Thursday, 17 October 2013
Elders and Their Money
So as of late last night the U.S. government is back in business - at least until 15 January 2014 and a world economic crisis has been pushed forward to 7 February. Apparently we are supposed to cheer the Democrats for standing fast but all it means is that there will be an identical crisis right after the end-of-year holidays.
This is the new normal. It will happen again and again due to a few deeply stupid members of Congress – all Republicans.
Because I spent a large part of my time advocating for old people, what worried me these past three weeks and worries me still for early next year, is how awful this is for elders – whether retired or near retirement.
Certainly you recall the crash of 2008. I lost more than 30 percent of my already small savings and I heard from readers who lost up to 60 percent of everything they had.
I've earned back just 25 percent of what I lost mainly because I now have no stomach for the slightest amount of risk and have as-safe-as-possible investments that earn hardly anything more than bank interest (.01%). I'm probably not the only old person too terrified still, five years later, to try for anything more.
Two readers emailed this week about financial issues. One asked if I might write about an online class from a well-known professor at a renowned university about retirement financing – pensions, savings, investments, etc.
Another, Lia who blogs at Yum Yum Cafe, in responding to an email from me, agreed with my less-than-unique assessment that life seems to be getting progressively worse for all but the richest people in the world. This set her off on an epic rant.
Since I believe Lia speaks for many, it's worth quoting her at length:
”Like you,” she wrote, “I lost a major portion of my meagre savings. A few years later I lost my employment and was more or less forced to become self-employed since there were no other alternatives.
“It has made for many bleak hours of worry. On the outside, I would say I am optimistic about the future, but the endless nights of sleeplessness attest to some deep rooted fears...
“There is a whole horse's tail of citizens from 40 upwards whose savings and retirement plans were shattered...
“We have to figure out short term how to put food on the table and how to keep a roof over our heads. On top of that, it is not just this month or this year, but for the rest of our lives...
“In some ways I was fortunate to have a few very good conversations 20 years ago with a friend of mine who is an economist.
“She did not predict the particulars and extent of the economic madness. Yet, she did say the numbers, even then, did not add up and our generation (we are both now in our mid-50s) might be the first generation since WWII that will not have the option to retire.
“She suggested finding work in a matter where, if we were granted relatively good health, we could continue working a long, long time.
“This is what I am striving to do. Find business customers I can work with a long time. It would be interesting to know what some of your readers who are working are doing in this way.”
I strive here at Time Goes By to increase useful knowledge about what being old is like. I want this blog to be a storehouse of experience, thought and ideas about honest, real, everyday aging – not what the culture and age deniers prefer old people to be.
That means nothing, no topic is, as Washington politicians say, off the table.
Nevertheless, from the first I have avoided discussion of financial information, advice, websites or “experts.” As I explained via email to the first reader I mentioned above, a large majority of retirees and near-retirees have no investments nor will they ever have money for investing.
Investing a rich person's game – for people who can afford to lose. What everyone else has is savings, very little of it, and the rich already have plenty of resources for manipulating their money. Nothing this blog can say would have any meaning for them.
An equally important reason to refrain from financial talk is that all – make that ALL in capital letters - financial consultants, teachers, advisors, etc. contradict one another so there is no way to know whose advice is good or useful.
(Preparing this post, I visited three online retirement finance experts - a large institution, an academic, a self-appointed well-known guru - each of whom has a calculator for determining how much savings one needs to retire. I input my numbers as they were when I stopped working in 2004 and got three different answers ranging from $550,000 to $1,895,000. That's a big spread - who should I trust?)
For as many readers as I heard from after the 2008 crash who lost 30, 40, 50 even 60 percent of their savings and small investments, not a single person wrote to say their advisor/banker/etc. saved them from loss.
So because money is too important and too personal (far more personal than sex) and because, inevitably, some readers take what I say as advice, I never discuss personal finance at TGB. I'm obviously not qualified and further, I'm not qualified to decide which of the gazillion people who call themselves financial experts is qualified (if any are).
Here we are, then, most of us at this blog who – even if we don't literally count pennies - need to be careful with the money we have while bankers, Wall Street, Congress members and their counterparts in other countries continue to manipulate the economies of the world to the benefit only of the already rich.
So we - for today let's call ourselves elders of the 99 percent - are mostly on our own and given how the U.S. government behaves, are in for a bumpy ride to the grave. Lia again from the end of her email rant:
”What options do we have when the financially structures crumble? If corporate practices, responsibilities and ethics are thrown to the wayside, it really is every man for them self. I can't even stand to read about follies going on in Washington.”
I know just how she feels. Your thoughts?
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Janet Thompson: Kaleidoscopes, Penny Candy and Dancing with the Dishtowel