I find myself worrying a lot about a lot of things. One of the scariest for me is changed financial circumstances.
What would you do if one day your income was reduced by 75%? I thought I was a careful financial planner, but I was not prepared for this. It has also been hard to deal with financial concerns on top of crushing grief.
I feel guilty about this because I know many people have been worrying about this for a lot longer than I have. Some can't sleep at night worrying about whether they will have work tomorrow, will be able to pay their bills, send their kids to college, or keep their home.
With the economy the way it is, and all the people who have lost their homes or gone bankrupt, this seems terribly selfish. I know I should be grateful that we HAVE a pension and investments. Most people don't have anywhere near enough....or anything.
The current scenario was not part of my careful strategic planning. I had imagined that if anything ever happened to Doug, I would sell one or more of the properties, or go back to work full time. What I didn't realize was that the real estate market would tank. I also didn't anticipate that I would be such a mess after losing Doug that I wouldn't be able to put my clothes on right side out, and not be capable of conducting the highly technical and intellectually demanding work associated with my profession. In addition, I thought "that day" would probably be when we were in our 80's...NOT at age 52. Wrong, wrong and wrong again.
Despite the fact that I now have "one less egg to fry," it's surprising to realize that the only expenses other than food that are LESS now that it's just me are van pooling, work ties (and booze : ).
These decreases are dwarfed by the new expenses associated with being without Doug. Like funeral and legal expenses. Needing to pay someone for lots of the many many many many things Doug did around This Old House and our rental properties. I have huge mortgages on the rentals that we were in the process of quickly paying down. They were part of my plan to enable both of us to retire early so we could goof off and spend more time together. Now I am even more dependent on every tenant paying every month on time. (Fortunately all our tenants are wonderful.)
Even though Doug and I had great jobs and pretty good luck with investments, I have always been careful with money.
We did many things together, but we split up other duties. We tried to take advantage of our strengths and interests and even out the load. I was the financial planner. After we got married, I took the lead on managing money. Doug would have stuffed all his money under a mattress if given the choice. He often said that, for all he knew, I might have been burning his paychecks. Instead I saved and invested as much as possible.
Doug would occasionally ask me if we could afford something significant, like the next big home improvement project, a tool, or climbing trip. The answer was almost always yes. That was about the extent of his interest.
Over the years, I had made investments in the stock market and real estate. Once I tried to buy some stocks I thought he might be able to relate to, like Home Depot and UPS. He found the concepts either too boring or too complicated. He didn't even know the addresses of our rental properties.
Regardless, I reviewed our financial status with him at least annually. I was traveling a lot, and didn't want him to be totally unprepared if something happened to me. My mom had told me that she met a lot of surviving spouses that had no clue, and it was hard on them.
He did share that he would have preferred the stock market to all the work associated with having rental properties. They could be a huge headache. I tried to explain the risks associated with the market to him.
I recall checking on the stock market one night, in the midst of a bad crash. I was at the computer in my home office. Doug was across the hall in bed, studying a book of climbing maps (he did that a lot).
I called over to him - "We lost 40 today." He said, "Oh, that's not too bad!" I had to explain to him that I wasn't talking about 40 dollars. We were down 40 thousand dollars. On paper anyway. But we both were keenly aware that most people don't have that much to lose.
We were both financially responsible. We had gotten onto sound financial ground with decades of saving, frugality, hard work, investing and planning. Doug stuck with the State environmental protection program for 27 years. I work three jobs (environmental planning and auditing, website design and maintenance for non-profits and small businesses, and manage our rental properties.) We did not have any children to clothe, feed or send to college.
Doug saved us tens and thousands of dollars by doing almost everything himself. He fixed our old cars, the RV, appliances and lawn mowers. We did the lawn and leaves together. He got up early before work to plow the driveway in snowstorms. He chopped and split some of our wood for the wood stove, in order to save on oil. He did almost all the renovations on This Old House - electrical, plumbing, carpentry, and so much more.
When I was working full time, I did spring to hire someone to paint the house and replace the leaking roof. They were boring jobs that were too difficult to do alone. I wanted him to have more free time and to lighten his load. I hired pros to plaster. It is a very messy job and requires a lot of special tools and skills. We designed a new fireplace mantle together, but Doug didn't have the time to make it, so I hired pros for that. He took pride in doing most of the work himself, but was relieved to skip those jobs.
To plan for retirement, we were maxing out our 401K and 457 deferred compensation plan contributions. We knew we were lucky to HAVE pensions and deferred compensation plans - the majority of people don't. Plus we figured then eventually social security would supplement our pensions, although I never paid much attention to that source.
We didn't have life insurance (except for a small standard policy State employees get.) I thought it would be too expensive to get more insurance due to his high risk outdoor activities. Life insurance analysts frown on mountaineering, rock and ice climbing. If I HAD purchased more, I probably would have gotten the accidental death kind, as I thought his greatest risk was falling off a roof or a mountain. He was fit as a fiddle - or so we thought.
As I mentioned above, we didn't take out mortgage insurance
I also figured we'd have our investments and pensions and would live into our 80's at least. (A few weeks before this happened, Doug said he didn't think he'd make it to old age. I told him not to say that! My beloved friend Alan had said the exact same thing. He tragically died young when he was hit by a car while loading up his landscaping equipment at the end of the day.)
Plus we thought we would be able to count on our full pensions after age 55, and two social security checks after age 62.
We also thought we probably had a few more years of income from work. He was working full time and I was working part time. That would enable us to save more, and to pay down the mortgages. I thought that after he retired, I might work part-time a few more years and he could travel with me to the more interesting places where I do environmental audits.
It turns out that if a State employee who is vested passes away BEFORE retirement, the default for their pension is 50% . There are no other options, unless you are on disability. Even though Doug had not been feeling right since September of 2009, and had the fainting incident in March of 2010, he didn't miss a day of work.
So now, suddenly, I am getting 27% of his pay. My new income approaches poverty levels. That was not what we had planned. So much falls into that category.
Until I sort things out, I must look for every way I can to cut back on spending. Optional stuff is history. For example, I cancelled the newspaper. I don't care about reading it anyway.
I am trying hard to figure out how to be able to keep and maintain This Old House. We both loved it. It is beautiful. Our neighbors and this town are unmatched. We had wonderful times here. Doug's mark is everywhere, in every room. We decorated and restored the house as a team. (Well, sort of. I made the lists. He did almost all the work.)
I got a letter from the Social Security office about being eligible for a whopping $255 lump sum death benefit.
After spending time in Social Security Voice Jail on 7/12, I arranged a phone appointment with the local Social Security Office. I was fortunate to get assigned to a very sensitive and helpful live person. He walked me through things and answered all my questions.
Apparently w---ws (still can't say or write that word, which I know is ridiculous) qualify for full social security benefits under their spouses' "record" at age 60.
Doug and I had done our financial planning figuring on TWO social security checks - his and mine. Turns out that the survivor only gets to collect ONE - starting with the lost spouse's.
Then after age 62 (or 66 and 4 months, or a different date depending on the year you were born) the survivor can instead collect your own social security. As soon as you start collecting your own, you can't collect your spouse's social security anymore. So the guy said it was better to wait till age 70 to start collecting your own. Apparently for every year you wait past age 66 4 mos. the amount of the check goes up 8% (up until age 70.)
He also said "I know this is the last thing you want to think about right now, but do not get remarried before age 60 or you will lose your spouse's benefits." Yes, he was right, it is unthinkable at this point. No one can ever replace Doug.
The details of finances seem so inconsequential in comparison to what Doug lost. But in my new reality, I must deal with economizing.
My father died in a boating accident (caused by a drunk boater) at the age of 59, one year into a well-earned retirement. My father took good care of my mother financially. She does not have to worry about finances. But she has often said she would exchange every single dime of their savings for more time on this earth with her husband.
I now know exactly how that feels.
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