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Retirement on a Shoestring. History Rebooted: Part 3



As VP of Brand + Creative for Ubiquity, Sylvia is a creatively driven entrepreneur with an unprecedented passion for the written word. With over 22 years in marketing and advertising and titles ranging from Director to CMO, Sylvia has worked with mega giants including Intel, Microsoft, IGN Entertainment, Activision, and Apple. She has also worked on projects with Jack Johnson, Mariah Carey, Denise Richards and YMCMB’s Lil’ Wayne and Birdman. Most recently, Sylvia co-produced Broken Eggs, the hard-hitting, feature-length documentary about the looming retirement crisis in America.


August 8, 2013 at 12:00 pm
Personal Finance


Feeling lost? Fear not my friend, go back in time and read part one and part two.

Work till your dead? Yep.

My father is older than my mother, although he is very much like the glamorous southern bell that admits her age to NO ONE. He had the tiniest pension in the world from his super awesome jet-setting career that may or may not have been used to purchase a house, and so, retirement was/is Social Security.

My traditional family halted dramatically when he chose to chase dreams rather than a paycheck. I mean, not that dad isn’t a show-stopping artist, because he is. And in his hay day, he was making some pretty large bills on paintings, because people used to have money to blow on art. Do you remember those days? You know, before the downfall of our economy, when we all had tons of (pretend) money?

GAH! I miss those days (hence the name Debt Girl). Anyway, here’s a timeline of events:

  • Dad quits job, becomes an artist, we move to Hawaii, because Oregon’s economy went through a major bottoming out.
  • We live in a house the size of a shoebox (700 sq. ft.) and there are INSANE amounts of tourist money from all over the world flowing through the island. INSANE, unrealistic sums of money. The kind you wipe your tears of joy with.
  • Hawaiian market bottoms out, my mother would like to be closer to her aging parents and sisters, and we move back to the family farm, which, if you are a Harry Potter fan, looks like the Weasley House.
  • Dad retires with a savings account in the teens (as in five-figures) and takes Social Security, which is well below the national average check of around $1,200 – in fact it’s less than half of that.
  • Mom gets job that she still works at today, and has a 401(k) plan through her work.
  • Health premiums are through the roof! Dad gets on Medicare, mom stops paying over $1,000 per month for his insurance.
  • Even with Medicare, dad and mom pay more in healthcare premiums than all other bills combined.

Okay, that brings us to a pretty current status. Mom is the new dad. She works like a mad woman and supports the family. She also cooks, cleans, sews… all the stuff that moms used to do traditionally. She also has a firm grip on what it’s going to take to retire – for both of them.

Her 401(k) is the ONLY thing that ensures that they have a future at all. Despite the fact that the market tanked and she lost over half of her savings – she spoke with her Advisor, and he said the following:

“Stay the course.”

Good advice. She did, and now her 401(k) has bounced back to where it was and on her current trajectory, she’ll be able to retire at around 66. Her house is almost paid off, but unfortunately, it is in the middle of nowhere, about 30 miles away from the nearest hospital, riddled with scary stairs, and lots of farm work…

I’ll tell you what’s going to happen. Our family is going to combine. Aunts, uncles, sisters, cousins, friends, whomever – we’ll live under one gigantic roof and combine resources. We’ll create the family compound and take care of one another. And it won’t be taboo anymore. Kids moving back home or parents moving in with kids will be the new show of success.

What’s your story? How is your family dealing with trying times?

Live long and retire HAPPY!

Debt Girl