Category Archives: personal finance

No Fear Retirement

Although I believe that we are all still Too Young to Retire® I also know that there are many fears about the transitions from full time careers into new and uncertain phases of our lives. One of our 2Young2Retire® certified facilitators, Pamela Houghton, has published a new book, No Fear Retirement, written for anyone who is thinking about, or has already embarked upon, retirement.

No Fear Retirement addresses ten of the most common concerns of those who are thinking about retirement. Whether your fears are around finances, your relationships, where you will live, your identity, or something else, this book is a valuable resource. Taking time to reflect on the Pause for Thought questions along the twelve phases of retirement or associated with the ten most common fears, will make this read well worthwhile and may help you enjoy a more fun-filled and fulfilling life if or when you retire. For more information visit Pamela Houghton’s website:

Paul G. Ward

Aging Without Mr. Right

Nearly one in six elderly unmarried women age 60 and over (17 percent) was poor in 2008, and 16 percent of those 75 and older were poor. (Unmarried Women Hit Hard by Poverty, Center for American Progress)

I was on the phone not long ago with a friend, I’ll call her Arlene, who has been absent from my life for some time.  Because she works two jobs (it was 2.5 for awhile), we had been playing phone tag for the last few days and that may also be why we’ve been out of touch.  We caught up with each other because I was housebound, beginning the infamous ‘prep’ for a colonoscopy.  I might have to end the conversation abruptly, I told her, but would call her back.  We shared a laugh over that.  She is a few years younger than I am and is yet to have this routine procedure.  In fact, she had not seen a doctor or had any kind of screening for a long time. “I haven’t had health insurance for ten years. I couldn’t afford it.”

What’s wrong with this picture?  A lot, both on the micro and macro levels.  My friend is well-educated and has worked in the entertainment industry for her entire career, holding glamorous jobs — or so they seemed to me — at some of the best companies on both coasts.  We were both in our 50s when we met, and she thought the future would continue in a direction commensurate with her education, talent, experience, and good looks.  She fully expected to continue to live in a home she owned, in an urban area with all the arts and culture she was used to. She was my idea of an independent woman: not looking for a man to complete her, but not against the possibility that Mr. Right could turn up.

So far this hasn’t happened, and she appears to have grown comfortable with aging as a single woman.  And according to an AARP study, many older women would agree, see: The Secret Lives of Single Women. What isn’t such a rosy picture is what aging as a single woman might mean to her financial future, especially if she becomes ill or disabled.  Mothers of single daughters (I am one), listen up!

Arlene’s is a familiar enough story: as her industry began to contract, she lost better jobs to younger people.  This is systemic, apparently, and not just at the level of female superstar who disappear from the screen at a certain age (Meryl Streep the obvious exception). Over the last few years, Arlene has mostly worked freelance and so health insurance has been beyond her means.  “Who would have ever thought I would be looking forward to Social Security and Medicare?!” she asks.  Until she reaches the age of eligibility for these benefits (and possibly even when she does), she will likely remain one of the working poor: healthy (fortunately) enough to work, able to pay her bills (just), saving nothing, and earning too much to qualify for Medicaid.  It’s a tough situation for anyone, but worst if you’re a woman and earn less to begin with.

Sexism combined with ageism might have done my friend in, except for her remarkable resilience, sense of humor, and the support of  female friends of which she has in abundance.  Friends for company, advice, conversation, comfort and sometimes financial help.  Arlene doesn’t expect a fix from inside the Beltway.  She’ll keep working; she’ll eat right, exercise, keep herself healthy; she might relocate where housing and living costs are lower.  She’s nobody’s fool.  Those of us who are happily partnered need to look out for our single sisters of a certain age as well as our unmarried daughters of an independent mindset.  And I’m not talking about finding them a date for Saturday night.


Unmarried Women Hit Hard by Poverty

Wiser (Women’s Institute for a Secure Retirement)

Women Work!

Hell No, We Won’t Go!!

Is assisted living, or its even less appealing twin, housing for the elderly once known as the nursing home, in your future?  I am amazed at how many people, even those who seem to be doing everything to stay healthy and engaged in life, see this as inevitable.  It is as if they have absorbed the rhetoric of the long-term care industry, so the only question is whether they can afford the premiums now to safeguard their future.  My question is, what kind of future are we talking about? 

My 92 year old mother has been in a nursing home (she prefers ‘hospital’) for three years.  It is in Canada and therefore the costs are affordable — about $2500/month for everything, including her complex assortment of meds.    The staff is excellent but overworked.  There are programs like painting class and baking, a hair and nail salon, various religious activities including a Catholic mass twice a month (the Zetter Center is Lutheran-affiliated), and every so often, pub night with a cash bar and entertainment.  Yet, for all that, you cannot escape the reality that it is a kind of incarceration where you don’t get to decide when to eat or bathe and dress or undress, or even when to use the toilet.  Hardly a day goes by when I  don’t wish I had the ability to care for my mother myself.  And I am in awe of those of us, who aren’t exactly spring chickens ourselves, who do just that — care for our elders in our own homes.   It’s one of those mixed blessings of longevity that we haven’t quite figured out yet.  A good subject to bring up with our own children while we can make such decisions (another topic for another post).

Visiting my mother has firmed my resolve to resist such a fate at all costs.  So I was excited to come across the story about a bunch of feisty women, Canadians, too, as it happens, who have a very different vision of how to house ourselves better as we age.  Here is a brief excerpt:

Control of Our Lives

We don’t want just to be taken care of, we want to participate.We are baby boomers who moved from watching TV shows like Father Knows Best to reading Betty Freidan and Germaine Greer. We took to heart Erica Jong’s Fear of Flying. We fought to change the society we were living in then because we believed in having more control over our own lives as women. And we’re not about to give up the control we’ve worked so hard for. We want to run the place, not have our decisions made by a board of directors made up of guys in suits.  Herizons magazine’s cover story, Raise the Roof.

More mind-openers for you:


This is probably not the best time to bring up home values since many of us have seen the valuation of our homes drop significantly over the last year or so.  This is all the more painful if we’ve come to think of our homes more as nest egg than as nest.  But since the housing follies are where the current financial meltdown began, I’m going to do it anyway.  I’ll begin with a caveat: Economics 101 was not my favorite subject and my understanding of finances is primitive.  That said, I know a sound explanation for a complicated problem when I encounter it, so if you are trying to understand how we got into this mess, I recommend you check out a 60 Minutes edition called House of Cards which aired in January this year. This past Sunday (October 5), a 60 Minutes report updated that information, A Look at Wall Street’s Shadow Market. It was chilling.

What I want to explore here is a different kind of value altogether: the value of a roof over your head, whether you own it or rent it.  To put it into context: homelessness is on the rise in America.  Not only that, homelessness among people in their 50s and 60s who once enjoyed a middle-class income, is also soaring.  In No Place to Call Home, the current issue of the AARP Bulletin describes the plight of older people — some 4,000 Americans over the age of 55 — sleeping in their cars in Los Angeles and Santa Barbara, CA, one of the most affluent of American cities, in many instances because they lost their homes to foreclosure.  Kind of brings the magnitude of the current crisis home, doesn’t it?

Homeownership has long been the American Dream, the one thing we were willing to save and sacrifice and postpone gratification for.  Today, the notion of 20% down and proof that your income could cover loan payments sounds positively antique.  One of the things banks always looked for — and these were typically a local branch where you did your other other banking so they knew you — was that your mortgage and real estate taxes not exceed 25% of your gross monthly income.  Those were the rules and, like them or not, they concentrated the mind wonderfully.

Some time in the 80s, as homes in many suburbs began to appreciate significantly, the idea of a home as an investment, or something that you could borrow more against, and even ‘flip’ to make money, came into being.  It seemed to have happened overnight.  One moment, you were perfectly content with a 30 year mortgage at 7% on a property you’d bought for 2.5 times your gross family income (another guideline), and the next, everyone had a strange gleam in their eyes.  You couldn’t go to a backyard cookout or have coffee with a friend without real estate being Topic #1.  Novelist Ann Beattie wrote of moving from her Virginia suburb to a rural area because she could not stomach this conversation any longer.

The idea that one’s home could become the source of significant wealth was very hard to resist for most people.  As long as homes continued to appreciate, salaries were rising and there were tax incentives to trading up, it made sense to do so.  The idea was that one day, you could sell that big house, downsize to something smaller, and pocket the difference.  Indeed, this was how many intended to finance a portion of their retirement savings, and for many it worked.  For a long time, trading up fever ruled. People who felt justified in buying as much house as they could carry were taking on financial risks they might never had considered had it been a different kind of investment.

Some how, we lost sight of the fact that our homes were valuable for the kind of life (as opposed to lifestyle) they provide for us.  They represent shelter, safety, refuge, the one place where, as Robert Frost famously wrote, “when you have to go there, They have to take you in.”  I read those lines as a deep sense of responsibility to each other and for one another, a feeling of belonging to something larger than ourselves, of putting down roots, of having reasons to give as well as to get.  As older Americans, let’s model to others that we can, we must, go home again.