unexpected shift at 50

Posted: May 6, 2016 in Uncategorized

My lawyer turned to me with a sarcastic smile as we all walked out of the closing.  “That worked out pretty well for you.  Lose 2 or 3 more houses like this and you’ll have your student loans paid off.”  His words stung and I looked away, sickened at the judgments he had made about my character, at the opportunist that he thought I was.  No way to fix that now.

I was learning that the student loan people get their money, come hell or high water.  Being self-employed, I hadn’t had a paycheck they could garnish.  I felt like I couldn’t afford to make payments on what I owed, so they had been doing whatever they could to get it out of me, taking my tax returns for years by this point.  The divorce had taken what felt unreasonably long to me – a couple of years? – and we’d lost the house in the mix.  Since we were buying on contract, I was required to show up for the closing, in which the folks from whom we’d been buying the house finally got to sell it to someone else.  Until I was in that meeting, I hadn’t known how much equity we’d built in our years there, nor that the student loan people were going to take 100% of that equity.  It knocked a nice chunk off of what I owed, and that should have felt good, but it was just another indictment of me.  Failure.  Failure.  Failure.  Couldn’t make the marriage work.  Couldn’t save the house.  Couldn’t pay my student loans.  Couldn’t make sure my ex got his half of the proceeds on the house.  Seemed like I was never going to get anything right again.

If you’ve been around the blog for a really long time, you might remember that I eventually celebrated my freedom years later, after I got a paycheck job and the government did the garnish thing and I learned the hard way that I COULD afford to pay my loans, when the payment was being forcibly removed before I could touch my money.  The day of freedom from student loan debt was huge in my life, and I have seen debt differently ever since.

I had decided I was not going to do the home ownership thing again.  Losing a house is hard.  It’s humbling.  The end, before I let go, was like living in a nightmare.  There were birds living in the holes of the rotten eaves, and I didn’t know how to get rid of them or fix the holes.  We had basically almost completely gutted the kitchen before the marriage went south, and while enough was done to make it functional, it wasn’t finished, and I lacked the funds on my own to take care of that.  There were a couple of pretty sizable holes in the plaster in the stairwell where my ex had lost his temper, and I had neither the money nor the skills to make the walls whole again.  The front steps started to fall apart, and my insurance company contacted me to say if I didn’t get them fixed, they wouldn’t cover the house anymore, and I didn’t know how to fix it myself, and I didn’t think I could afford to pay someone else to do so.  I was in over my head and there was no way of escape except through pain and humiliation.

People have tried to coax me into trying again since then, and I have shot them down quickly.  Not going there again.  Not doing that again.  I’ve lived the horror and I don’t need that pain anymore.  For every time I heard somebody allege that when you pay rent you “get nothing” for it, I laughed.  You don’t “get nothing.”  What you get (in addition to a place to live, of course!) is security – the certainty that when something goes wrong with your house, it will get fixed, and it won’t be a financial crisis for your household.  In the past year we have gotten a new furnace and a new fridge, both when the old ones died suddenly, and we didn’t have to figure out how to pay for either one.  Each time I celebrated this aloud, noting that this is the “nothing” that we get for our rent.  Security.  Security isn’t “nothing.”

Turning 50 has made me look again at this issue.  I’m sure working in senior care cranked that second look up to a whole other level.  A look at where we are financially quickly reveals:  we’re not prepared to get old.  Not at all.  We’ve invested ourselves heavily in others over the years.  I went home to do daycare for a big chunk of my children’s time at home, making the choice to be there for them and with them.  There was no retirement plan and I lacked the wisdom to do something on my own volition.  Then I worked a series of jobs that offered little or nothing toward retirement, and again, I did nothing on my own.  Then I went to live in a commune, where I didn’t even get a paycheck to contribute toward Social Security, and all along I was very aware that I wasn’t investing toward retirement.  G’s story is different, but the same in the end.  The result is we have only about 10% of the funds in our retirement accounts that we really should have at 50, and most of those funds happened with our current employer, who cares enough to match our contributions up to a certain level.

So we find ourselves in a place I never, ever thought we’d be:  planning to move toward being homeowners.  It seems like the right thing to do, since there is (just barely) time to get a house paid for before we get too old to manage it.  It won’t come easy – the first thing we’re going to have to do is find some incredibly cheap place to rent for a year or two and save like we’ve never saved before, because I will never again be a homeowner who is unable to take care of business.

So!  We’re moving August 1.  No, we don’t know where yet.  If you know about any dirt cheap housing in our neighborhood, please clue us in!

And meanwhile, if you’re the praying type, pray for us.  We need it!

  1. billsmockins@frontiernet.net says:

    We are in a slightly different boat than you and Gary. While we have our home, and whatever equity is building there, we have had this mortgage wrapped around our throats for 31 yrs and still have 2 more yrs before we are mortgage-free.  Never thought this day would come where we would see the light at the end of the tunnel, but it’s coming into view, May 1st, 2018 will be the very last mortgage payment!!! And I hope we will be diligent enough to “pay” what we save in principal and interest to our retirement account once Chase Finance stops receiving it.  We will never be free of those darn property taxes or insurance, but it will cut the monthly expense nearly in half.  We have failed at the retirement savings and need to up that ante.  Amazing what “priorities” are rearranged the older we get.Prayers for finding a rental and for a home when it is time. 

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