I am a woman who is comfortable, hell, more than comfortable in retirement.
Anything I have not done in the past few years has been COVID or fear of flying related for the most part (with the two intersecting more than once). I can eat well, go to restaurants, go to the theater, travel, take care of my medical needs with ease (although that two hundred a month Jardiance bill was enough to kick start me in more ways than one).
I’m not going flying first class to the far east or South America anytime soon. I'm not buying a designer outfit or a diamond ring or even an RV. But in terms of both daily expenses and wants I tell myself no pretty rarely and when I do it’s as much about minimalism or sustainability or my own personal energy.
Some of this is true because chose to marry. Not all but a large part. Much of this is true because of my husband’s career. I did have some mismanagement issues early in my retirement (forced retirement before retirement age with minor children is an experience, let me tell ya). But I would not have had the money to raise kids without the job I could not find after I cared for him, or help them to go to school. I would not have had a pension, I would most likely not have had the savings I have or even the amount of monthly Social Security I have, had I not been married.
If I had not met the person I was supposed to be with, or never met anyone, if I had remained a single mom on the equivalent beginning teaching salary. Things would be much different. would
A single parent, albeit an educated one, working in recreation management and child care with a borderline okay income and no benefits. Whose husband left one day and took everything with him. Who actually loved her job, loved her kid and mainly actually loved her life. A life that at that time, the most important financial time, was without benefits, savings, child support or health care. Things might have gotten better. I believe I could have progressed, gotten promoted, maybe found a way. I like to think so. But I'm smart enough to know they also might not have. At 32 with a kid entering grade school, nothing was going into the bank. And nothing was going into the bank anytime soon, even as a thrift shopping/cook from scratch/free entertainment mama.
I was in a field that low pay and minimal benefits, getting no child support and no help. Saving 100 dollars a month would have been laughable. And would have been for a good while. I could have been one of those people working and slogging away until 70 (if I were physically able, which I am not).
My husband just worked a regular federal job. But two incomes, even if one was much lower and even if there were two kids, made the difference between saving and not saving. For retirement or anything else. And a whole bunch of other things, financial and otherwise.
Which is why when I see men and women like I was then, now at 65 or 70, while I cannot relate the same now, I understand where they come from. And how they got there. And who they are. Women and men who worked in a school system and weren’t allowed to contribute to SS. Who were single parents whose partners disappeared, or could not or would not contribute. Who were disabled. Who had jobs that paid no benefits and whose income was swallowed by the price of making less. Or the cost of Cobra if they were let go early. Or, or, or.
My sister has a good education and a relevant degree. She is a hard worker, a really hard worker. She worked for a large newspaper in a two newspaper town for a great many years. Eventually the newspapers combined and her newspaper was the one liquidated and the people set loose. With a couple months salary and no golden parachute, she was let go. She was not able to find a job that was much more than minimum wage for years, probably equally due to age discrimination and the dying newspaper business.
The jobs she found were always through temp agencies or contracting jobs, minus sick leave or sick pay or medical benefits or vacation benefits. I paid for her to come and help me when John died.
In 2005 she had a decent investment account. That is long gone, all used to live on. To pay her mortgage, to pay her health care costs as she was now unemployed. Since 2007 she has constantly and consistently looked for work that is meaningful, pays decent and will keep her employed. Until the post pandemic employment jump she had not had a job with benefits. She had a very bad car accident with a severe concussion and could not even afford to have an MRI (I found about this afterward).
She is talented, skilled, and of a certain age. Her head is barely above water. She most certainly will have difficulty when she can no longer work and is living on only SS based on her personal income and the hundred dollar or so pension she will receive from a decimated newspaper benefit. Until she got on Medicare I had no idea when she had seen a doctor for anything non-emergent. She is 67 and still working full time.
There are no choices she could have made differently. She did everything right. She went to college. She got a decent paying job in her field with benefits. Being a newspaper, she lived with deadlines and working all shifts and rotating holidays. When she was laid off, she looked for a job and collected what unemployment she could.
She was willing to do all kinds of things even as a senior with lousy hips and some health issues. She has worked in a plant center, done call in customer service from home during the pandemic, worked in a photoshop. She sold her home and moved into another home with two people. Every single time she has been ahead, that ahead has disappeared, though no fault of her own.
My sister is not an exception friends. She is the rule, when it comes to low income retirees. I am sure all my readers can talk about someone who has run off and spent all their money and is now broke and or looking for help from family members.
Those people made the wrong choices. But my experience is that they are not the norm. And life is not all about “living with your own choices”.
I do not feel guilty about where I am in life or how I got here. I enjoy my lifestyle. But I am unwilling to blame or judge others who are struggling and not in the same place. I would rather do what I can do to help them. Whenever I can. Wherever I can. Because life is not about us and them.