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Retirement: One Rude Awakening
In the beginning ...
No matter what you read regarding the positives and negatives of retirement—you never realize the true significance of retirement until it happens to you. Retirement is a time of putting aside one’s former life and embracing the aspects of what lies ahead in the remaining years.
This is not a module on astute financial planning or the best places to live upon retirement—there are plentiful articles on that subject. This is about the journey of an individual who discovers what retirement really means.
Let’s call this woman, Susie. She has worked all her life to make a living. As a child, Susie watched her mother who lived an unhappy life because she was not able to marry the man of her dream and had to settle for a man who accepted her as she was. Unfortunately, Susie’s mother could not accept who she was. Susie watched helplessly as her mother deteriorated and succumbed to rages of breast cancer. It was a slow and agonizing death.
Susie’s father was 48 years old when she was born so the challenges of being raised by an old man were many. Although Susie had sisters, they were many years older than she and were involved in their own personal adjustments. A lot of what Susie learned were in the many books she read.
After the death of Susie’s mother, she faced the teen years with apprehension and amazement. She watched while other girls her age went to parties, dressed in very nice clothes and seemed to live a rather “care-free” lifestyle. On the other hand, Susie worked after school in the library and walked home alone where she sat in a quiet house daydreaming about being someone else.
Susie was never taught about financial planning or saving for the proverbial rainy day. At least she was not trained in the financial sense. Her mother would always put away her best things for a time when she might need them in the future. Favorite nightgowns and jewelry were kept in a trunk at the foot of her bed in hopes that they would be used in some future event. Susie’s mother died at the age of 49 years and all the lovely things she left were given to others.
Susie’s father had worked for the railroad and was disabled due to an accident he had while working. Susie’s father was always on the move creating ways of making money to supplement his Social Security Disability and Railroad Retirement. While Susie’s mother was a constant worrier, Susie’s father never seemed to worry regarding anything, even paying bills.
When Susie attended college during her freshman year; she was introduced to many experiences and being an avid reader grasped her subjects well. However, she found it difficult when she took subjects regarding finance, money and banking. Although Susie’s father opened her first savings account at the age of 11 years; Susie never saw any futuristic purpose to it.
Susie dropped out of college and soon afterward married. Because Susie never learned anything regarding family life other than what she witnessed/observed with her parents and on television; she wasn’t fully prepared for her own experiences. Susie’s husband was strictly a “momma’s boy” and spent more time with his mother than with Susie. They never discussed planning for either the future or the need for training future children to plan.
The children did come; and of course Susie was unprepared for motherhood—other than what she read in books. There were older women in her church but they were much too busy trying to stay young themselves and criticizing those who were young. Susie’s sisters were wrapped up in their own lives and would occasionally call or visit to see how she was. Susie’s husband was busy helping his aging mother and Susie was trying to work as well as care for four children. Still Susie never took any notion of planning for retirement. She had hoped that she would die and not have to worry about retirement.
Time Marches On ...
When Susie’s children were school-aged; her husband walked out on her and returned to his mother. However, before that time Susie had gone back to college and received her Bachelor’s Degree in Business. Still Susie gave little regard to retirement other than the Social Security payments that were deducted from her salary. She never regarded old age because she felt she wouldn’t live to get old. This was her secret wish although she attended church religiously and participated in many activities.
After the divorce, Susie felt both afraid and relieved. Afraid because she was not only on her own but was responsible for the lives of four others and relieved because she didn’t have to compete with her mother-in-law for her husband’s attention. Her mother-in-law had won. The books that Susie read had never prepared her for the life of a divorcee but she read the experiences of other women like her and found that she was not alone.
Susie worked hard on her job which she did very well; but her personal life was heart-breaking. Susie never could find a man who would respect her and foster her intellectual talents. Like her husband, all of the men she encountered saw only her beautiful sad face and lovely figure. Susie entered relationship after relationship, never planning for the future and missing the things her children were experiencing.
When Susie’s children were old enough to be on their own, Susie returned to college for advance degrees. The one thing Susie knew about was education. That was something where success was guaranteed. Susie also found solace in spending money. She possessed an extensive wardrobe and many other materialistic things. What Susie didn’t have was true happiness and a good financial plan.
The years marched on and Susie found herself attending weddings and celebrating the arrival of grandchildren. Susie’s mother-in-law had died and her ex-husband remarried. Although there was no longer the influence of a domineering mother-in-law; the marriage failed. Susie couldn’t celebrate the event because she actually felt sorry for her ex-spouse. He had never learned the lessons of life either.
Then one day, its time to Retire ...
Finally, Susie was faced with the prospect of retirement. Susie had become very ill which resulted in hospitalization and a lengthy convalescent period. Upon the suggestion of her supervisor, Susie decided to retire. Susie’s married daughter along with a few others prepared a wonderful retirement celebration. Susie was shocked with the number of people that really seem to care for her and had a wonderful time.
After the newness of being retired wore off, Susie was faced with several realities. She was alone with a large mortgage and car notes. In the past, she was able to make regular payments and never considered the prospects of not being able to make payments. This was to change when Susie’s small pension and Social Security benefits began to happen. Susie dropped from making a very comfortable living to barely being able to make ends meet. Because she retired early due to her weakness as a result to her illness and surgery; Susie was faced with a very difficult situation: either giving up her house or her car.
After discussing this with her youngest son, he decides to help his mother by purchasing an automobile for her. With that decision made, Susie gives up her car. However, this was just the beginning of Susie’s retirement woes. The car never materialized and Susie found herself without transportation.
Susie faced numerous problems with receiving her small pension; so in the meantime she took out large amounts of her 401K to help alleviate financial concerns. Unfortunately for Susie, she exhausted her 401K plan. This reduced Susie’s finances greatly and the threat of foreclosure forever loomed over her head.
Susie tried numerous state government programs and was refused for all of them. In the meantime, Susie received letters of impending lawsuits and foreclosure. Susie had not planned for her retirement years. Had she, she would have been prepared for the years of financial deficient.
Susie has learned the lesson of good financial planning and the need to teach it to your children at an early age. Susie awakes each morning disappointed that she has indeed lived another day. Susie faces each day alone; wondering what bad news awakes her in the mail and if she should continue her existence.
Financial planning is crucial. However, so is the need to develop a lifestyle that is rich and full. The reality of retirement comes (if you are fortunate enough to live to see it.) Have you planned for a comfortable latter years or will you be like Susie; living each day with uncertainty?
(The names have been changed in this actual story.)