Archive for the ‘Money’ Category

My life in shoes

Posted: September 10, 2012 in Money, shoes

I had this dream last night that I went to the new chi-chi upscale Nordstroms and bought a $1,000 pair of shoes. (Taupe suede mules, not even that cute.) I immediately had Buyer’s Remorse and took them back, and the saleslady (who looked like Joan on “Mad Men”) explained that their new policy required that the refund be made in cash, so she handed me a $10,000 bill! (It had Millard Fillmore’s picture on it, and the weird thing is that I recognized him as Millard Fillmore…) I didn’t realize that I had been grossly overpaid until I got to my car, and then I was frantic that the saleslady would lose her job, but I couldn’t get back in the building to take the money back. And then I woke up.

I hope she didn’t get fired.

What’s the most you’ve ever paid for shoes? (The $100 I spend on a pair of tall black motorcycle-style boots is my biggest indulgence. And I had a gift card.)

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Reader, we’ve moved. Literally and figuratively, it turns out.

After a couple of serious falls that landed her in the hospital, my 91-year-old mother-in-law agreed to move to an assisted living facility (where she promptly tripped over her oxygen line, fell, and broke her femur in 20 pieces — but that’s a story for another day). The Spouse and I had talked about buying her very nice condo in a 55+ development when the time came for her to sell, but that time came much quicker than we expected. Both our all-brick rambler and her home had become undervalued in the current economy, and we wondered if we would be able to sell.

Meanwhile, downstairs at our house, our son and daughter-in-law, who had rented out their townhome and remodeled and moved into our basement to start saving for a house with property, were wondering how they could afford anything in today’s market. (Their best prospect? A small two-story no-basement home on a whopping .1 acre of land miles and miles away in a wildfire-plagued area — all for a mere $275,000. Yikes.)

“Would you consider buying our house?” the Spouse asked. They would, and promptly did. Our son was very happy growing up in our neighborhood, and his wife is thrilled to have a space to remodel. She does AH-MAZING things with paint and fabric, and the place is already looking better than it did when we lived there.

Very quickly, it seemed, we went from having them living with us to us living with them, so we speeded up the move, boxing up everything and throwing away ENORMOUS amounts of flotsam and jetsam that had washed up in the basement and in the corners of every closet over the 25 years we lived in that all-brick rambler. Papers, Books. Broken Christmas decorations. A plethora of pillows, most of which had to be tossed because of the dust. Cases of peanut butter and black beans long past their use-by date. Rock-hard bags of sugar. Piles of Apple components, hardware and software for computers we had long since abandoned. You know, the usual kipple. (My constant refrain: “What the frack was I/he keeping this for?”)

I considered (for about a nanosecond) having a yard sale, but I’ve had great luck with placing unwanted items on the front of the lawn with a FREE sign on them. They rarely last the day. It’s my way of stimulating the neighborhood economy: Let somebody else haul them off and sell them if they want. Everybody’s struggling.

The move was completed in a frantic four hours on a Saturday four weeks ago thanks to a very motley crew of our friends, their friends, and family members, all paid in pizza, cookies, water and our undying thanks.

So. Here we are. The dust has settled, the remodeling is nearly complete (new carpet and tile upstairs including a jetted tub in the bathroom, and a new family room and bathroom downstairs). I’ve spackled all the holes in the walls, touched up the white trim, and applied Danish oil to a few water-worn kitchen and bathroom cabinets. The TVs are hooked up, the furniture is mostly in place, the ice maker in the fridge works, and we’ve put a few things on the walls. There are pots of geraniums on the front and back porches. I even have a room of my own downstairs with a futon, desk, bookshelves, wi-fi, TV, and a recumbent exercycle. I’m still looking for a couple of pairs of sandals that went missing during the mayhem, but most things have turned up.

It’s a nice house, open and bright. It has the feel of a place where someone has been happy. No ghosts here. We’re settling in nicely.

So why am I so unsettled?

There’s a clue in my first paragraph: “a 55+ development.” Yeah, we’re 55+, even 60+. The Spouse just retired, and I’m seriously thinking about it. We more than qualify for a little slice of no-upkeep heaven like this. So what’s the big deal?

Our little slice of heaven is a ghetto, and I say that in the nicest possible way. According to the Interwebs, a ghetto is “a part of a city predominantly occupied by a particular group, especially because of social or economic issues.” Ours is a gray ghetto, where most of the residents (who like my mother-in law bought their homes 15 or so years ago when they were in their 60s and 70s) are now in their 70s and 80s and even 90s. We’re among the youngest ones here. And it just feels weird, sort of like moving back in with your parents, only now we’re middle-aged or beyond.

And it makes me feel terrible at the same time. The people we have met here are lovely, gracious and welcoming and friendly in the way that they, “the Greatest Generation” as Tom Brokaw dubbed them, have always been. Perhaps I feel like a fraud. After all, I’m one of those selfish, spoiled, economy-destroying, resource-guzzling Baby Boomers and I don’t deserve to be counted in their class. But maybe I’m just not ready for yet another capitulation to the ravages of time.

This, of course, all adds to my on-going angst about aging. I now alternate from my job where I’m surrounded by dewy-skinned, inexperienced 20-year-olds to my home where I live among survivors of the march of time whose lives, well-lived or not, are etched indelibly on their faces.

Oh, I’m just DISGUSTED with myself. I carp on and on about age discrimination, and here I’m teetering on its very edge. I have much to learn about the hard business of growing older, and I now am surrounded by experienced and willing teachers and examples.

And learn I shall. More to come.

A silver lining?

Posted: November 13, 2011 in Money, wisdom

Slate’s DoubleX site, which runs lifestyle stories and news for women, recently asked readers to write about their experiences in the current recession. It is, as you would expect, a litany of losses and limitations, many of them affecting seniors:

Pamela, 70, whose aviation technician husband was involuntarily retired from his job a few years ago says that they can no longer afford to travel. This hurts, since their families are several states away. “I have not seen them for four years,” she wrote. “Mom is 93.”

But there is a gritty hopefulness in some of the stories. People are not letting their losses rob them of their humanity:

A retired teacher who racked up a lot of credit card debt when times were good found herself unable to pay her bills and so has turned to bartering. She gets her house cleaned in exchange for piano lessons, she catered a dinner party in exchange for fabric (she sews), and she drives a friend to appointments in exchange for symphony tickets.

A man who with his wife runs a computer repair firm said that since the downturn they have fallen behind on their bills and run through their retirement savings. But, he wrote, “We still go out on date night to local restaurants, and we tip well. If you want to make yourself feel better and make a direct positive impact on someone else—tip well.”

[A paralegal wrote] “We have gone from fairly affluent with regular vacations to below poverty level, and guess what? We’re still here! Our experience with this has brought the family so much closer that it has been worth it.”

I remember seeing a tee-shirt once that read “Cocaine is God’s way of telling you you’re making too much money.” Maybe some of us were making too much money, or rather spending too much money that just wasn’t ours. “Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers,” wrote Wordsworth more than a hundred years ago. Our cocaine, it would seem, was upscale real estate, and all that came with it. That big overpriced home on the right street that we had to have seems to have dragged many of us down and stripped us to our essentials. And for the best of us and the best in us, that may not have been a bad thing.

Sure, it’s cold comfort when you’re facing a foreclosure or a mountain of student loan debt or the loss of retirement savings and health benefits. But we’re a resilient species, and we can learn and adapt and even thrive again.

As Robert Frost said, “In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life: it goes on.” And so will we. For the better, I hope.

The rich get rich…

Posted: November 3, 2011 in Money

In 2008, when the banks and the brokerage firms went up in flames and our savings started circling the drain, I was dogged by the uneasy feeling that SOME ONE, SOMEWHERE, was making money off of this hand over fist. I mean, where did it all go? Those gains in retirement accounts and 401Ks couldn’t all have been “on paper,” could they? Even my son the economist couldn’t help me understand where it all went.

Now, I still don’t have any firm grasp on who made off with our millions and billions, but I do have more proof that there’s less money floating around out here for the rest of us poor slobs. According to an article in today’s New York times:

The number of people living in neighborhoods of extreme poverty grew substantially, by one third, over the past decade, according to a new report, erasing most of the gains from the 1990’s when concentrated poverty declined.

You heard right. The poor aren’t only getting poorer. There are now even more of them than there were ten years ago. And the kind of concentrated poverty they’re talking about is savage.

“It’s the toughest, most malignant poverty that we have in the United States,” said Peter Edelman, the director of the Center on Poverty, Inequality and Public Policy at Georgetown University. “It’s bad outcomes reinforcing each other.”

(If you need proof, Nancy Nall for one has been keeping up with the relentless decline of Detroit.)

I can’t bring myself to check the Times’ source and find out how seniors fared in this study. I KNOW it’s bad news. I also seem to remember the Times running a story recently that showed suburban poverty is on the rise as well. And the whole situation frustrates the HELL out of me. Where’s the Complaint Department? What line should I get in to voice my concerns?

I’ve seen enough news footage to know that a serious percentage of the folks in the Occupy (Your Town Here) Movement are a bit unfocused (if not completely unhinged), but I appreciate their enthusiasm. No one seems to be listening.

Treasure-hunting in your closet

Posted: October 17, 2011 in fashion, Money

Looking to make a little extra cash? Be Fabulous Daily posted a great list of suggestions today for selling clothing on Ebay. I have only had minor success with this, and so I haven’t put a lot of energy into it, even though I regularly shuttle bags of clothes to the local charity store. She’s making me rethink my efforts.

Happy Monday!

The Associated Press had an interesting story today on “hot jobs for seniors” that caught my attention:

The number of U.S. workers 65 or older has grown 24 percent in five years, to 6.7 million last month. And that’s with the baby-boom generation just now entering the age group. More than half of that total were employed full-time, and nearly 1.3 million were 75 or older.

Seventy-four percent of those responding to a 2011 survey by the Employee Benefit Research Institute said they expect to work after they officially retire, up from 63 percent in 2008.

That’s astonishing: Three-fourths of us expect to keep working beyond the traditional retirement age. Sure, we can all recite the reasons: Layoffs, persistent unemployment, bankrupt retirement plans, inflation and continuing threats to Social Security. All of my peers are examining their pensions, bank accounts and portfolios — what’s left of them, anyway — and trying to calculate how they’ll survive.

And some of us are figuring it out. I know seniors who’ve were lucky enough to sell or rent their larger homes and scale back to a house and lifestyle more within their means. I also have friends who’ve turned hobbies and avocations into post-retirement careers. My friend Linda checked out of her library job at 62 and jumped full-time into her long-time, part-time bliss, interior design, and she’s very happy. It doesn’t feel like work to her.

The Spouse has negotiated three years of half-time work for his current employer that will not affect his ultimate retirement funding.  He can’t wait. Charlene’s mother cashed out her house, turned the equity over to her contractor son, who used it as the down payment on his new home that included a “mother-in-law” apartment with a separate entrance. Smiles all around.

I know, I’m making it sound easier than it really is. Things like dealing with precarious health, living in remote locations and struggling to keep job skills fresh after a few years (or more) of unemployment can dampen your outlook. Which is why I thought the AP story had some good points:

[S]eniors looking for work must examine their own skills as well as the labor market’s needs in order to find a satisfying job.

Retirees typically have the advantage of being more interested in a job than a career, notes Bill Coleman, vice president at RetirementJobs.com. “They can be a good resource, bringing 30 or 40 years of work experience to the table and not looking to squeeze every last dollar out of a position,” Coleman says. “That can be very appealing to an organization.”

But if the doors to a past career seem closed, or if you need a new challenge, AP has five areas to recommend:

1. Healthcare

Home health aide and personal aide top a Bureau of Labor Statistics list of job fields expected to grow the fastest by 2018. The pay is modest — median wages of roughly $20,000 for each in 2008. But caregiving work can be a good fit for those looking to work 20 to 25 hours a week and do something meaningful.

My mother had a “senior companion” for a year or two, an older woman who would stop by twice a week, do light housework, play cards with her and even take her to doctor’s appointments and to the store. She really enjoyed her company, and it seemed like a good fit for both of them. Later on, Mother needed home healthcare, which was considerably more physically demanding, and later she was in a nursing home. I worked in a nursing home as a college student, and it can be hard, brutal and often discouraging work, so I wouldn’t recommend it. But being a personal aide or a health aide still would be a good possibility.

2. Retail

Retail jobs are popular with older workers. Openings are frequent, hours are flexible and many part-time opportunities are available.

Many retailers welcome seniors as customer service employees or cashiers because they have found that older workers are very good at making customers happy, according to Coleman. Other retail jobs available for seniors may include retail manager, floor supervisor, stock-room associate, greeter or food company demonstration worker.

I know: Cue the Walmart greeter jokes. But, seriously, I find an older retail employee much more approachable and helpful than some surly over-tattooed teenager. And you could likely follow your bliss here: The ladies at the knit shop where Mother bought her yarn were always after her to join them. And my friend Diane has an engineer husband who would like nothing better than to prowl the aisles at Home Depot with a customer, looking for that perfect screwdriver or paint color.

3. Government

Two government agencies in particular — the Department of Veterans Affairs (www.va.gov/jobs) and the Transportation Security Administration (www.tsa.gov/jobs) — are known for seeking older workers. Both agencies have openings requiring little or no experience.

I don’t know much about either of these agencies (although the TSA jobs at the airports look a bit strenuous — and possibly boring — to me). But you should be better protected against age discrimination with a government job. Municipal, county and state governments might also be fruitful sites.

4. Computer work

One of the most popular profession switches for older workers and retirees is going into computer-related work, according to Jim Toedtman, editor of the AARP Bulletin. The jobs entail such tasks as data entry or working with data communication systems and networks.

Specific training to learn new skills is required. Anyone looking to get work in another speciality in retirement should seek out low-cost training opportunities at a community college or elsewhere.

I think those of us who have been employed in any aspect of business during the last five years probably have sufficient computer skills already. But I know there is a premium on even part-time jobs now, so I expect the competition in this area would still be pretty fierce.

5. Temp agencies

Retirees have been flocking to temp agencies. Like seasonal retail work, temporary help in an office or elsewhere can be an ideal match for an older worker and employer. The worker offers flexible hours and experience and gets the opportunity for new challenges and limited-term working assignments that sometimes lead to full-time positions.

I have had experience, although not recently, with temp agencies, and it was all good. I was a “trailing spouse,” quitting my job to follow my husband to his new job in a new city. After weeks of pounding the pavement with no success, I signed up with the first temp agency I found in the phone book. And it was great. The pay wasn’t exactly what I had in mind, but they put me to work immediately (that one semester of typing I took in junior high really paid off), and I got a job offer from every office I worked at. I was able to work until a position opened up in my field. I wouldn’t hesitate to try it again if I needed consistent employment.

What are my plans? I’ve always wanted to work in a bookstore, but after the recent Borders bloodbath, I think that might not be a possibility anymore. I’ve also thought about trying to monetize my blog, but I think I got into the game a little too late for that. (And I don’t think I’d be very good at shilling products I don’t use.) After looking over the options, I may delay my retirement from my day job for a year, spend what my Social Security benefit would be and then just bank the rest. I’d earn more that way than I would trying to work part-time for several years. I’m not crazy about the idea, but it could work for me.

How about you?

The Limits of Entitlement

Posted: August 11, 2011 in aging, Money

Nearly every British blogger I follow has had some experience with the riots that began in London’s East End with a dispute over a police action and that have now spread to several major cities in the UK: smashing storefronts on the high streets, brazenly looting (one account described looters exiting a Debenhams carrying their merchandise in the distinctive Debenham shopping bags), burning cars and buildings, and targeting specific racial groups and their businesses.  The stylish British Teddy Boy hooligans of the 20th century seem to have been replaced by a new, more menacing hoodlum, one with too little money, too much time on his hands, and a poisoned sense of entitlement.

I’ve long been a fan of Theodore Dalrymple, a British physician and writer who has been one of the sharpest and most eloquent critics of the British dole, and his spot-on description of the roots of the current rebellion make me wonder about our public programs. The question, he says, isn’t why is this happening in Britain, but why it hasn’t happened sooner:

The riots are the apotheosis of the welfare state and popular culture in their British form. A population thinks (because it has often been told so by intellectuals and the political class) that it is entitled to a high standard of consumption, irrespective of its personal efforts; and therefore it regards the fact that it does not receive that high standard, by comparison with the rest of society, as a sign of injustice. It believes itself deprived, even though each member of it has received an education costing $80,000, toward which neither he nor—quite likely—any member of his family has made much of a contribution; indeed, he may well have lived his entire life at others’ expense, such that every mouthful of food he has ever eaten, every shirt he has ever worn, every television he has ever watched, has been provided by others.

And don’t expect someone to be grateful for such largesse, since “dependency does not provoke gratitude.” (My experience exactly. With some people, no good deed goes unpunished.)

At the same time, his expensive education will have equipped him for nothing. His labor, even supposing that he were inclined to work, would not be worth its cost to any employer—partly because of the social charges necessary to keep others such as he in a state of permanent idleness, and partly because of his own characteristics. And so unskilled labor is performed in England by foreigners, while an indigenous class of permanently unemployed is subsidized.

One of our family secrets when I was younger was my mother’s cousin Amelia, who lived in a big, gloomy old house with her daughter and who was semi-permanently on welfare. Amelia wasn’t ill or disabled. She was just, well, incapable, someone who today would be called a displaced homemaker. It was clearly a shameful thing for Mother, and I was told not to mention it to anyone. During one of our visits, the daughter showed me her new glasses, which had been purchased by one of the welfare agencies.

“I’m going to get prescription sunglasses, too,” she said, gazing at herself in the mirror admiringly. “I mean, my friends all have prescription sunglasses. Why shouldn’t I?”

I may have been 12 years old, but I knew even then that there was a difference between glasses and sunglasses. It wouldn’t have occurred to me to ask for prescription sunglasses, and we paid cash for everything in those days. But she and her mother seemed to think that they somehow deserved those extras, even though neither of them did anything much to support themselves. Amelia and her daughter told themselves—or perhaps were told by others—that they were entitled to what they wanted but hadn’t earned.

Dalrymple believes the British anger and unrest is due to the gap between what the British underclass has been taught that it should have (whether it has earned it or not) and what it actually experiences. It is a cautionary tale for any society with a welfare class and high unemployment, and it could happen here.

According to several sources, including ABC News, youth gangs are already causing havoc in some major American cities, with at least one reported death at the hands of a young mob.

“The age range is interesting—of most of these riots, it tends to be in the teenage to early 20s by in large,” Frank Farley, a psychologist at Temple University, told ABC News. “That’s a big age for thrill seeking and risk-taking.”

Adding to the contagion for the young people participating in such wanton destruction are the bleak economic outlook, seemingly unending high unemployment and a deep distrust of government.

We live, it is increasingly clear, in interesting times.

ABC News consultant Brad Garret, who was an FBI agent in Washington, D.C. for 30 years, says that he’s not sure if he’s seen a combination of conditions like today’s facing the youth of America.

“When you get people on the edge anyway, and you pull one brick out of their wall, it can collapse,” he said.

There are signs of hope for the U.S. though. The chaos seen in Britain is less likely to occur here, because American cities are generally less segregated than Britain’s. In addition, police forces in America have gotten much better at fighting and preventing crime and anti-social behavior.

In any case, rioting continues on both sides of the pond. Stay tuned.