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It’s Now or Never

March 14, 2017

MillionDollarsNot long ago, my husband and I paid a visit to the financial planner at our bank. He reviewed our current situation, ‘crunched the numbers’ and announced – in all seriousness – that with our assets (home, cars, pensions, savings) and a sound investment strategy, our net worth would be ‘more than a million dollars’ by the time we die (he gave us a generous life expectancy of 100 years). I laughed and told him he was wrong. I expect to be worth next to nothing by the time I die – because I’m planning to spend most of what I’ve earned and saved for 60+ years well before then!

Sunday Night Dinner 1960

Sunday Night Dinner, circa 1960

When I was growing up, money was scarce. My father was self employed (except for one two-year stint working for a firm in ‘The City’ when I was in my teens). Since he never knew exactly when work might come his way, or when a client might finally settle his bill, my mother was very careful with her ‘household allowance’. I don’t recall ever feeling deprived as a child, but meals were simple – meat, potatoes, and vegetables, with larger items (hams, roasts of beef, turkey) being stretched over several days – or spaghetti with meat sauce (my favourite), basic mac and cheese, or soup and sandwiches. Leftovers were always ‘tomorrow night’s dinner’ (if Dad didn’t get to them first).

Downtown Oakville, 1960s

Downtown Oakville, 1960s

When it came to items like school supplies, clothing, and household goods, Mom shopped frugally. Clothing was either handed down from my older sisters (or Mom’s best friend’s daughter) to me (being the youngest), homemade (a skill I was taught when I was around twelve so that most of my teenage wardrobe was ‘made by Margo’), or purchased from the ‘sale’ racks at local stores (even special occasion items like party dresses and snow suits were bought a size ‘up’ in the off season and saved for when we grew into them the following year). Furniture was reupholstered rather than replaced, and most of the ‘decor’ items in our house were purchased from Broadbent’s second-hand store or from the ‘50% off’ shelves that were always located at the back of the shops along the main street. Dad drove second hand cars (which he maintained himself), Mom walked to the shops and home again (taking a taxi only when the weather was so bad that carrying a half dozen sacks of groceries home made it impossible or dangerous), my brothers and sisters and I walked to school and took the local bus (at 10 cents per trip) to wherever we needed to go.

Expo_67_Canada_PavilionWe never took expensive vacations (the only ‘trip’ we went on as a family was to Montreal in 1967 – for Expo ‘67 – and that was only because my father was coordinating a conference for the Economics School he was managing at the time and there was room for the family at the university residence where he was billeted), we rarely ate out (now and then we’d go to Creston’s Restaurant downtown for pancakes after church, or order Chinese takeout from the Red Dragon, but those were very rare occasions indeed), and we knew not to ask for things we didn’t ‘need’ (my father was very clear on the difference between ‘need’ and ‘want’ – and if you ever pondered whether or not you could ‘afford’ something in either category out of your meagre allowance, his counsel was always the same: If you don’t have the money in your pocket or in the bank to pay for it, then you can’t afford it.)

An 80s ChristmasAs I entered adulthood (landed my first full time job, got married, bought a house), I followed my mother’s example (as well as my father’s advice): I shopped frugally (sale racks, liquidation outlets, the ‘scratch and dent’ areas of appliance stores, second hand shops), stayed within my ‘budget’ for groceries and cooked simple meals, spent only what was necessary to live comfortably (but not lavishly), didn’t incur debt, and saved what I could. For the first three years of our marriage, we paid our bills on time, travelled everywhere by bus or bicycle (choosing to buy a house over a car seemed the prudent thing to do at the time; we didn’t want to continue throwing money away on apartment rents), and took only one vacation (a guided bus tour of California and the west coast of Canada). Eventually we both moved into better jobs, ‘traded up’ to a much bigger house, took a couple of vacations to exotic places, and settled down to start a family. I combined being a daytime ‘stay at home mom’ with teaching night school (and later teaching part-time around the boys’ schedules), saved for both the boys’ post secondary education and my own eventual retirement, and continued ‘pinching pennies’ so we could afford the special things we wanted most for the children (particular Christmas and birthday presents, annual trips to Walt Disney World, a safe, happy and comfortable home). During it all, we never overspent or carried any debt other than the mortgage (which we paid off in fifteen years).

HouseFast forward another fifteen years. That first marriage had ended, the boys were grown and gone, I’d been teaching full time for more than a decade, and my second husband (who lived by the same ‘if you don’t have the money, you can’t afford it’ credo) and I had paid off the home we’d bought together in just nine years and socked a goodly amount into our retirement savings plans (with visions of retiring early from our increasingly stressful jobs as College professors dancing in our heads). Last year (just around this time) it all came together – we found our dream home in the country, sold our house in the city (for nearly triple what we’d paid for it, leaving a nice lump sum ‘left over’ for any modifications we wanted to make to the new place), my husband was teaching his last semester’s worth of classes, and we had a enough savings tucked aside to live ‘happily ever after’. We were set!

MyNewCarBut 60+ years of frugal living has been a hard habit to break. Despite having the necessary funds to do all the things we want to do, each purchase decision is met with no small measure of angst (after buying a new all-wheel drive car – an absolute necessity in the winter out here in the wilds of southern Ontario – I didn’t sleep for a week) . We still check for sales on items we need (kudos to me for finding the living room furniture I wanted – complete with custom upholstery – 50% off), postpone major expenditures (we can wait another six months before renovating the upstairs bathroom and closet), and second guess full-price purchases we know are essential (like the outrageously expensive but back-saving gliding shelves for the kitchen). It ‘goes against the grain’ to buy something we need (we’re pretty much past the ‘want’ stage of our lives; we purged a good deal of excess ‘baggage’ when we moved) without thoroughly exploring all the (financial) options.  We’re loath to spend ‘all that money’ (i.e., pay full price) for items that ‘might’ go on sale later or be available elsewhere for less, even though we have the money sitting in the bank, begging to be spent. We needed a serious shift in perspective.

RetirementFortunately, I experienced an ‘aha moment’ not long before our visit to the bank. I’d come across a comment that basically suggested that ‘selfless’ people tend to deprive themselves of things they want (or need) because they believe that ‘taking for themselves’ somehow deprives others of abundance (I tend to think a lot about how much I could ‘help’ my kids get what they ‘want’ by giving them money – instead of how I could be spending it on myself instead). I had to remind myself (by taking a common sense assessment of the situation) that I had worked hard for 40+ years to earn a decent living so my family could ‘live well’ (not extravagantly, mind you – but they certainly never ‘went without’), saved judiciously (both for their futures and mine), never carried debt (except for mortgages and two car loans), and arrived in this comfortable retirement situation because I was conscientious, careful, and responsible with my finances. I realized that if I don’t spend it, it will just sit in the bank (and, yes, eventually go to the kids – and while I love them with all my heart and have given them a financial ‘boost’ here and there, it’s really up to them to follow my example and spend judiciously and save for their own futures, rather than hope I’ll leave them something substantial at the end).

GazeboDeckSo I won’t be worth more than a million dollars when I die. I’ll spend the kids’ inheritance (as my Dad used to always tell me he was doing – and I’d say ‘Go for it, Dad. It’s your money and you should spend it any way you want!’) because I have the ‘right’ to buy what I want (and what I want is custom-built shelving for my living room, a beamed mantle over the fireplace, a western facing deck at the front of the house with a gazebo at the corner, and a kick-ass master bathroom with a giant soaker tub and a glassed-in shower big enough that I won’t bang my elbows every time I turn around.) It’s now or never!

I’m going to spend my hard earned money on things I want AND need in order to really LIVE here on … the other side of 55.

  1. March 17, 2017 12:20 am

    My gosh! This made me smile! Thank you for sharing this story!

  2. March 16, 2017 7:18 am

    Such a beautiful post! Made my day happier! Thanks

  3. Margy permalink
    March 15, 2017 11:17 pm

    Your frugal life sounds a lot like mine, and I sure know how hard it is to spend money now after so many years of not spending! Fortunately, my husband has a more realistic vision of how much money we have and how far it will take us!

    • March 16, 2017 8:44 am

      I think most of us who grew up in the 60s (or thereabouts) lived pretty frugally. Our parents just didn’t have the money (or credit cards) our generation has (or the opportunity to earn it; jobs – and pay – were pretty basic back then). I suspect your Car Guy is like my Motor Head Husband – there are always car parts to spend money on (although he fusses about spending it more than I do!)

  4. March 15, 2017 6:20 pm

    You don’t want your epitaph to read “I wish I had saved more” or “This is what I get for eating all that kale.”

    • March 15, 2017 6:23 pm

      Or “It’s one thing to die with your boots on; it’s another to die with 500 pairs of unworn shoes in your closet.” I guess the same goes for unspent dollars in the bank.

  5. March 15, 2017 8:39 am

    Your childhood sounds exactly like mine. I too was taught from an early age to be frugal and if you didn’t have the money, you didn’t buy it. My parents never ever owned a credit card. So yes, old habits die hard, don’t they? But I’m with you, you worked hard and were thrifty enough to save your money for retirement, so now enjoy it!! Our kids tell us the same thing – “Dont’ save your money for us to inherit some day. Use it and enjoy life with it.” 🙂

    • March 15, 2017 9:25 am

      I’d like to leave this earth (in another 30 years or so) knowing I had both enjoyed the fruits of my labours AND given ‘enough’ to others to show my appreciation for all I have. Sometimes its a hard path to walk without tripping up (but I’m learning). Now I just have to ‘practice what I preach’!

  6. March 14, 2017 6:00 pm

    Go for it! Enjoy yourself.

    • March 14, 2017 6:08 pm

      Thanks! This is the last house I plan on living in, so I may as well enjoy it.

  7. Melody DeBlois permalink
    March 14, 2017 4:32 pm

    It sounds like you have discovered the secret of not only living well but majestically. Thank you for sharing your story.

  8. March 14, 2017 2:40 pm

    Excellent philosophy! I remember my late father-in-law sadly saying to me just days before he died, “I never knew what all of you meant when you said ‘you can’t take it with you.’ Now I do.” ;(

    • March 14, 2017 4:40 pm

      It’s a sad truth – we’re taught to ‘save for a rainy day’ but if that rainy day never comes, we’ve wasted years (and who-knows-how-much money)! I’m going to enjoy it!

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