Retirement Finances: How long will I live?

Some people have work pensions that, as I understand it,  will provide them reliable revenue until they die. These people are, in my opinion, smart and forward-thinking. They chose their careers well.

Many people I know (myself included) are not part of this group. What were we thinking? That pensions and benefits were only of concern to old folks? That we’d make so much money, retirement finances would never be a concern?  While some had vocations or passions they had to pursue regardless of practicalities, I simply didn’t think about such matters in my early adult years. Silly me.

Neither Jay nor I had/have work pensions. Fortunately Jay had contributed to RRSPs throughout his career. These now constitute my savings – not enough to live in luxury, but enough to live on for many years IF the stock market doesn’t plummet, and if I live modestly. In this I am lucky; many people do not have that level of retirement security. (Some despite their best efforts: they thought they had work pensions until the companies they’d loyally served for most of their lives declared bankruptcy. I can only imagine how that would feel).

Right after retiring, I became panicky about money. I eliminated things of no real importance to me (cable TV, landline phone) and became vigilant about every penny I spent: doing laundry only at off-peak times, rabidly turning lights off when not in use, limiting my phone usage (I only have 200 free anytime minutes per month. Don’t call me during work hours on weekdays!), doing tasks myself that I might have paid someone to do (except painting… hate painting), and cutting way back on entertainment (shows, restaurants, etc.). I don’t buy a lot of anything (e.g. clothes – and that may show). I do like to travel, and I have to maintain my home, car, computer – the basic, not inexpensive stuff – but I have no debts and no dependents, so really I should be okay.

The question is: How long will I live? In theory I have enough funds to live until I’m 90, which seems more than long enough to me. But I spend a ludicrous amount of time every month calculating how much I can afford to spend without running the risk of depleting my funds too soon – and I never feel at all certain my conclusions are valid (math not my forte). Still, I THINK that if I am careful, I could probably live to 100.

But if I am careful, I won’t have any fun. I’ll be scrimping and saving and trying to cut costs, just to make ends meet. And I could drop dead tomorrow, with all that money unspent.

It’s a conundrum.

In the end (well, until next month) I have decided I should be more indulgent now, especially re. travel, since a) I don’t know how long I will live, and b) in 15-20 years I will have less energy, and less desire to travel –  so my expenses will be lower. In other words, I can afford to live it up a bit at the moment.

Right???

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Solo Retirement

I did not have what you’d call a career. I always worked, but part time, initially because I did the majority of childcare. Later, because I’d got rather used to working part time and could not think of a job I wanted to do full time. Nonetheless I always worked and volunteered in various ways.

Exactly a year after Jay died, I resigned from my demanding (and engaging) position as program director at a culinary school. Everyone had told me not to make any significant life decisions until at least a year after a serious loss (and I would recommend waiting even longer, although I don’t regret the decision). So I’d waited, but my work situation had become very stressful and unpleasant, and I wanted out.

At first, there was a glorious sense of freedom, pressure off, no responsibility, no conflict. Very quickly this faded and I stared into the future, wondering what now? I suspect everyone who retires feels this to some extent, possibly even more if you’ve had an absorbing career.

Retirement is less enjoyable when you are on your own – because, for one thing, you don’t have anyone at home to keep you company in your vast amount of free time – or at any time, actually. It is easy to become isolated.

I developed a niggling concern: if I fell and hurt myself and could not get to my cell phone, how long would I lie there before anyone noticed? Possibly quite a long time. No one expected me anywhere at any time, so why would anyone notice?

I resolved that particular issue by arranging to text my youngest son daily. We both set alerts on our phones, mine at 9:00am, his at 10:00. If he hasn’t heard from me by 10:00, he tries to make contact. It is very reassuring.

But it hardly fills my days.

Jay and I had planned to travel a lot in retirement, and I have done so (and will again, soon), but it is not the same, travelling alone. Still, I have found some interesting and enjoyable ways to travel solo (see blog posts from March-April 2016).

Probably the greatest challenge of being alone and retired is maintaining a sense of self-worth in the absence of validation. It is amazing how much one’s self-esteem can rely on regular positive feedback from others. I’ve always been a pretty confident person, but in a vacuum, not so much.

So I am now seeking ways to bring myself into contact with others on a regular and meaningful basis, but there are days when I have the motivation of a slug.

In the end, reinventing yourself in your sixties is just not that appealing a prospect.

Suddenly Single 2: The Devilish Details

If your partner takes care of certain aspects of your life together (as most do), be grateful. Dance a jig. Enjoy it. But know the day may come when you have to learn how to do all kinds of things of little or no interest to you, just in order to keep going.

My husband Jay paid the bills, did all the home maintenance, gardening and snow removal, and dealt with garbage and recycling. He also bought the wine (and used to say he had shares in the LCBO.)

Now I’d paid bills before in my life, it’s not exactly rocket science. The challenge was in figuring out HOW Jay had paid them. Did he receive paper bills in the mail? Get email notifications? Pay by check, e-transfer or automatic withdrawal? Did he pay annually or monthly? As it turns out, there was no system, every bill was handled differently. Fortunately my children figured most of it out for me, when they were desperate for something to do immediately after he died.

Nonetheless it took a while to get everything sorted out (and I’m not even talking about closing accounts or getting insurance settlements and survivor’s benefits.) I was gobsmacked when I called Bell Canada to see if I could change the name on the account from his to mine. I’d been registered as secondary account holder for years, but no, they told me, it would be impossible to change the name. I’d have to open a new account. Seriously? Yes, seriously. So I left his name on the account and continued to receive paper bills addressed to him. Then I wanted to access the account online but I didn’t know his password. Again, this was an insurmountable obstacle, nothing they could do. Had no one with a Bell account ever died before? Honestly. In the end, by trial and error I figured out the password, but was very happy to end my relationship with Bell shortly thereafter.

Bell bills were not the only mail that continued to arrive for Jay. He donated to lots of charities and subscribed to various magazines and newsletters. Being uncertain of my finances (especially upon learning that the life insurance we’d dutifully paid for years on our line of credit covered only me, not Jay – which was definitely not the plan), I called all the charities to explain his passing and cancel his automatic donations. All were sympathetic and most obliged but still…

On a daily basis, 2-3 letters arrived for Jay. For the first year after his death, I scrupulously returned the mail, with the inscription “Recipient Deceased, Return to Sender”. Then, as the same companies continued to send letters, I added, “Please remove from mailing list”. The flood abated somewhat, but to this day most of the mail I receive is for Jay. It goes directly into the recycling bin.

The one that really kills me is the National Bank, where at some time in the distant past, Jay must have had a small investment. Despite all my “Return to Sender”s, every 3 or 6 months I get a statement from them indicating he has a balance of $0.00.

I now pay all the bills in quite a blasé fashion. I have a handyman to take care of home maintenance (very nice chap, though it took me awhile to get that together – and my world threatened to fall apart when a latch or faucet broke). I have mastered the art of getting the garbage and recycling to the curb, and I buy my own wine. I even learned how to run the snowblower – and the garden has not turned into a jungle (although it is a pale shadow of the glory it was when Jay lavished care on it).

Does this give me a warm glow of satisfaction? Well, in a way, it does. I don’t love doing any of those things, but I no longer feel helpless. It may have taken me two full years, but now I can manage. And that is something.

Suddenly Single

Finding yourself suddenly single is a dreadful business – for anyone, at any age. Well, unless it’s by choice (you leave, or maybe murder your partner). Even then, I suspect it’s no picnic. But if you are ‘older’, and looking forward to spending those last years in the company of your life partner, it can be particularly challenging.

I was suddenly widowed. Three years ago, my partner died in his sleep – no warning: here today, gone tomorrow.

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I won’t go on about how painful that was (crying all over a laptop, not the best idea). However, such a loss fundamentally alters one’s universe – and is often accompanied by:

  • Profound grief
  • Uncontrolled sobbing
  • Disorientation, wandering about in a daze
  • Insomnia
  • Loss of appetite
  • Loneliness
  • Brittleness, which makes one move tentatively for fear of cracking
  • Confusion, lack of confidence, lack of motivation
  • A glazed look
  • Desire to avoid other people, especially in grocery stores, so as not to see their faces crumple in sympathy, or go blank with shock/horror that they might have to say something
  • Hysteria
  • Drinking and other bad habits

You get the idea (or you’ve lived it and unfortunately know what I mean). Reads rather like the side effects of a drug, right? And it is, no doubt, an incomplete list.

Immediately after the death of a loved one, you go through the motions, make the myriad arrangements, put one foot in front of the other. I had an amazing community of friends, relations, and loving (if devastated) children who came, grieved, provided support and help. I am forever grateful to them all.

But then everyone returned to their lives and I was alone. Not just at sea, but drowning, because I had no plan for this.

It would surely be worse to be deserted/dumped after thirty years than have a partner die. How could one avoid taking that personally, feeling not just lonely but rejected? There are no rituals to comfort the deserted, it is more private, and the grief would be just as intense.

Fortunately, the rawness of grief does fade with time. It becomes possible to envision (if grumpily) a different kind of life. Eventually one can stop sobbing and ranting, get up off the floor, and think about writing a blog, for example.

Change of Plan

I thought it was a good idea to start a new blog to address a new topic, but it has proved frustrating to many people so I am reverting to old blog (very sorry, very messy). New blog has disappeared into the ether and I have renamed/updated this blog. WARNING: for the moment it will NOT be a travel blog.

Rather, as title suggests, it is about being older, suddenly single, retired and not so wealthy. Which I am in spades – as are many others.  More and more people struggle with challenges in these areas and, willy nilly, I have experience, so why not share? Perhaps my experiences and reflections will be helpful, or amusing. I will try to make them both – and welcome comments/feedback.

Below is my first post on the topic, repeated so we all know where we are (and if you have read, please skip!) Sorry for everything…

What Does Older Mean?

Many people tell me I am not old. I don’t feel old; in my mind I am still about 30. I’m ridiculously healthy. But at 63, it would be absurd to say I am young. For thirty years I was in a rewarding relationship. I’ve held a number of interesting jobs, written a novel, participated in writing groups, chaired not-for-profit boards, travelled, and played a lot of great games. I have 4 terrific grown children and 3 grandsons.

You can say “you’re only as old as you feel” or “if you’re young at heart, you’re young” but that‘s rubbish. If you have lived most of your dreams and are over sixty,  suddenly facing life alone, with no job or children to keep you occupied, you don’t feel young. You’re not young, you’re “older” and facing a heap of unanticipated and often unpleasant challenges (that I’d like to explore – here – with you).

They say our generation may live to be 100. Horrible thought.

If you’re looking for reassurance that life in our golden years is actually golden, or that there is no such thing as getting old and it’s all a state of mind, this blog is not for you. It is for people who are somewhat at sea, facing the last decades of life alone and wondering WTF.

Homeward Bound

So ten weeks of travel are at an end. I am happy and relieved that I managed it all, with only a few low moments. It gives me confidence going forward. No matter where I go, I reckon I can handle it.

There were so many memorable moments…

Spain: watching flamenco dancers in the upstairs room of a Madrid restaurant, part of the welcome reception for the volunteer program. Playing the role of newscaster in a skit as part of the program. Running around the resort grounds taking group pictures in crazy poses (e.g. “pretend you are flying” below.) Jiving with my new friend Toby in the bar, far too late into the night. Saying good-bye to the Spaniards and volunteers, with hugs and tears and promises to reconnect.

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France: Walking the streets of Paris, the morning light reflecting off the freshly washed cobbles, glancing off the rooftops. The waiter in a Menilmontant café persuading me to try the luncheon special and very good red wine. Giggly glances shared with students in our French classes as the teacher explained an exercise we couldn’t made head or tail of. Struggling to master the subjunctive tense and the use of the word “dont”. Learning about French cinema and the music of Serge Gainsbourg.

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Paris

Standing outside the house I lived in as a child in Montmartre, and remembering youthful escapades. Dining with family friends from that time, laughing and catching up as though no time had passed. Visiting Stratford friends in their beautiful flat in the banlieue and stuffing myself on excellent food and wine. The cafes of Paris, the Seine, the parks and vast squares.

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Door in Montmartre, but not “my” door

The exquisite light in the south of France, casting a magical glow on everything. Walking along the canal du midi, basking in the sun overlooking beautiful gardens. Gazing out my all bedroom windows, all the way to the snow-capped Pyrenees.

IMG_1503fullsizeoutput_f0eAmsterdam: Oh the canals! And bridges! And the chill truth of Ann Frank’s attic and all that went on in that stifling space. Van Gogh’s wild artistry. Playing dice with Scarlett in a coffee house, dodging the fierce cyclists (there are more bicycles than people in Amsterdam).

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Scarlett in Amsterdam

Scotland: Wandering the streets of dramatic Edinburgh, meeting the world’s best tour guide, Robert, on the steps of the Scottish Academy (‘wearing a wide-brimmed hat’). Listening to Nicola Sturgeon in the Scottish Parliament. Trying haggis. Soaking in information while on coach tours. Standing on Hadrian’s Wall. Gazing out from Queen’s View over Loch Tummel. Scotland’s wild beauty.

IMG_1718IMG_1754England: Reconnecting with people from Atlantic College (where I did my last two years of high school) – not only Scarlett, but our room-mate Kate – with whom we saw Travesties and a 60’s V&A Exhibit. Lunching with our housemistress in Stratford-upon-Avon, 45 years after we’d last seen her. Driving to Norwich to visit another friend from the College and his wife. Motoring on the Norfolk Broads in their boat, sipping wine. Wandering through Norwich.

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Scarlett, Mary Ann, Bruce & I at Norwich cathedral

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Norfolk Broads

Reconnecting with my daughter-in-law’s parents, whom I only met at the wedding, at their lovely home in Saffron Walden. Meandering the English countryside with them.

Seeing theatre. Walking in Hampstead Heath, many times, with Scarlett. And especially spending time with Scarlett (probably rather more time than she wanted!) It is a bit mind-boggling to be so close to someone I met when I was fifteen, who has always lived at least an ocean away – and yet, here we are in our sixties, still having a great time together.

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Hampstead Heath

IMG_1856Of course there were less positive experiences, like sweeping up piles of foul dust in a dark attic in Ventenac-en-Minervois. And I must say the actual travel was less than inspirational. I spent a total of 12 days (out of 70) in transit. Enough to last a lifetime, really. Most irritating was the time spent getting to and from airports – particularly in London where it is both expensive and time-consuming to get into the city from ANY of the 4 airports. I will not miss the travel days.

And today is my last one (for a while). Stratford, here I come, with a great sack o’ memories slung over me shoulder. Thanks to everyone who made this trip special – not least of all, you, my blog followers! I’m ready to be home.

 

 

 

 

Mar sin leat Dùn Èideann (Good-bye Edinburgh)

I might be almost as in love with Edinburgh as Paris, although the latter certainly wins out on weather. (And despite the title of this post, I don’t speak the Gaelic). It’s been quite cold and blustery the last few days, bits of sleeting rain and even a touch o’ the white stuff. Nonetheless a gorgeous city for walking, so many fascinating old buildings and closes, gardens, etc. Never a dull moment visually.

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interior Scottish National Museum

One of the highlights of my time here was meeting Robert, a friend of a friend, who took me on a long walk by the Dean Gardens, an area I’d never have found, which follows the Water of Leith (a river that runs through Edinburgh) for 7 kms. Robert is a retired architect so pointed out all kinds of interesting details and told me about the eras of different buildings. Our walk ended at the beautiful Royal Botanical Garden, with amazing views of the city.

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on my walk with Robert

IMG_1778IMG_1777Robert prodded me to go to a couple of other places that had not been high on my list: The Scottish National Portrait Gallery and the Scottish Parliament. I am not an avid fan of galleries, but he was right about the Portrait Gallery – in a gorgeous building, with portraits of Scots through history, including some great contemporary portraits (some photos) of the likes of Andrew Murray, Robert Carlyle, Sean Connery, Annie Lennox.

At the Scottish Parliament (also a stunning building, very modern) I was able to sit in on parliamentary debate for half an hour – lucked out and got to see Nicola Sturgeon (first minister) give an impassioned speech encouraging the entire parliament to reject the new UK bill which only provides tax credits for up to 2 children (well, a third if the woman can prove she was raped!!!)

Robert was a wonderful guide and raconteur, we had lunch one day – and dinner the next. We were talking about how much attention J.K. Rowling gets in Scotland these days (there is a whole section of the city that is a sort of Potter shrine, and the city bus tour points out all the places where she wrote the books.) Robert then told me a story of a friend of his who years ago was sort of in J.K.’s position, single mom (two kids) wanted to write, Robert was busy feeding her and taking care of the kids from time to time. He and other friends persuaded her to enter a contest, she won a bit of money, took a year off to write her first novel and won massive awards. Feeling rather envious, I asked her name. Kate Atkinson. Imagine!

Tuesday night, Robert took me to a Scottish restaurant in Grassmarket and I tasted haggis, rather reluctantly. Delicious. Then we’d bought tickets online to see the National Theatre’s touring remount of War Horse at the Edinburgh Festival Theatre. We went there, picked up tickets, ordered coffee and realized that our tickets were for 2018 not 2017!!! Both guilty, we’d separately looked it up and failed to realize they were booking over a year in advance. Oh well. It was terrific meeting Robert, he has encouraged me to come back when the theatre festival is on, even offered me a bed. Maybe next year?

An oddity of the city: the local Lothian buses are excellent, run regularly, easy to look up times and routes online. You can buy a pass, sort of like an Oyster card, but for short-term it isn’t worth it. The challenge is that you cannot buy tickets and must have correct change for the driver – £1.60 (awkward amount). So I spent a lot of the week saving up change to be sure I could get around!

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Edinburgh Castle

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Castle from below

On my last full day here I visited Edinburgh Castle, which feels like the grand dame of all castles, perched on a rocky promontory called Castle Rock (an extinct volcano), visible from anywhere in Edinburgh, with a history dating back to the 12th century. The views (and hence defenses) are fantastic, although on a very chilly day I felt deep sympathy for the early occupants….brrrr.

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“inside” the castle

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View from castle to the sea

Then I stopped in at the writers’ museum, which celebrates the work of Sir Walter Scott, Robert Burns and Robert Louis Stevenson. A cosy little museum (where I thawed out after the castle!) with nooks and crannies up and down spiral staircases.

Finally I went on the Edinburgh Dungeon tour, which was great fun (fortunately – unlike my “theatrical” experience on the first night with ghosts and ghouls). Basically we were taken on a “tour” through quite evocative underground sets, led by actors who played the parts of famous Scottish judges, executioners, torturers, witches, cannibals, body snatchers, anatomy doctors and plague victims – threatening us poor lost souls and taking us on house of horrors type rides. But really well done. We shrieked and laughed and got all shook up (as chairs moved under us, cobwebs swept over our faces, people leapt out of the shadows, and we plunged to our gallows deaths). Not everyone’s cup of tea, but right up my alley.

And so, time to say good-bye, but I will be back!