park would normally charge $1500 to $3000 a month. This particular RV park’s monthly rental fees fluctuated between $450 a month up to $650 a month.
At first I thought this was a fantastic idea. I could vacation top shelf while paying bottom shelf pricing (this is my life’s mantra) Realistically, however, I had no choice because this was the only RV park in the area that had a monthly opening. Later I found out the reason why there was an RV park shortage was because one of the local towns in the area closed all of their trailer parks thus pushing out many residents.
This was one of the trailer parks torn down. All the residents were given a $2500 check and thrown out of their home. I took this photo at the beginning of our vacation. By the time we left ALL the mobile/manufactured/trailer homes were gone. A shopping center (which is including an Aldi) is being built in its place.
When I caroused the Google and Yelp reviews of this particular RV trailer park hubby and I nestled in, most of the reviews basically said the same thing: the park wasn’t that great BUT the people who lived there were all wonderful. As hubs and I got to know our RV neighbors and the park better, we came to the same conclusion: the park had seen better days BUT each and every person we met there (who were long time residents) were super friendly, super kind and just plain, honest-to-goodness good people. Period. It was a pleasure meeting each and every one of them (there are only 25 sites at the park). It was also a pleasure plus an eye-opener meeting other retirees whose lives also didn’t turn out as they had planned.
Before I go into describing some of the people hubby and I met, I first want to say that all of us, that means each and every one of us, has to stop blaming people for how their lives turned out. I met many retirees who for whatever reason, aren’t living the retirement dream. Many were laid off from their jobs as the companies they worked for (many years) switched to automation thus eliminating their positions. Many had to leave their high cost-of-living home towns, sell their property and much of their possessions and move down to Florida which offered them a lower cost-of-living.
One woman’s husband became chronically ill, so she and her husband moved into a relatives spacious RV. Her husband is in a wheel chair. Try to imagine the difficulty that family faced every day just trying to get the man in and out of an RV while sitting immobilized in a wheel chair. There were a few widowers whose wives had died. One man from Canada winters for the 3 months at this RV park while his wife continues to work up north. You know me, being the journalist that I think I am, went around talking to almost everyone, asking them to share their stories with me all the while knowing, I wasn’t there to judge, just to learn.
I met two widows who lived next to each other and constantly helped each other out. One was in chronic pain. The other was so distraught, she almost seemed like she was on the very edge of giving up. It seemed their ability to care for each other was the impetus to stay alive and try, try, try another day.
You don’t throw stones at people like this. You don’t hurl blame and accusations at them either. You don’t ask questions like “why didn’t you save more or plan more or think more or do more?????” There’s no way in hell you can say that drugs did this to them or laziness or from an inability to make right decisions. Toss the blame game right out the window. America has a retirement crisis on their hands and this life reality can not be swept under a rug. It’s real and it’s out there.
As I said, at first I was ecstatic that hubs and I were going to be saving money renting low income but still living our high income lifestyle. I think there was a reason why fate caused hubby and I to be tossed inside this particular circle. It was a wake-up call to put it mildly. Retirement is alive and real. It’s a dramatic change of life AND it needs to be properly prepared for and lastly, we all need to put our blame game minds away and be kinder to those less fortunate around us.
One of the full time RVers, located just a few lots down from us, was having trouble each day starting up his rather banged up pick-up truck. Instead of just constantly passing him by, hubby stopped to talk to him and see what was the matter. Turned out the man needed a battery but he just didn’t have the money to buy one. So, each day he finagled however he could to get his vehicle to start up just one more time. He had a job to go to but he needed that truck to get him there. Hubby and I didn’t discuss it. Hubby took the man to the local part supplier, bought him the battery he needed and installed it for him.
One of the widows living diagonally across from me was home bound. She lived in so much pain that it made it nearly impossible for her to walk. And yet, one morning, she left her trailer, walked over to my site and handed me a rope play ball for my dog. “Here“, she said. “Someone bought this for my dog but my dog is too small. Maybe your dog can use it.” Despite it all, this woman thought of people (and dogs) other than herself. Despite being almost destitute, she wanted to share what little she had, with others. What do you say to someone such as this? Why didn’t you have better insurance? Why didn’t your husband leave you more money? Where’s your family? No, I didn’t say nor think any of those things. I noticed she was food insecure so hubby and I went out and bought her a months worth of ‘good’ groceries (no crap!)
That’s what you do when you meet fellow retirees whose lives didn’t turn out as well as they planned. You help them. You don’t judge nor make snide remarks. You lend them a hand and you help them.
Hubby and I made dinner for a few of our fellow RVers. Again, we didn’t serve poverty food. We made it a point to buy top quality food (like chopped sirloin for hamburgers) and we prepared meals for our new found friends. No judgment. No advice. No lectures. Just pure friendship and pure love. God planted hubby and I there for a reason.
Living low-income means living low-income. It’s not a pseudonym for simple living. Low-income means you worry about where your next meal is coming from and it means you worry about how you are going to cover next month’s rent. I’ll admit that at first I thought living a low-income lifestyle meant I could live cheaply while banking the difference. That’s because I found out, in comparison, hubby and I really did AOK for ourselves. I may be a Mad Retiree but it was high time for me to stop complaining, stop playing the blame game and be thankful and grateful for every single thing I did have.
I write this blog because I truly care about my fellow retirees whose retirements just didn’t work out like they thought they would. I’m guilty as charged. My retirement is no where near what I thought my potential would be. There’s a real retirement crisis going on. Many, many retirees are finding themselves living in poverty once that paycheck stops coming in.
According to this article from Forbes Magazine “Retirement Is Cancelled” (click here):
Our current system is based on shame. The shame associated with not having enough saved and being poor in retirement silences many of its sufferers. Our culture tells people that failure in retirement is a failure of oneself, not the system. Instead of questioning the loss of pensions or dwindling benefits, we question one’s work ethic or integrity. This blames the individual, frightening and discouraging seniors from speaking out.
But in our studies we hear older people across the country saying things like, “After [paying for] electric and phone, I can barely put food on the table…” Or, “I live on Social Security now because when I got sick, I lost all my savings.” Or, crushingly, “I’m never going to retire. I’m going to work until I die.”
Lets look at this retrospectively. It could always be worse. At the end of my two month stay at the trailer park, hubs and I went back to our home. Many of those fellow retirees we met are still there. That park is their home. They know there are things they can still do to improve their bottom line. But once you go down that low-income mindset rabbit hole, it’s very very difficult to make your way out again. They don’t need hand outs. They need hand ups. They need someone who will take the time to listen to them. Hear their stories. No judge. Just listen.
And maybe, just maybe, help.