Friday, May 16, 2008

Forget the Bag Lady--I'm Afraid I'll be Lillian

The Oregonian newspaper, out of Portland, Oregon, profiled 64-year-old Lillian Witherspoon. Having suffered a stroke and heart problems, along with asthma, Lillian is struggling to make do with Social Security of $750, a widow's pension of $86, and whatever she can scrounge babysitting or delivering newspapers. One small thing, like a check overdraft, can throw her into a financial tailspin.

I read once that many women (But not men. Who knows why?) harbor a deep-seated fear that they may one day become a bag lady.

I'm pretty sure that will never happen to me. But I do have fears that I could wind up like Lillian. All my current plans for retirement are based upon the assumption that I will work for another ten years, that I will have my home and my debts paid off, and that I will have saved money at an accelerated rate in my 401K during that time.

But what if I didn't? What if I had a stroke tomorrow? It's certainly possible. My father had a heart attack at age 58 and a stroke at age 68. All my mother's maternal aunts as well as her own mother died of strokes in their sixties. Or what if I'm in a car wreck and injured too severely to continue work?

I wish Lillian all the best. But I also wish she didn't scare me quite so much.


Kevin said...

These seem like rational concerns. The personal finance books I've read strongly advocate that breadwinners carry disability insurance to cover disasters like those.

Rhea said...

I am healthy and energetic, but I, too, have some of these fears. There is no way to predict one's health. Yikes.

Sharon said...

Kevin has a great suggestion, do you have disability insurance at work? That should alleviate your concerns for the next 10 years, should something happen.

Living Almost Large said...

You do what all women in that situation do, depend on your children. My grandmother makes pretty much the same as lillian $800/month SS and $100/month pension.

When my grandfather was alive, he died in January 2007, they made only $1200/month for 2 of them.

So what does she do now? Well she lives in a huge 1200 sq ft, 3 bd/2ba, sfh. It's owned by my mom.

So obviously she can't afford the upkeep, taxes, insurance, but my mom let's her "rent" it for $100/month.

Her children bought her the car she drives. They pay for bills to help keep her afloat.

So what else can you do? Let your parents eat alpo? I don't think so. It's probably why so many boomers are feeling the strain.

Anonymous said...

I think all of us when we reach 50-60 realize how quickly things can change. My father had a stroke and I too have worried about my vulnerability. However, my father was a smoker with high blood pressure. So, I do what I can to maintain a healthy weight & blood pressure, I never smoked, and I try not to get too stressed. About all you can do is manage your life habits so that you minimize your risks. Florence

Grace. said...

As a matter of fact, I do have employer-provided disability insurance, so that is good. I really should check out the terms to see what it would give me. But, ever able to imagine tragedy, what if I lose my job first and THEN become disabled?

Living Large--since my children have emotional disabilities and physical handicaps of their own to overcome, I doubt any of them will be in a position to buy me a house or pay my bills. My grandkids, maybe!

Livingalmostlarge said...

Grace, I am sorry but my mom and her siblings have always been responsible. They started even in childhood paying for bills because honestly my grandparents were irresponsible. My grandfather gambled away their money so my uncle started picking pineapples at 12 to help pay the bills.

My mom and aunts started working in real jobs by 14 at a diner washing dishes. They brought home their paychecks and paid the bills.

Not that my grandfather made much driving a tour bus. But perhaps it would have been enough.

But perhaps these responsiblities made my mom and her siblings super responsibility. They have always been providing.

And my great-grandmother had her children help her too because she was widowed with 7 children to provide (my grandmother had already married and left). She worked 2 jobs and each of her kids worked.

frugal zeitgeist said...

Well, fear can be paralyzing, but it can also be motivating. I'm scared of a future like Lillian's to some extent. It's been a great driver to help me keep striving to make my own future better.