Corinna’s Hero’s Journey – Reinventing into Retirement

Our first installment of the Hero’s Journey is Corinna’s reinvention into retirement. Corinna retired as a Secretary seven years ago from City government. Since that time she’s learned a lot about herself and gained a clearer understanding around her relationship with money. Continue reading “Corinna’s Hero’s Journey – Reinventing into Retirement”

Evaluating Retirement Planning

My great uncle passed away recently and like death always does, it upset the status quo and created a need to re-evaluate everything for those closest to him. He was my grandmother’s twin and financially dependent on her because as is the custom in Mexico he did not save for his old age. Instead, he simply assumed that either his son or other family members would support him. My grandmother spent $175/month on his living expenses and with that he was able to live comfortably in their parents’ home under the care of his neighbors and his niece. She stopped by his home  every morning after dropping of her kids at school to bring him oatmeal and drop off groceries or run other errands.

It’s amazing to think that an amount as small as the cost of a cross-fit membership could support a grown man. It also explains why so many people retire to live abroad, the cost of living in a developed country, especially in large cities, is out of many people’s reach. Now my grandma has an additional $175 freed up in her cash flow, money that she could easily dissipate without leaving any lasting benefit. Grandma has very limited expenses because she lives with my youngest aunt Monday-Friday, and then spends the weekends at my mom’s place. She has no living expenses and receives a small social security benefit for having worked over 20 years in the US as well as a widow’s pension from Mexico.

In the past she’s overspent and had some issues with credit card debt, so I was a little, tiny bit, preachy when discussing what she could do with the additional money. I suggested she open up a savings account for each of her six great grand-children giving them each $25/month, in ten years they’d each have $3,000 enough for a down-payment on a house in Mexico, or a semester in college. She briefly considered the idea, however, saving for the future is not my grandma’s style. She’d rather buy each of them clothes or toys every month, which maybe is a better decision since she’ll get to enjoy watching them appreciate the gifts.

The point is that my grandmother is a 78-year-old woman who has been making money decisions for much longer than I’ve been around. From what I know, her style has always been to enjoy it now and give away as much as possible. She is generous, in fact she takes pride in providing for her siblings and family members, and at the end of the day she has more than enough for herself. In her position I would act differently and focus more on enjoying my own retirement and leaving a legacy, but I was born 50 years after her and in a different country. I grew up with the ideal of the ambitious, self-made immigrant, while she was taught that being a mother and wife were her ultimate goals. I completely disagree with the way she spends her hard-earned money and I also respect her decisions, we all have different money priorities.

As a future financial planner whenever I think of retirement planning in my family I feel a chill. At some level my parents expect to be cared for by family the way their parents were. Unfortunately, they’ve had far fewer children than my grandparents and they have become accustomed to life in the US. My great-uncle did not drive thus he had no car expenses. His home was paid for, and his main form of entertainment was smoking cigarettes and visiting with neighbors. My parents like buy a new car every few years, travel internationally, and go to the movies; I would definitely not be able to provide that for them on $175/month. When I first learned of retirement planning in college I asked my mom whether she’d started an IRA. She said yes, she’d paid for my brother and I to finish our education. Yikes! I was about to point out that I had gone to college with scholarships and grants, but I saw that an argument like that would only hurt both of us. To this day I still feel a pit in my stomach when I remember that incident.

A couple of years ago I came to terms with the fact that I will not be able to be my parent’s sole source of retirement. In reality, they did not fully expect that of me. They each own property in Mexico and they’ll probably move there and scale back their lifestyle to fit their social security benefits. Who knows, they may decide that visiting with neighbors and taking naps in their 70s is more enjoyable than lugging luggage around in foreign countries. Or, I may decide to have them move in with me. My grandmother’s current arrangement gives her a room in each of her three daughter’s homes and when she needs a break she’ll visit her sisters who live six hours away for a couple of weeks. My dad has a total of six children including my step-siblings, so it’s possible he may get into an arrangement like that of my grandmother’s. My mom owns her home in Mexico and may only need the equivalent of $175/month from my brother and I to supplement social security. Regardless, they’ll be working for years to come.

In a perfect world my parents would be saving for retirement, just like the parents of all my friends. But they’re not. In fact, they think it’s odd that I’m saving for retirement, my dad actually teases me about it. Growing up there were always stark reminders of my immigrant background. Such as my parents thick accent or having an elaborate quinceañera. I took pride and celebrated how much better my life was thanks to their efforts. So far, discussing retirement with them has been the most painful part of assimilating into the US. I’ve disowned their ideas, and although they don’t blame me for it, I still carry a hint of guilt. Thankfully, on the positive side neither of them expect complete leisure in their old age. My grandmother is the de facto baby-sitter for five of her grandchildren. She cooks, does light cleaning, and works the cash register at the family stores. She still works every day, except now her pace is slower. She mostly works as a hobby and to get out of the house for a few hours. During the last couple of years of my great-uncle’s life he staunchly refused medical treatment for everything and anything. I believe this may have been partly because he didn’t want to be a burden on my grandmother, but mostly because he hated hearing doctors nag about his smoking. Who knows what my parents’ old age will look like? Maybe they’ll continue working and refuse medical treatment also. What I do know is that I hope to have them around for as long as possible.