In January, I wrote a piece for Next Avenue on my personal experience with retirement insecurity. I couldn’t have anticipated the warm response — nor could I have envisioned the outpouring of support and stories so similar to my own and many friends.
To our readers, thank you. It is my hope that in “55 and Faking Normal” you find the tools, strategies and support you need to navigate the retirement waters ahead, explore your options and figure out and attain what is essential for your happiness.
For those of you who missed the original piece, see below.
Unemployed, 55, and Faking Normal
You know her.
She is in your friendship circle, hidden in plain sight.
She is 55, broke and tired of trying to keep up appearances. Faking normal is wearing her out.
To look at her, you wouldn’t know that her electricity was cut off last week for non-payment or that she meets the eligibility requirements for food stamps. Her clothes are still impeccable, bought in the good times when she was still making money.
A Grace Note of Panic
But if you paid attention, you would see the sadness in her eyes, hear that grace note of panic in her otherwise commanding voice.
These days, she buys the $1.99 10-ounce “trial size” jug of Tide to make ends meet. You didn’t know laundry detergent came in that size.
You invite her to the same expensive restaurants the two of you have always enjoyed, but she orders mineral water with a twist of lemon, instead of the $12 glass of Chardonnay. She is frugal in her menu choices, meticulous, counting every penny in her head. She demurs dividing the table bill evenly to cover desserts, designer coffees and the second and third glasses of wine she didn’t drink.
Nest Egg: Gone Long Ago
She lives without cable, a gym membership and nail appointments. She’s discovered she can do her own hair.
There are no retirement savings, no nest egg; she exhausted that long ago. There is no expensive condo from which to draw equity and no husband to back her up.
Months of slow pay and no pay have decimated her credit. Bill collectors call constantly, reading verbatim from a script, expressing polite sympathy for her plight — before demanding payment arrangements that she can’t possibly meet.
When the Phone Stops Ringing
Friends wonder privately how someone so well-educated could be in economic free fall. After all, she is still as talented as ever and smart as a whip. But work is sketchy now, mostly on-and-off consulting gigs. You can’t remember when she had a real job. She has learned how to appear engaged, but her phone doesn’t ring with opportunities anymore.
She doesn’t remember exactly when it stopped.