OF MICE AND WOMEN

The big question we’re often asked about retiring is, “How do you know you have enough to last?” Despite the extrapolations of three financial planners, both the short and long answer is, “We don’t know.” Especially after the last month. We have a budget. But, the best laid plans of mice and women often go astray. Just as it was before we left the paid working world when our household budget had a miscellaneous (read emergency) line item, so it is now in retirement. And, just as it was then, so it is now. You cannot predict the unexpected and the resulting cost.

For us, it started in July with eight yellow jacket stings (ouch!!!) to my left hand. Wading into a weedy patch on our property I didn’t notice the little hornets flying in and out of their hole in the ground until I felt the first sting. It turns out gloves with breathable mesh on the top of the hand are not a wise choice. As my knuckles disappeared beneath my swelling flesh and red streaks wound their way up my arm, Martin drove me to urgent care that Sunday afternoon. Even with health insurance urgent care costs money. An unexpected outlay. No matter, we have budgeted a miscellaneous line item for just such an occasion.

Unfortunately, though, we don’t have dental insurance. So, when an ancient filling began to fall to pieces meaning I was crowned queen for a day, that little cap on my tooth literally ate up my miscellaneous, emergency, unexpected stuff will happen budget for the year! That included a 5% discount the dentist gave me for paying in cold cash. But, as fate would have it, we were far from done. Martin got new tires on his motorcycle, a separate budget item, for which we were prepared. However, two weeks after scrubbing in those new tires, he came home from a round of “twisties” to find the rear tire going flat. The culprit? A teeny, tiny, itty-bitty little nail. Oh, just get it patched, you say? A twenty dollar fix. Ha! Not a motorcycle tire say the manufacturers and dealers! Too much liability. So, fork over another $156 to replace a two week old tire including installation and a discount, of course, for the bad luck pity factor.

And, now, for the cat. You’ll recall we have seven of them. Four are feral cats. Or, rather, feral cats to everyone but Martin and me. They are sort of feral to us. So, when one of the little darlings started limping, we just scooped him into a carrier and off to the vet we went. Having apparently landed on something that cut open the space between two toes, he now needed antibiotics for the infection, pain killer meds and warm compresses twice a day. Being sort of feral to us means there’s no way we are going to deliver antibiotics and pain killer to his little feral mouth let alone warm compresses on his hurt tootsie. So, at the vet spa he stayed. She cut us a deal but a week at the spa complete with meds and warm compresses twice daily is not cheap, even if you do bring his food from home.

It was working in the garden trying to forget all of life’s unexpected costs, when my cell phone rang. “You need to come in the house as soon as possible.” Oh crap!!! What now?!? As I rounded the corner from the laundry room I saw soaked towels laying on the hardwood and Martin pointing to the glistening drips of water coming from the ceiling. Our malfunctioning air conditioner overflowed the drip pan and water was coursing over the attic floor and through the ceiling. Fortunately, we can both repair drywall but still… Between the AC and ceiling repair another few hundred down the drain, so to speak.

And, there was more to come but I think you get the point so I won’t continue boring you with additional mishaps. Though the unexpected has blown our budget for the year, causing some belt tightening and reconfiguring, we’ve found it’s no different than it was when we were working. There were no guarantees in life then. There was no guarantee you’d have your job tomorrow. There were no guarantees the financial markets would perform. There were no guarantees misfortune wouldn’t visit. No guarantees things wouldn’t break needing replacement or repair.

Well, there are no guarantees in retirement either. Life in retirement still requires flexibility, adaptability and acceptance of what is. No matter how much you plan, no matter how much you put aside, the best laid plans of mice and women often go astray.
So, will we have enough money to last our lifetime? Who knows? Not us. Not any financial planner. No one. So, we might as well just relax and enjoy the ride wherever it takes us.

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