I HAVE NOT HIT ROCK BOTTOM YET… BUT IT COULD HAPPEN ANY MOMENT

It’s not like I have hit rock bottom. I am not living under a bridge eating cat food. What is true is that for the first time I can see a sequence of events where rock bottom is possible. And it wouldn’t take much.

I am in trouble if my water heater gives out, or my car needs a major repair. And I am not alone. Millions of us in our 50s and 60s are standing on the precipice, one crisis from tumbling over the edge.

This does not encompass only those of us who have been struggling all our lives and now, in our fifth and sixth decade, are having a very rough go of it. I am talking about folks who have had good lives and decent incomes now finding themselves facing the prospect of downward mobility, even poverty.

I am talking about people like you and I, jettisoned from the workforce unexpectedly, forced out; in some cases, jumping before we were pushed. Now in our late 50s and 60s, we face a “don’t want you” job market. We’re on nobody’s short list. Getting arrested might be easier than getting a job.

Sometimes Not Working Is Not an Option

It’s not like we’re rolling in dough. Sure, a few of us have pensions and 401Ks we can depend on or husbands/partners still bringing home the bacon. But a lot of us have not saved nearly enough to support ourselves as we age.

If we are in our 50s or 60s today, in good health, we’re looking at living another 25-30 years. That’s a long time to pull it together financially, if we are struggling now.

Many of us are struggling now, and we’re simply not talking about it. Sometimes even our families are in the dark about what is really happening to us.

And because we still have the vestiges of our past successes – the living quarters, maybe the clothes, even the car – our true plight, what’s really going on with us, can remain hidden from view.

But the Cracks Are There

We’re the ones putting $7 worth of gas in our SUVs or ducking outings with friends, too broke to join. Or when we do, we’re ordering iced tea and soup when everyone else is chowing down on $24 entrees.

And if you’re wondering why we don’t invite you over anymore, it’s because even if we have managed to keep up with our house payments, we’re scrimping on home maintenance and repairs – and it shows.

The roof needs replacing, and the sink is stopped up. The refrigerator makes weird knocking noise, and we can’t remember the last time we had the carpet cleaned.

All This Hiding and Pretending Is Exhausting

What if there is another way? What if we began to talk about what is happening to us, to draw on our collective wisdom as women to chart a way forward?

What if we ditched the shame and embarrassment about where we have landed and began to explore what a richly textured and meaningful life on a more modest income could really look like?

What if I share what I’ve learned as I grapple with this question? What if you share what you’ve learned, and we hold each other up through the rocky patches?

We Are All Trying to Figure It Out

I’m certain that at times it will be rocky. This world has never before been populated with tens of millions of us living well into our eighties. We’re making it up as we go along. There are no road maps, no established pathways and only few role models.

So, don’t get overly worried if your path forward is not clear. No one has it totally together. As my grandma used to say, “Don’t compare your inside to someone else’s outside.” We’re all trying to figure it out. I say, let’s figure it out together?

And don’t think you’re the only one facing uncertain work and is in financial jeopardy. Nearly a third of all Americans age 55 to 64 have no retirement savings whatsoever.

Also, among those who have saved, the median value of their retirement accounts will only last two, maybe three years on the outside. I expound on this a lot in my book “Fifty-Five Unemployed and Faking Normal”.

Do you find it difficult to be honest with others about the challenges that you are facing in life after 60? Let’s talk, my sisters. How are you doing, and who knows the truth about what’s going on with you? How do we support each other as we navigate the waters ahead? Please share your thoughts below!

25 Comments
  1. Pam McNeil 5 months ago

    Yes! Your blog totally resonates with me and many of my friends, especially those of us who are single/divorced/widowed. A major car repair or broken appliacne can be devastating, and we won’t even talk about major medical issues. My friends and I often discuss the fact that we are intelligent,capable women in our 60s, how do we find a way out of this dilemma ? Thank you for your blog!

    • Lizzy White 5 months ago

      I started this blog because I think we can only figure it out together. My sense is we will be drawing wisdom from bygone times, updated with technology. I am reading about all kinds of opportunities to share resources, clothes, tools, housing…What’s clear to me is that the “rugged individualism” model with everyone on their own and fending for themselves, won’t work here.

  2. Debbie Lewis 5 months ago

    I don’t find it difficult to share what’s going on with me. Losing my house, not being able to afford to go to out of town weddings or other outings…but people who are not in the same situation get tired of hearing it and I get tired of being the only one.

  3. Carol Marak 5 months ago

    Hi Lizzy, Such an important topic — Yes, I’m over 60 and worry about being invisible — like most older adults in our society — it’s a big issue for my Facebook group — Elder Orphans — some of us have work and some do not and we all worry. Thank you!

    • Lizzy White 5 months ago

      Carol,

      Great to hear from you. I cite your Elder Orphan Facebook Page in my book. It is a wonderful resource for so many. We should talk offline.

  4. Barbara Dobree 5 months ago

    Yes, I do hope you continue addressing this topic. I, too, am faking normal, having the house in a decent neighborhood that needs repairs; the vehicle, albeit 13 years old, that was once top notch; figuring out which item on my list I can afford to do; skipping outings with friends because of the cost; looking for inexpensive or no cost entertainment away from home.
    Right now I had planned to hire someone to fell several trees on my property that died 2 years ago in a drought, and if they fall down, will hit my house. Then, another tooth broke and needed either a crown or removal, the second one in the last month, so that tree-cutting expense moved down the list. My vehicle needed new shocks all around, which was unexpected. And to top it all off, this is the month that my home insurance is due. I do save up for that each year, but with other unexpected expenses, it will take me until next year to recover.
    And hanging over my head at age 70, is the fact that I will run out of money at age 79. Find a job? Ha. Take in a house mate? My home is too small for a second person. Cut back? Already pared to the bone so that food is the only thing left to reduce expenses.

    What to do? How many of us are in the situation now? After a relatively affluent middle-class lifestyle, a late-in-life divorce 10 years ago after 30 years of marriage, has left me in this state. And I cannot figure a way out of it. How will I afford a new/used vehicle? Anything I do need to purchase is second hand now.

    Certainly not the book I wrote!

    • Lizzy White 5 months ago

      One of things I am hoping to do now is share stories about people our age who are figuring it out. I am on my way to a conference in San Francisco. Initially, I was going to have to pay my way, but now have a host. When I was trying to figure out an affordable place to stay a friend of mine in her late sixties suggested I stay in a hostel. I was mortified. A HOSTEL, “I am not staying there,” I wailed. She said calm down, that she stays in them all the time. And that they are fine, some better than others. I had to get my brain around that. I took the grey hound bus to West Virginia recently to go to a conference. I am not going to tell you that it is better than taking the train, but it was fine. I had to think about what mattered to me. Was it how I traveled to the conference or being there. Many of us will be facing these kinds of choices on things big and small. We need places to discuss this, to work through it…together. That’s why I am such a big proponent of Resilience Circles.

      • Barbara Dobree 5 months ago

        Hostels are great. I’ve been staying in them for years and what I’ve found, especially in the off-season, that there are lots of others in my age group, mostly women! I do get a private room now and not always with a bathroom as going down the hall is okay for me.

        It’s the being there that matters! I hope you enjoyed your conference and the bus ride.

        • Lizzy White 5 months ago

          Thank you for your comment on hostels. You have definitely moved me from …”are you kidding to…hmmm, I think I could do that!”

      • Donna Freedman 5 months ago

        Ditto on hostels! I’ve stayed in them in Chicago, New York, Austin, Philadelphia, Cardiff and London. They’re exactly what I need when I travel on a dime: a place to sleep and shower. I’ve also had some great conversations with younger people (I’m 59) and also older ones.

        Some hostels provide a meal, city tours and special events like “pizza and movie night” or “barbecue night.” When you join Hostels International you get a price break on rooms that are already surprisingly cheap.

        Not everyone can share a room. But if you can, hostels are a HUGE way to keep costs low.

        I’d also recommend the Megabus for cheap travel. The tickets start at $1. That is not a typo.

        Just discovered your site and have followed you on Twitter. As a woman who had to start over in midlife, I think I’m going to identify with your writing.

        • Lizzy White 4 months ago

          OK, you have convinced me. I am gonna try this hostel thing. I have not taken Megabus, but have traveled on comparable bus lines and it was fine….more than fine. Totally acceptable. I like riding in the front seat right behind the driver…that way I don’t feel cooped up. Thank you for following me on social media. I think you will also like my book. I am wanting to write now about people who are figuring out how to live a richly textured and connected life on a modest income. Maybe we can talk by phone. Feel free to reach out to me on fakingnormal@yahoo.com.

  5. Patty 5 months ago

    I guess I fake it too. I do still have some nice jewelry, clothes, and a car. The trappings of a middle class existence that used to be. For years, I earned in the low 6 figures and I was safe and secure in my little place in Corporate America. I was blind and insulated to what was going on in the real world.

    You make plans and then life happens. We all make mistakes but I thought we had it covered. We were smart and lived below our means, living on one income and saving/investing the other. What I didn’t anticipate was my husband dropping dead at 61 with no will. It was on our to do list. When someone dies without a will, the spouse loses half. I lost a little more than half. I could no longer afford 2 house payments so one house was repossessed by the mortgage holder. I was left living in a half way finished home that might never be finished. My credit score was over 800 before this happened. I used to be responsible.

    My house has a brand new roof but no floors. Just the dirty. dusty, concrete slab it was built on. But I did put down beautiful silk oriental rugs that were left over from my old life. Most of the furnishings came from one thrift store or another and it’s not great. I never entertain or invite anyone over. It’s embarrassing and I can’t keep it clean. The dust is neverending.

    Summer is hard for me. I live in the desert where AC is needed just as much as heat during a Winter in Maine. The $300 or more electric bill is a budget killer. And every last one of my big bills is due in the Summer. June is car insurance/smog/registration. July is the yearly sewer bill. August is house taxes and September is house insurance. Then in October it gets cool enough to turn off the AC and I can breathe again. This year I am lucky to have already saved $500 to put towards the house taxes. I have a check for $300 and $200 cash in my tea jar. So if nothing bad happens between now and then I will be OK. And it’s only 10 weeks till October.

    I didn’t mention Health Insurance because I don’t have any. Even with the subsidies offered by Obamacare, it is beyond my means. If I was willing to do without, I might be able to afford a bottom tier plan but then it doesn’t cover enough to actually be helpful. And the deductibles are high enough to wipe me out so there is little to be gained. So for the time being I play Russian Roulette, wait for Medicare, and take comfort in the fact that I am pretty judgement proof. I can still use the ER in an emergency and they can sue the pants off me to collect but there is nothing they can take. Did I mention waiting for Medicare? I have a huge hernia that needs to be fixed. It makes me look like I am pregnant and limits my mobility.

    Seniors are better off really poor than sort of poor. I have an acquaintance who worked all his life at blue collar jobs in NYC. He has nothing but he lives better than I do. His brand new subsidized apartment costs him $500 per month all bills paid. Medicaid pays his Medicare premium and is his secondary insurance so all his medical is free. Doesn’t even have co-pays. He gets food stamps and all the food pantries are open to him. His freezer is full of steaks the local grocery stores donate at his housing complex. He actually has more disposable income than I do. He doesn’t have to worry about money all the time.

    Everything is not gloom and doom. I am still surviving. I am grateful for those salad days back in school when I learned how to stretch a dollar. Turns out that was a more valuable skill than the education I was paying for. I’m still alive and pretty healthy. I will go write for pennies and celebrate our first rainy day this Summer. There’s food in the fridge, a roof over my head, and a car in the garage. I’m OK.

    • Lizzy White 5 months ago

      Patty,
      Thank you so much for your candor. Many will identify with what you have written here.

      The question I ask myself is how do we live a rich and textured life on a modest income. What does that look like? What does living in dignity mean? Where are the new business models, innovative service providers and product developers for boomers who are now on a budget?

      Interesting your point about senior being better off really poor that sort of poor. So true.

      • Patty 5 months ago

        More than anything else, I wish I had something fun to do and people to hang out with. At this point, I would be happy to have even a book club! I also enjoy volunteering and teaching. I loved teaching ESL. I have real skills. I am am engineer and I can replace or fix almost anything. But I am not fast. I work slowly because I don’t have the same strength as a male so doing things like putting in a bathtub take me too much time. But I can do it! I can’t print money so my progress on the house is limited by the funds available.

        I designed a complete solar system for my house that I could put in myself. But I don’t have the money. Maybe someday!

        Money. Lack of money is turning me into a hermit and that’s not good for anyone. Sure I could go out. I could join meetup groups. I could sign up to do volunteer work. But every time I leave the house it costs money. Money I need to finish the house. The cheapest thing for me to do is just stay home and embrace my lonely life. Luckily exercise is still free. When it’s not too hot, I can take the dog for a run and walk all over the neighborhood. I can walk to a thrift store and lots of other places. I have a rowing machine I can use when it’s too hot outside. I have a pool I really love but it’s too expensive to run the pump and I can’t afford the extra $100 a month tacked onto my ginormous electric bill. So the pool sits empty.

        I cook in bulk and try to do all my shopping once a month because it saves money and gas. I guess as long as I have the internet I will never be completely alone. Most of my social life is online and thank heaven’s for digital books delivered daily to my inbox from the local library. And there are no late fees either! I have to go to the physical library once a year to renew my card.

        I talk to my dog because he is there. I have been known to sing and dance with him too.

        • Kelly 5 months ago

          Patty, I wish we lived closer! (I’m in Dallas.) I’m not an engineer, but I spent more than 20 years working with Habitat for Humanity, and I love working on houses. Do you have a Habitat ReStore near you? That place has saved me a lot of money on home-improvement projects over the years.

          I talk to my cats. They’re great company. I don’t know what I’d do without them.

          • Lizzy White 5 months ago

            Thinking…do Resilience Circles have to be in person meetings? Might they be virtual, by skype or phone? Need distance be a hindrance?

          • Lilia 4 months ago

            A great idea for those who want to socialize and have internet access and a decent computer is the Virtual World called Second Life. You can build and avatar and host meetings there. I am open to planning something like this as I have over 10 years in the VR/AR field. For me most of what all of you are saying is my predicament as well. If anyone would like to try this, please answer this comment and we can try to coordinate something. Best to all.

          • Lizzy White 4 months ago

            Sorry for not responding earlier. I have been traveling a lot and have a clunker of a lap top that I don’t take with me…and not yet adept enough to do all of this on the phone. Talk to me more about Second Life. I thought this was some kind of pretend world that people escape to…because the real world is too much. Please educate me.

  6. Barbara 5 months ago

    This is me! Was middle class, now “owning small fitness business class” has emptied my savings while making me physically healthier. I have an 11 year old car, my condo (refinanced & mortgage is lower than any rental) is 35 years old- has 1 working bathroom, electrical issues & the sliding back door won’t open. I worry about teaching every class & look for opportunity to make money everywhere because I know I need to make payments on time. 1 day a week off & no vacation is tiring. With the ACA crumbling & Medicare/ Medicare on the chopping block I see poverty in my future.

    • Lizzy White 5 months ago

      Thank you for sharing Barbara. I had to smile when you said your sliding back door won’t open. I so identify…My screen door blew off in a big storm and has not been replaced. My microwave no longer works and neither does my dryer. I go to my mom’s to dry clothes. It is cathartic to just talk about this.

  7. Gaea Yudron 5 months ago

    Sold a small house a few years ago. Realized I never would be able to maintain it. Went to Mexico for 4 months. (Still may move there, who knows) Living on Social Security at 76. Moved into a federally subsidized apartment late last year. Rent is under $200. Resonate with much that has been shared. Theater, travel, dining out, etc. severely curtailed. However, grateful for leisure, health and community. Our country and in fact the planet is quite a mess and our situations are one aspect of that. Sending good wishes to all.

  8. Kelly 5 months ago

    Lizzy, I’ve read your book, and I so want to start a Resilience Circle here in Dallas, but I’m so busy working, trying to keep my head above water that I don’t have time. I know I’m lucky to have a job that offers good, affordable health insurance and decent pay. But I was unemployed from 2009-2012, and my finances still haven’t recovered.

    I was hanging on until recently, when I was moved to a new project on my job. My old boss let me telecommute, which was great. My new boss wants me in the office every day. Now, instead of spending $30 a month for gas for my cheap little (paid for) economy car, I have to pay $10 a day to park, plus the extra gas and wear and tear on the car–as best I can figure, about $300 a month more. I have no idea where that money will come from. I need to get a part-time job to afford my full-time job!

    Like Patty, I don’t go out much. My biggest “entertainment” expense is bird seed and peanuts. The critters keep me and my cats entertained. I found a great cookbook called Good and Cheap. It was developed for people on a food stamp budget, but it’s a godsend for anyone who needs to save money. I rent a little house in a neighborhood that’s walking or cycling distance to pretty much everything I need.

    What bothers me most, though–and I know this is petty–is my sister. She’s four years younger, and, despite graduating from college, never got a job. Never married. Never left home. Never seriously attempted to become independent. She’s lived her entire life with my parents (now just my mother) paying all the bills. Several years ago, she had a debilitating stroke that left her partially paralyzed on one side. While I don’t wish that on anyone, it hurts that she lives with someone else paying the bills, buying the food, taking care of medical expenses–while she gets about $600 a month in disability that she uses as spending money. She doesn’t contribute a dime toward her support, but she has an extensive wardrobe and probably every shade of red lipstick ever made.

    Sorry to vent. It’s just depressing to see her Facebook posts of her latest purchases while so many of us are struggling to take care of ourselves. But it does help me a little to know I’m not alone. (No offense to anyone here.)

    • Lizzy White 5 months ago

      Think of the Resilience Circle as a support not a chore. Think of it as a way to be in community with other people on this path. It may be that your circle only meets once a month, or decides to meet in a park or the library. It need not be complicated. In one circle I know about one person read the book out loud to the others. Your group can decided how to connect. Having some place to say what is true for you is the important thing. Sharing insights and information about resources is another.

      Telecommunting is dreamy. I think many of us are looking at creating a casserole of multiple income streams. That’s hard to do when your feet must be under someone else’s desk 9-5pm.

      No worries about the venting…smile

  9. Debra Scholten 4 months ago

    This is such an important topic. Your book, Resilience Circles, and this blog can really provide us with a space where we can problem-solve together and keep growing toward the light.

    I have been facing the challenges of being both “over-qualified” and invisible at the same time. This has required me to be resilient and persistent. I would say one of the most important practices that I have been developing is to STOP trying to see myself through others’ eyes. It is up to me to know who I am and what I have accomplished and it does not matter how my path and choices may look to others (whether strangers or family or friends). My path may be a winding one, but it is authentic and sincere and courageous. And it continues!

    Thank you Lizzy:)

    • Lizzy White 4 months ago

      I strongly identify with what you have written here…overqualified and invisible…check. I also agree with the point you make about not seeing yourself through the eyes of others…that’s a big one. And related to that is not comparing your inside to someone else’s outside. Thank you for reaching out.

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