Would it surprise you to learn that my husband and I do not give each other gifts at Christmas? Or birthdays? Instead, we give ourselves the gift of living debt-free. We made this decision when we semi retired. We give gifts to family members and donate generously to charities. We decorate and bake Christmas goodies and swap them with neighbors. Some years we buy something for the house that we both would enjoy such as a small appliance or furniture, but in general we are content with what we have. The important thing for us is that we pay as we go.
Many seniors will never have a comfortable retirement because they carry more debt than they can handle. While the media drives everyone’s attention to what we should be outraged about, I pay attention to financial newsletters. The pensions promised to retirees are in a precarious situation. This is the time for wise seniors to reduce their debt-load or get out of debt completely. A good way to start is to reduce the family’s expectations around Christmas. No more striving for “the Wow! factor” in gift-giving or at least limit the number of them. Almost every senior I know is nostalgic for the Christmases of their childhood when times were tougher and gifts were more meaningful.
It happened again in my small town. Another elderly person who lived alone fell in his home and was not discovered for two days, after a neighbor noticed there were no lights on at his home. After his hospitalization he must now remain in a rehab facility indefinitely while social services determine whether his home is a safe place to live on his own. Almost all Seniors want to maintain their independence and stay in control of their circumstances, and you can do that if you use your imagination to picture how you would maneuver in your home with a walker or even a wheelchair. You can determine which items are apt to cause a fall and which furniture could be moved or removed to provide better access to hallways and for doors to open. Maybe just conceding to wear some sort of medical alert system will put relatives at ease and let them give you your independence. Be proactive and maintain control.
One of the advantages of living to an old age is to be able to look backward and see the patterns in your life. For instance, thinking of my relationship with money – when I was a young married woman I didn’t want any responsibility for handling money. I wanted my husband to deal with all things financial and tell me what to do. I had grown up in a home where my parents fought constantly, mostly about money issues. I was truly frightened by their fights as a small child and decided that money was something that caused fights and I wanted to avoid it.
That attitude changed, many years later, when I became one of the first two employees of the Rising Tide Market, a natural food store in its fledgling days. I was also asked to become the bookkeeper, to my horror. But I was coached by two remarkable women who did not get upset when I made a mistake but, instead, showed me how to track discrepancies and make corrections. This took all the emotion out of it and soon I was enjoying the activity much as I would doing jigsaw or crossword puzzles. I eventually took courses in bookkeeping and accounting and developing a business of traveling to small local businesses and keeping their checkbooks balanced and papers filed. This was in the days before personal computers.
Eventually I bought a Sears Catalog and Appliance Store franchise and ran that until Sears ceased operations of such stores. In the years since I have developed my talent for bringing order out of chaos by becoming a professional organizer and downsizing consultant. I have often helped people untangle their financial messes and set up filing systems for retrieving the information that proves vital at critical times.
Looking backward reveals the way life opens up for us when we let it.