THROUGH A GLASS, GRIMLY

Social_Security_cardRecently our friend, Dot Hage, who writes at Deeper Issues, shared an update that contained a disconcerting discovery:

. . . learning that my social security income if I retire at age 66 will be only 25% of my current salary. If I wait until I’m 70, it goes up to a third of my current income. I checked this out a long time ago, but I read the monthly income as weekly income and assumed I was fine. I’ve always been phobic about money, so I guess at the time I was feeling so much anxiety I read it wrong.

My pension savings, assuming the stock market goes back up, are not nearly enough to make up the difference. So, I may be working for the rest of my life.

I responded in the comments section:

. . .Pete and I know what that’s like. It made for some significant changes when we realized we, too, would probably be working forever. We decided that had better be at stuff we liked doing, so that it didn’t seem like…uh..work. :)

We’ve originated some side businesses online and through networking. You might want to investigate some similar options now to supplement your income, and then replace it when you are required to opt out of your job. If you need any suggestions or recommendations, I’d be happy to help.

300px-Custom_Camper_Van_New_ZealandThere were a number of supportive comments on that post (including one from Jeanne, who lives my nomadic RV fantasy).  I didn’t expect to get a request for further conversation, but it came from Dot a few days later:

I’m officially requesting advice. As in, I need all the help I can get. I’ve never run a business and have a mild case (formerly severe) of money phobia. It’s so nice of you to offer to share some of your experience with me. . .

I re-read the email several times and got scared.  Here was someone asking me for advice about business – not about the business about which I’m more ostensibly qualified to respond (my communications position where they, uh, actually pay me).  Had I inadvertently created an impression that we knew what we were doing?  We certainly don’t profess to be John Chow or Shoemoney, thankfully. But still.

I kept thinking, “I only know what I know.  How do I know it would be good for her?”  And then, the answer came:  I didn’t and don’t know if what we’re doing could be good for Dot.  All I know is that it’s currently providing an assist to us.   I just didn’t want to inadvertently put ourselves out there as some kind of online business gurus, because we’re certainly not!

If knowing about what we’re doing could provide an assist to Dot, well, that would be a good thing.  She needs one, and she needs to get started because she’s got about 10 years before she’s got to retire.  This is the exact same process Pete and I went through when we assessed our situation prior to and during the first year of our marriage.

The more we looked into things, the less pretty they got.  It became abundantly clear that neither of us had married for money.  :)  It was even more clear that I had married a reasonable, practical man who didn’t get caught up in the net of recrimination or excuses.  Praises be!  We were in this together, kind of like a couple of mules pulling the same wagon.   I could work with it.

We figured we had limited options:  about 17 years and then the oldest of us (uh, that would be me) would begin drawing Social Security.

The monthly income from that was, in a word, grim.

It wouldn’t even cover one of the mortgage payments.  I could see myself taking in boarders if something happened to Pete.  Ick.  By the time my youthful husband retired (at 70 as well) our monthly income would max out in an amount equivalent to our current first and second mortgages.

employeepensioncreativecommonsSo we had seventeen years in which to come up with a get-rich/make-it-all-back-and-then-some scheme.  The trouble is, we had no idea what that might be.  It was a recessionary economy.  Whatever we did would need to be relatively risk-free, as in we could afford to lose the money we could invest.  Which wasn’t much.

It was realistically clear we needed to consider that we were not going to have the vacation-like retirement our parents enjoyed.  Our 401Ks had dwindled to 201Ks and were now hanging out in the general vicinity of K, with no numbers.  We were pretty much going to be working until the day we dropped.

FRONT-YARDIt was also clear that eventually we would have to sell the house.  The sooner the better, thought I in the midst of housing market stagnation.  Curses, foiled again!  The cherry on this sundae is that it needs additional remodeling – mostly cosmetic except for the kitchen, which requires a hand grenade.  Ick.  I am not convinced there is enough lipstick for this voracious porcine wonder.  Real estate’s nosedive coincided with our needing to sell, and precluded us from taking advantage on the buy side.  I’ve come to think of assets as not so asset-like.

Was I really willing to share those disappointing details with someone we know only through online interaction?  At the very least they could provide cover for our less-than-guru stature.  I thought of a post that we put up about a year ago, that still accounts for sizable monthly Stumble traffic.  I went and re-read that post.

When I finished, I knew:  I couldn’t not share what little we’ve learned.  All information, if truthful and un-garnished, is useful.  I realized that by helping Dot out with what I could provide, I would probably go through an evaluation process of my own.  The result might be better goals, an improved strategy, and more information from which to make these decisions (due to devouring all sorts of online resources in the interim).  And so, I responded:

About the money and side business thing. I’m going to apologize in advance for thinking this way, but I’m thinking our communicating back and forth might make a wonderful series of posts. To this day, we get stumble-upon hits, over 100/month, on “Proceeds,” a post from last year. Here it is for back-story, if you’ve not already read it: Proceeds. . . .

What followed was a friendly, lively back-and-forth exchange that did, we decided, make for a wonderful series of posts.  We’ve decided to share our emails with you, and to be as candid as possible about every aspect of the process.  To me, this feels somewhat like traveling through the dark in a rope line, but I’m definitely game.  Why not come along for the ride?

Make sure you subscribe to Deeper Issues so you can read about Dot’s reactions and thinking as we make our way through this together.

Front Yard:  Peter Wuebker

Employee Pension Plan:  Tobias Higbie

All Others:   Public Domain

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19 Responses to THROUGH A GLASS, GRIMLY

  1. Barbara Swafford September 18, 2009 at 1:34 am #

    Hi Betsy,

    First, I love your statement, “It became abundantly clear that neither of us had married for money. :)” I hear you loud and clear on that one. But how can we put a price on a good marriage? And I’m guessing, like me, you wouldn’t have it any other way.

    I read on Dot’s blog where you offered your help, and found that to be very generous on your part. Then, as I was reading this post, I could empathize with you. After all, what might work for us, may not work for someone else. It really is sticking out neck out, but you’ve turned that concern into an opportunity I feel could benefit not only you and Dot, but the readers of your (and Dots) blogs.

    I’ll be here cheering you gals on. :)
    .-= Barbara Swafford´s last blog ..Tapping Into A Larger Audience =-.

  2. Cath Lawson September 18, 2009 at 5:07 am #

    Hi Betsy – So many people seem to be in the same boat. I was just talking to a friend who is wondering how he is going to afford to retire. He’s 65 this year but a big chunk of his pension his in another country and the currency there is worthless.

    I’m glad you’re helping Dot out and I’ll be interested in reading and chipping in where I can.

    As you say – it’s good to find something we enjoy doing, as many of us may not be able to retire when we want. On the bright side – so many people seem to drop dead not long after they retire – it’s kind of scared me into not wanting to do it. I only hope I can stay well enough not to have to give up work.

  3. Dot September 18, 2009 at 8:04 am #

    Love the title and the photos! Well, Betsy, you see what offering to be my friend has gotten you into? ;-) I think your generosity in sharing what information you have, rather than hoarding it for fear of competition, is fantastic, and everyone reading this series will probably take away something beneficial. As for Cath’s statement, “On the bright side – so many people seem to drop dead not long after they retire…”, when I spoke of retirement my opthalmologist told me, “You’d better have a plan, because I see so many people walk in here a year after retirement and they’re just half the person they were.” So perhaps working on and on will keep us young and relevant. My new motto is: Little old lady my ass!
    .-= Dot´s last blog ..Comment on Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes by Dot =-.

  4. Davina September 20, 2009 at 11:01 am #

    Hi Betsy… and Dot :-) I think this is a great idea to share what emerges. Who knows what will surface? Who knows what ideas will come forth from readers’ shared experiences or thoughts. One thought leads to another — many heads are better than one. You’re a good friend Betsy.
    .-= Davina´s last blog ..Remembering a Friend =-.

  5. Robin September 21, 2009 at 7:44 am #

    Hi Betsy (and Dot) – how fascinating! Love Dot’s statement (above) re working keeping us young and relevant. I’m looking forward to the posts!

    BTW just for the record – most people who may read this would probably think I’m mad, but due to my unusual outlook on aging I don’t have any plan for retirement funding whatsoever (and I don’t own a house – though we would like to own one, maybe).
    .-= Robin´s last blog ..When Someone Close To Us Is Struggling =-.

  6. Betsy Wuebker September 21, 2009 at 8:16 am #

    Hi Barbara – LOL! Nope, there is no price on a good marriage. It’s an extreme comfort to have someone to pull alongside. This series doesn’t pretend – that’s the biggest thing it has going for it, in my opinion. Everyone’s mileage does differ, but if some benefit comes out of it for readers, then that’s a great thing. Thanks.

    Hi Cath – You’re right, the game-changer recession has altered the landscape for many who thought they had things all planned out. And I agree, some people work all their lives to retire and then are gone so quickly it makes you wonder what for? I think there is always something we can find to do, and I think it’s great that you’re willing to chip in, too! We’ll take you up on that! Thanks.

    Hi Dot – We’re in this budding friendship project too deep to rescind at this point! :D I agree, keeping a project going and being informed and engage does keep you young. This will be an adventure, won’t it? Thank you.

    Hi Davina – For this project to succeed it’s important to have additional input in the comments and perhaps in the form of emails we can quote or even guest posts. The subject is relevant to everyone. Glad you’re aboard! Thank you.

    Hi Robin – I can totally understand your not having a plan – it makes sense with what I understand about your belief system. I think traditional retirement can be a sort of “out to pasture” thing, and ongoing projects can keep us going. One doesn’t have to look far for examples, that’s for sure. Thank you.

  7. Jannie Funster September 24, 2009 at 1:45 pm #

    How the heck did I mess this post, you prolific maven?!

    Funny about not marrying for money. Jim and I had a card table and chairs for dining for the first 5 years. (He had lost all his money in ’87 in real estate.) But he was a real worker-bee and boot-strapped himself up.

    You know I am not 100% sure of the meaning of boot strap but for some strange reason I think I may have used it correctly there.

    Anyhoo, the help of blogging peeps, I had no idea the depth of. It just blows me away how folks share their hearts and minds.

    People iz gud.
    .-= Jannie Funster´s last blog ..Jannie Funster Blog Hits The Big Oh-1! =-.

  8. Jannie Funster September 24, 2009 at 1:46 pm #

    MISS this post, not mess, ha ha!

    See, I messed it up just by mis-spelling miss.

    :)
    .-= Jannie Funster´s last blog ..Jannie Funster Blog Hits The Big Oh-1! =-.

  9. Betsy Wuebker September 25, 2009 at 2:17 pm #

    Hi Jannie – LOL I tend to get better along with people who are not afraid of a little work myself! Thanks.

  10. Jeanne September 26, 2009 at 9:32 pm #

    Hi, Betsy — you are one crackerjack gal! Don’t know why it is I took so long to find your site (but now you gotta be a new favorite) — your generous sharing is surely going to benefit more folks than you probably intended, including of course me. I bought into the “don’t retire from something, retire TO something” mindset when I took an early retirement so I could hit the road. To work that is my play, that keeps my joints greased and my mind agile (sort of, anyway :), and keeps all the imortant parts working!

    I’m certain that Dot will find her new way to generate income in a way that will suite her perfectly — and I join all the others in cheering y’all on in your quest for solutions. This quest of yours, Betsy and Dot, is a real life saga that has all the makings of a dream-come-true story. Y’all rock!
    .-= Jeanne´s last blog ..Life IS Art =-.

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