In this weekly feature I answer your personal finance questions.
Dear Emma, WTF?!
In my divorce , I got the house and my ex-husband got the retirement account. The house is paid off, and I am so glad that it can continue to be a central gathering spot for the kids now that they’re grown and starting their own families. Dollar-for-dollar the deal is fair, but since I never had much of a career – only low-paying positions as a teacher’s aide – I am terrified that at age 55 I will never be able to afford retirement. Help!
–Panicked in Peoria
First, let allow me to mention that every time I think of Peoria, Ill., I think of Richard Pryor who (as a native, I’m sure you know) grew up in a whorehouse there. Why mention this on WealthySingleMommy? Well, because I think of little Richard in that whorehouse when my son Lucas is surrounded by women, which is often. Like the time some months ago when I was getting ready to go out and the babysitter Sabine and the kids were piled into my bedroom, helping me to decide which dress to wear while I stripped down to my bra and panties. As little Lucas ran around under the flying flowered frocks, my mind was stuck on the image of Richard in that brothel, and any connection to later in his life when he lit himself on fire with a crack pipe.
Now, to you and your problem …
Yes, you will have a hard time retiring. No doubt about it. A few things I advise:
Sell the house and rent something smaller. You don’t have to sell it today, but you will want to sell it. Even if it’s paid off, it is no doubt expensive. Do you pay heavy property taxes? That is probably because they go towards an excellent school district – which you no longer use.
Yes, we all have fantasies about that big, rambling house where our children and grandchildren will enjoy holidays for generations to come. That is fantasy. The reality is that houses take lots of time and money and your alcoholic son-in-law will make Thanksgiving a source of family contention. Family always finds a way to connect. Don’t try to do so at your own financial expense.
Also: if you have decent genes and excellent luck, you will likely outlive any proceeds from your home. It’s time to get a career – one that you enjoy. After all, wealth is not only about money. Wealth is about living a rich, full, happy life. Especially after you no longer have kids to nurture, you need somewhere to put you passion and intellect and skills. A career can provide this – as well as much-needed income.
The other reason you need to build a career – you will be working well beyond the full retirement age set by Social Security. Accept this fact. Make the best of it by reconfiguring your ideas about how the later part of your life should look like. After all, your Plan A probably included your now ex-husband.
Have a WTF question? Email it to me at emma at emma-johnson dot NET.
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