Sunday, March 30, 2014

The $1 trillion student loan crisis: How you can help

"One in 10 (college) graduates accumulate more than $40,000" in student loan debt. --- Forbes magazine, "How the $1.2 trillion College Debt Crisis is Crippling Students, Parents and the Economy.", August 2013.

LOCAL CONTACT: My KXL 101.1 FM radio morning news broadcast with Steve Leader and Rebecca Marshall mentions a local credit counseling service. Here's the contact info: Community Housing Resource Center, 360-690-4496. 103 E. 29th Street, Vancouver, WA. Click here, for the coverage.

BY JULIA ANDERSON
Almost half the students attending the University of Oregon this year have taken out student loans to help pay for the cost of getting a degree there. That's no surprise because those costs can run as high as $41,754 a year for a non-resident student. ($24,582 for residents).
For a freshman entering the University of Washington in Seattle, the cost can reach $46,608 for a nonresident, $27,034 for an in-state student. Washington State runs $40,778 for a nonresident, $27,696 for residents.
Based on a look at the Web sites of for-profit schools such as the University of Phoenix, ITT Technical Institute or City University, it is much tougher to figure out those tuition costs and fees. We can guess that while those costs may (or may not) be less than at public schools, they still are substantial. (click here.)
Across the board, the cost of getting a college degree has been increasing at three- and four-times the overall inflation rate every year for years. The American Dream is out of reach for many.
And those people who suck it up and do get into college are paying a lingering and heavy price. Skyrocketing tuition and other costs at public and private colleges throughout the nation has forced nearly half (44 percent) of all students to take out loans. (68 percent of low-income students borrow money to attend college.) Seventy percent of 2012 college graduates had student loan debt, averaging $26,000 to $29,400.
This year, the total amount of student loan debt crossed over the $1 trillion mark, reported the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Many are saying this is a looming financial crisis facing the nation’s economy.
If 10 years ago mortgage lenders were telling anyone with a beating heart that they could borrow gobs of money to buy a house, now lenders are telling students the same thing. Lots of young people who should have never borrowed money are now in a financial hole --- facing true hardship, which will prevent them from buying houses, saving for retirement or even moving out of their parents’ basements.
“Some have put off buying a car, or having a family” because of their debt burden, said a recent Wall Street Journal article.
Of great concern is the number of people falling behind on their student loan payments. Delinquency rates on car loans and mortgage debt is running about 3.4 percent and 4.3 percent, respectively. Student loan delinquency (payments behind 90 days or more) has climbed to 11.5 percent. One in seven borrowers has defaulted.
By the way, student loan debt is nearly impossible to discharge in bankruptcy. You’ve got to prove undue hardship, which isn’t easy.
Education funding cuts
We know why the cost of a college education at least at public schools has been dramatically increasing. During the Great Recession, states cut funding for education as tax revenue dwindled and budgets were reduced. In-state tuition at public four-year colleges increased in the 10 years through 2012 by an average of 8 percent a year. In 2013-14, average tuition was up another 2.9 percent to $8,000. The smaller increase is a relief as some states are even starting to restore funding to higher education thanks to improving tax revenue.
But that won’t likely reduce costs, just slow the increases. And it won’t help those who now are borrowing big to get an education. The cost of college has been outstripping family incomes for years.
Public universities and exclusive schools such as Princeton and Stanford are open about what it costs to get an education on their campuses. Elite schools are particularly well-funded and can offer substantial scholarships to outstanding students. The real underbelly of the student loan crisis seems to be centered on for-profit schools that target lower-income average students eager to get some kind of training and a job.U.S. Senator Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, led a Senate Committee investigation into for-profit schools and accused them of "enrolling students just to get at their financial aid" money," said the New York Times in a story about Harkin's committee in 2012.
Much of the money going to for-profit schools is from taxpayers through federal student lending programs. In the most recent reporting year that total came to $32 billion. Unfortunately, the report said the majority of students who enroll, leave without getting a degree. The only thing worse than student debt and a degree is lingering student debt and no degree to show for it.
"In this (Senate) report, you will find overwhelming documentation of exorbitant tuition, aggressive recruiting practices, abysmal student outcomes, taxpayers dollars spent on marketing and pocketed as profit, and regulatory evasion and manipulation," Harkin said. "These practices are the not the exception--they are the norm." Those who do complete their course-work may find that the credit they earned are NOT transferable.
How you can help
Why are we bringing this up at sixtyandsingle.com? As grandparents we often are being asked to finance schooling for our kids and grand kids. Make sure you know what they're getting into before signing on to a plan. Caution them that borrowing money for school is generally a bad idea, especially if the loan is being pushed by a for-profit institution.
What can you do to help if a family member wants to take on student debt or is buried in student debt?
Here’s what the experts say:
- Encourage your student to borrow as little as possible. Don’t be talked into taking on debt if you can avoid it. Make sure the certification or degree you are seeking matches up in income with the debt payments you will be facing. For-profit schools are coming under increasing scrutiny for handing out loans to below-average students, who may drop out and default on the loans or won’t be able to repay the loans because of the low-wage jobs that they will qualify for. A $35,000 a year job is not going to support a household and a big load of student debt. It will be a nightmare.
-Pay off private student loans first. There’s less forgiveness there and more penalties than federal loans.
-Consider a direct deposit payment plan. By doing that, you may get a reduction in the interest rate you’re paying.
- Deduct the loan payment. You can deduct your student loan payment on your federal income tax, up to $2,500 a year.
-Avoid a quick fix. Avoid Web sites or lenders who promise to “slash” your debt.
-Pay toward the principal. Sign-up for an income-based repayment plan.
-If you and your family have time before someone goes go to college, set up a 529 tax-free savings plan in advance, so the money will be there. Shop and compare for 529 costs and earnings. Also, prepaid college tuition plans can lock in today’s tuition costs.
If you or a loved one are slammed with student debt, look into a loan forgiveness service. For instance, if you volunteer with AmeriCorps some of your debt can be “forgiven.”  There may be other options if you work with a credit counselor.
The fact is that 60 percent of those who graduated from college in 2012 went out the door carrying student debt. Of the 20 million people attending U.S. colleges, 12 million have borrowed money to do it. The average student debt for those who’ve received a four-year degree is $26,000 to $29,000. Student loan debt is the only debt that rose through the Great Recession. According to the Pew Research Center, 40 percent of households headed by someone 35 years of age or younger are burdened by student loan debt. There’s more student debt out there than credit card debt. It’s not going to go away.
For More:
Student debt reaches $1.2 trillion, Forbes, click here.

Monday, March 24, 2014

The Great Recession: Are women even less willing to take financial risk?

“It’s OKAY to be scared. Being scared means you’re about to do something really, really brave.”
        ---- Mandy Hale, "The Single Woman: Life, Love, and a Dash of Sass"

American President Franklin D. Roosevelt so famously said, "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself," during his first inaugural address in 1933 at the depth of the Great Depression. The crash had closed banks; put millions out of work, farms in foreclosure. Breadlines were feeding the destitute in most major cities. That dreadful depression experience affected an entire generation including my parents who came of age and married in the 1930s. How they thought about money, about saving and investing throughout the rest of their lives was shaped by the lessons of the depression. My parents' motto: Don't spend money you don't have, save and invest for a rainy day and avoid debt.
How will our Great Recession of 2008-2009 and its aftermath affect a new generation?
Fear again is a factor in how our economy will move forward, say economists who study these things. The concern is that those who have experienced a financial trauma (or even those who only know of a financial trauma) become risk-averse. People are less willing to take a chance on starting a new business, less willing to invest in a start-up enterprise and are even unwilling to put money into stocks.
Why do we care?
"The financial crisis is likely to inhibit them (people) from taking the sort of risks that help propel the economy for decades to come," reports The Economist magazine in its Jan. 25, 2014 issue. ..."studies suggest that the sweep and severity of the recent slumps in America and Europe will scar a wide range of people, not just those who lost money in the markets."
Studies indicate that women already are more likely to be risk-averse than men and are less likely to save, invest or make big career moves to enhance income. This is all bad news for a global economy still recovering from recession.
The Economist cites several studies on the subject of risk aversion:
- "Nature or Nurture: What determines investor behavior? - Michael G. Foster School of Business, University of Washington.
-"Depression Babies: Do Macroeconomic Experiences Affect Risk Taking?" by Ulrike Malmendier and Stefan Nagel.
- "Trust, Risk, and Time Preferences after a natural disaster: Experimental evidence from Thailand," by Alessandra Cassar, Andrew Healy and Carol von Kessler, University of San Francisco, Loyola Marymount University.
- "Time Varying Risk Aversion," by Luigi Guiso, Paola Sapienza and Luigi Zingales.
- "Gender Difference in Risk Behavior: Does nurture matter?  by Alison Booth and Patrick Nolen.
This last study really interested me because it looked at gender differences in risk-taking. The conclusion: "Broadly speaking, those differences may be due to either nurture, nature or some combination of the two. For example, boys are pushed to take risks when participating in competitive sports, whereas girls are often encouraged to remain cautious. Thus, the riskier choices made by men could be due to the nurturing received from parents or peers. Likewise, the disinclination of women to take risks could be the result of parental or peer pressure not to do so," said the study.
The study speculates that gender-stereotypes encourage girls and boys to modify their innate preferences.
For example, girls were more likely "to choose risky outcomes when assigned to all-girl groups."
Single-sex environments, the researchers said, are likely to modify students’ risk-taking preferences in economically important ways.

The Economist goes on to report that a "growing body of research links a low tolerance of risk to past emotional trauma," even non-financial trauma.
USA Today reinforces the view that investors in general suffer lingering scars from the market meltdown. A recent story said one-third of investors remain wary of stocks despite market gains of nearly 180 percent from the bottom five years ago. According to a Wells Fargo Private Bank survey referenced in the story, 21 percent of those responding to the survey said they "don't plan to invest in stocks at all."
"The take-away from the study? "Investors' confidence needs to be rooted in a conviction that they're taking appropriate risks to meet their long-term goals. Without that conviction, emotional investing and reacting to daily news are a road to failure."
I share all this because women are generally less willing to take investment risk during their working lives and end up with less money for retirement. They are less financially literate and more often rely on outsiders to advise them.
Women (and girls) must be encouraged to set long-term personal financial goals so that short-term events don't derail those plans.
Our recent recession and ongoing economic recovery will only reinforce this risk-adverse attitudes at a time when the economy needs risk-takers who have confidence in the future, in business and in their own ability to invest wisely weighing risk vs. reward.
Investors must "stay disciplined, be diversified, avoid action on emotions," said the Wells Fargo survey.
How can women overcome the negative impact of risk aversion?
Being aware of it is a good first step.

For more:
Men Vs. Women: Risk Aversion, click here.
Gender and Economic Transactions, click here
Are Women More Risk-averse Investors?, click here.








Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Giving money to your adult kids: When and how

"The easiest way for your children to learn about money is for you not to have any."
 --- Katharine Whitehorn, British journalist, writer and columnist

It may be OK to give your  12-year-old kid $10 to play video games at the arcade but is it a good idea to give $10,000 to a grown child who is just not making it?
Baby boomer parents – especially women – are guilty of forming co-dependent relationships with their adult children. The bad news is that generous gifting may affect their own ability to retire.
A recent study from Merrill Lynch Wealth Management shows that in the last five years, three out of five (62 percent) of Americans age 50 and older have provided financial help to family members…adult children, parents, grandchildren, other relatives. Generosity runs deep in our culture. The survey queried 5,500 baby boomers age 47 to 67 in mid-2013.
The average financial assistance during the prior five years was a hefty $15,000.
The money may have helped a relative with a one-time need or it could have been ongoing assistance over the course of many years.
The bad news? The vast majority (88 percent) of people 50 and older who have handed out this money had not factored in how the gift may affect their own ability to retire. And there was a “dangerous” absence of discussion about the gift among family members, said the survey analysts. Click here for the "Family & Retirement: The Elephant in the Room" full report.
Retirement fact: Every dollar that goes into a retirement savings fund such as an Individual Retirement Account or a 401(k) earns reinvested money tax-free until you retire. It’s the only real way to save enough.
 Give it to your kids – the money is gone and you may come up short at age 66 or 67.
“Given the challenging economic climate during the past several years, it’s not surprising that so many Americans have extended financial support to their loved ones,” said Andy Sieg, head of Global Wealth and Retirement Solutions for Bank of America Merrill Lynch. “However, such admirable willingness to assist family members should not place one’s own long-term financial security in jeopardy, and can be a hidden risk to retirement that must be considered and planned for.”
Before parting with your hard-earned money, have an open discussion with all family members. It may feel right to help the kids but that giving may come back and bite everyone when it’s time for you to retire. It won’t just be your problem, it also may be theirs. Ground rules and boundaries should be discussed. Your own longer life-expectancy could be a big factor in how much you save for retirement.
The best ways to give
So how can we best help our low-earning adult children? Here are a few tips from Merrill Lynch investment advisers:
- Pretend you’re running a family 401(k) and set up a plan to match the savings that your kids do. That way they have skin in the game.
- Pay for a training course or help with grad school or pay for childcare so they can build a career. That way they have goals for getting ahead.
- If you own appreciated stocks or a mutual fund outside of a retirement plan….give your low-earning kids shares as a gift. The child can sell the shares without the capital gains tax consequences that you might face. As with all tax moves such as this, consult your own tax accountant or financial adviser before taking this action.
- Make contributions to their Roth IRA accounts.
- Bypass the kids altogether and put money into a 529 account to help pay for the education of a grandchild.
- If you can’t afford to hand out money, offer non-financial aid: Baby sit, help with home repairs, or cooking so they can work.
Or you can do the math on your own retirement needs and just say NO.
FOR MORE:
10 Best Ways to Give Your Heirs Money While You're Alive, Forbes, click here.
Seniors Giving Money to Adult Children: What's Wrong with this Picture?, click here.
Should you provide a Financial Bailout for Your Adult Children? click here.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

My Mother: Helen Rose Anderson Adkins 1915-2014

One Perfect Rose
A single flow'r he sent me, since we met.
All tenderly his messenger he chose;
Deep-hearted, pure, with scented dew still wet -
One perfect rose.
  Dorothy Parker

Long-time Twin Falls County resident and community benefactor Helen Rose Anderson Adkins died Jan. 25, 2014 at Bridgeview Assisted Living facility. She was 98.
Helen Rose was born March 19, 1915 in Salmon, Idaho to the Rev. Ellis and Mable Crabtree, the third of three children. Her mother's maiden name was Morgan.
In her first years she moved with her family several times as her father, a Methodist minister, served churches in Mountain Home, Salmon, Richfield and Filer. In the early 1920s, he left the ministry, began farming near Twin Falls and launched a pickle-making business. The Crabtrees also ran a boarding house on Addison Avenue where the basement was used for pickle production. Helen Rose helped her mother with the boarding house operation.
Helen Rose graduated from Twin Falls High School in 1933 and attended Idaho State University. She worked for the Idaho Power Co. as an electric appliance demonstrator before marrying Jeff T. Anderson Jr. in 1937. The couple moved to the Anderson farm southwest of Twin Falls where Helen Rose made her home for the next 73 years. Through those years, Helen Rose supported her husband's election to the Twin Falls School Board in the 1950s and his presidency of the Idaho State School Trustees Association in the 1960s. She was active in the United Methodist Church, 20th Century Club and served as president of  PEO Chapter AI in 1968. When her two daughters were school-age, Helen Rose was an active 4-H leader and worked on behalf of numerous school- and community-related projects. For many years, she arranged bouquets for the Twin Falls Memorial Hospital Auxiliary flower shop.
Helen Rose was widowed in 1990 after 53 years of marriage to “J.T.” but continued to live and manage the farm in collaboration with her long-time contract farmers, Debi and Andy Loughmiller.
At age 79, she met and married Howard Adkins, retired judge and attorney from Shoshone. The couple enjoyed life at the farm as well as many travel adventures and family experiences in their nine years together. During those years, Helen and Howard were honored in 1999 for their generous donation to the College of Southern Idaho. Together, they established an endowed scholarship for CSI students.
After Howard’s death in 2003, Helen Rose remained at the farm until a hip fracture forced a move to Bridgeview Assisted Living in Twin Falls where she enjoyed her last years with a caring staff.
She was loved by her family and admired by friends for her positive and engaged outlook, her enjoyment of life and people. She always saw the positives of every situation and was loving and generous to all those she met and knew.
Helen Rose is survived by her daughter Julia Anderson (Kenneth Giles), Woodland, Washington and daughter, Jane Anderson, Boise; two step-children, John Adkins (Maria Donnelly), Shoshone and Marsha Eden, Twin Falls; two grandsons, Peter Intravartolo, Seattle, and Jeff Intravartolo, Kennewick, Washington and one great-grandson, Jason Intravartolo. Her extended family includes seven step-grandchildren:
Helen Rose was preceded in death by her brother, DonaldCrabtree, noted international Paleolithic flint tool authority and her sister, Virginia Hack.
She will be remembered by all who knew her as an exceptionally bright, loving and articulate woman who enjoyed gardening, cooking, sewing, entertaining and travel. A child of the Great Depression, she was a smart investor, savvy farm manager and liked talking politics and sports. Life will be less interesting, less joyful because Helen Rose is gone. At her request in lieu of flowers, please send donations in her memory to the College of Southern Idaho Foundation, Twin Falls, Idaho.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Living on lobster bisque and illegal hamburgers: How my mother is spending her last days

"Let us touch the dying, the poor, the lonely and the unwanted according to the graces we have received and let us not be ashamed or slow to do the humble work." - Mother Teresa

By Julia Anderson
A stroke episode a few months ago had my mother thinking that her time had come. One morning at the care center she awoke to find that she couldn't swallow. Trying to drink was a torture akin to water-boarding. Choking, sucking liquid down her windpipe, gasping for air. Truly frightening.
"What's happened," she asked the caregivers in a garbled sentence or two.
"There's been a stroke that's affected your ability to swallow and to speak," they told her. Not good.
A black dress went into the bottom of my suitcase when I packed and rushed to be with her. This could be it, I thought.
Even though we had talked on prior visits about no more emergency trips to the hospital, no heroic measures if something happened, she still would need to revisit the issue yet again.
What would she want to do in the face of this latest set-back?
At 98, it may seem as though it should be easy for my mother to come to terms with death, to accept that her life is at an end. She'd talked courageously about that many times. But the reason my mother is 98 in the first place is because of her strong will to live and to adjust to the physical circumstances at hand, here and now. There had been numerous set-backs since that first stroke in her mid-80s. Severe back-pain nearly incapacitated her until they "glued" vertebra together, a broken knee cap took months to heal. A fall in her own kitchen that broke her hip put her in an assisted living care center almost three years ago. There were tooth extractions, changes in medications.
On top of that the over all aging process has taken a toll on her ability to walk then to pedal herself about in a wheelchair.
And now, this latest stroke.
No, she didn't want to go to the hospital.
No, she wouldn't fight it. She'd let go. Hospice was called, papers were signed and a care program set up to feed and keep my mother comfortable as she ended her days.
Time out, please
We read newspaper obituaries all the time about people who have died too young after "battling" cancer or other debilitating disease. But what about dying from old age? Obituaries don't really tell you how hard it is to die of old age, really old age.
As I've walked down the hallways at the care center, I see old people all around me who are making the best of it. Who are trying to regain strength after a fall, struggling to get themselves to the lunch room or the bingo table every day. I see people who are hunched almost double by rheumatoid arthritis or osteoporosis but who are still moving, thinking, breathing...alive.
Sometimes they lie asleep in recliners in their rooms, mouths open, TV blaring.
Others slump sideways in wheelchairs as they nap by the front door.
Time in
My mother is now confined to her room and must have help dressing, moving from her bed to the toilet and then to her chair by the TV. She's still getting her hair done on Thursdays but there's no more bingo, no more going to the dining room. She has a very hard time forming words that can be understood by others. Her mind is there, the physical equipment is failing.
The good news (or maybe it's bad) is that the symptoms of the stroke have loosened their grip on her throat so that she can manage a few careful swallows without choking. But eating and drinking is exhausting. In the past four months, she's shed 17 pounds. On a 100-pound frame to start with that's not good. We joke that she always liked being skinny.
Hospice caregivers feed her twice a day one spoonful at a time but only give her as much as she wants. And frankly, she's tired of the gloppy food that's pureed to a paste and the gelatinous "drinks" thickened to lower the choke threat.
During my most recent visit, she demanded a hamburger from the McDonald's dollar menu. I ordered it with just cheese and ketchup (plus extra ketchup) and smuggled it into the care center. Cut it into micro-bites, mom ate using a spoon then carefully chewed and swallowed each bite. She smiled when she nearly finished the whole thing without choking. Lobster bisque with its rich, creamy texture from the restaurant two blocks seems to create the same enthusiasm. But she freely admits that she'd like to go. 
And that's the tricky part.
Hospice is really there to help you die --- "Committed to improving end of life care and expanding access to hospice care with the goal of profoundly enhancing quality of life for people dying in America and their loved one," as the Hospice Web site says.
Nobody thought my mom would be around this long including my mom. She may be ready to let go but as her Hospice nurse said, "mentally she's ready but her body may not be there, yet. The vital signs are good."
God, this is tough...watching this dying in slow motion with my mother making the best of it.
I really don't know how caregivers do it knowing that most of the people in their charge are not going anywhere. Preventing falls, wiping bottoms, dealing with bedsores, managing ulcerated legs, dementia, wet diapers, constipation, medications, specialized food management all are in a day's work. I've come to care deeply about the people who can do this work with love in their hearts.
And here's to the really old people including my mother who are hanging in there, who face death alone in the dark of night in their care center rooms, who wonder when their time will come.
Who say, thank you, to the people working the morning shift who help them pee, dress, brush their teeth. Here's to the old people who smile when their kids show up. Who tell us that we are loved.
After a few days with my mother, she and I were more or less convinced that she can make it to her 99th birthday less than 60 days away. But I won't blame her if she changes her mind.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Alone, living in poverty. Is that our fate?


"The Social Security benefits of women 65 and older average a modest $12,100 per year – but without them, half of women 65 and older would be poor." - National Women's Law Center.

By Julia Anderson
This is the time of year when we start thinking about taxes and mulling over household budgets for the coming 12 months. It's also a good time for people....married or single...to plan long-term for retirement.
If you're a working woman, ask yourself what your retirement will look like in 20 or 30 years? Where will your retirement income come from? If you're near retirement, maybe you should be asking your daughters these questions to help them to consider that life in long and they should plan for it.
As we know women live longer than men but tend to save less for their later years. The fact is that 32 percent of women over 65 will be living alone and that rate keeps increasing as we age.
Here's what the U.S. Census Bureau tells us:
- The poverty rate among elderly women is much higher than men by nearly double (18 percent vs. 10 percent).
- In 2010, there were 23 million older women (65 and older) versus 17.5 million older men living in the U.S.
- Thirty-two percent of women in the 65 to 74 age group are living alone.
- Nearly half of older women (75 and older) live alone.
- In the 85-to- 94 age group, women outnumber men, 7.58 million to 3.37 million.
- The poverty rate among elderly women, 65 and older, rose to 18.4 percent from 2010 to 2012.
- The median income of older persons in 2010 was $25,704 for males and $15,072 for females.
- Social Security constituted 90 percent of the income received by 35 percent of beneficiaries in 2009 (22 percent of married couples and 43 percent of non-married beneficiaries).
So how do we plan? Try out these questions on yourself or your daughters.
No. 1 - Am I taking advantage of all long-term investment opportunities....either a 401(k) through my employer or by setting up a Roth Individual Retirement Account of my own? These two options are by far the best ways to save for the long-term because they grow tax deferred or in the case of a Roth....tax-free over many years. If you're over 50, chuck as much as you can into these plans. Make sure you know what the management fees are per year. And don't be afraid of stocks because that's where you're going to earn the most retirement money.
No. 2 - Am I generally taking an interest in investing and in managing my money? It's fun and you don't have to be rich to do it. But with all the short-term gloom and doom and the technical TV blather, it's easy to be discouraged or intimidated.
Keep in mind that the American S&P 500 Stock Index has increased in value 2 percent a year for the past 60 years... not a bad track record. Quarterly dividend payouts from many of these companies boosts that annual earnings rate.
Start small and stick with it. Find a company that you know and like, then buy a few shares of it. There are plenty of brokerage firms to help get you started or go online and do it yourself. Doing it yourself is the most fun and the least expensive.
No. 3 - Make sure if you are working outside the home that you're being paid what your worth. Women working full-time year round in equivalent jobs are still earning some where between 77 cents and 90 cents for every $1 men earn, reports the U.S. Census Bureau.  (See table from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, click here.) Could this be our own fault?
Research shows that women tend not to negotiate raises as effectively as men and stay too long in lower-paying "safe" jobs. We also tend to be too conservative with our investing...hugging money market funds instead of stocks.
That means singles (as well as couples) must be involved in long-term financial planning. Women must be active in saving and investing. If you're single it's even more important...dive in and learn about investing.
The fact is that women outlive men. In our old age we may spend many years financially on our own. Don't just say, "I'll keep on working or I'll never be able to retire." That's a cop-out. Frankly, you can't bag groceries when you're 90....and many of us are going to live until we're 90.
According to the last census, there were 288,981 women age 95 to 99 alive in the U.S., along with another 44,202 who were age 100 or more. We have a long way to go.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Letting go to move on: Prepare for your whole life to change

"The human heart does not stay away too long from that which hurt it most. There is a return journey to anguish that few of us are released from making." - Lillian Smith, author, 1897-1966.

"A new set of experiences awaits me today. I can perceive them unfettered by the memories of the painful past. Self-pity need not cage me today." - Karen Casey, "Daily Meditations for Women"

 "...When we learn how to say goodbye we truly learn how to say to ourselves and others: 'Go, God be with you. I entrust you to God. The God of strength, courage, comfort, hope, love, is with you. The God who promises to wipe away all tears will hold you close and will fill your emptiness. Let go and be free to move on." - Joyce Rupp from "Praying Our Goodbyes."

By Julia Anderson
For years my grandmother's secretary-chest with a fold-out desk top has been with me. Into the deep drawers of this treasured piece of furniture I have stored miscellaneous boxes of greeting cards, photos, my children's school records, notebooks chronicling my work at the newspaper, divorce papers, mortgage refinance documents, my father's obituary and photo. You name it. Compelled to hold on to things (OK, the past), I stashed a lot of stuff  in this chest. A small box with annual Christmas gift lists from as far back as the early 1990s takes up space in a corner. Hey, I had the "list box" out just this month to plan my gift shopping this year.
But it's been years (maybe 25 years), since I seriously sorted through the flotsam and jetsam of my life stashed in my grandmother's chest. It was time for a cleaning out, a cleaning up and coming to terms with what lurked there. Some of the items I came across when I started sorting this week would have been painful to see, to read, to handle, even a few short years ago. Some still are. Here's what I learned from the sorting out experience.
After three years away from my full-time job, I can let go of it without much regret or sorrow. My years there were rewarding for the service that we provided our community and the support we gave each other. Since leaving, everything has changed about where I worked...the people, the business model, the focus of the job. I can look back on a successful career, feel a sense of accomplishment. That's it. Don't want to be there any more. All those work files went to the trash.
My father has been dead for more than 20 years. I no longer can remember how his voice sounded. At this point, there's no real sadness at his going. He had a good and rewarding life. Yes, he was a hypochondriac and a worrier with both real and imagined health problems. He could be blunt in his comments. But God, I respected that man for his honesty, his wit and his commitment to the greater good.
Maybe some day I'll have the resources to honor him by establishing a scholarship in his name or something else along those lines. The photos from his days on the farm with my mother seem like another world. So much has happened since. My mother enjoyed a nine-year second marriage into her late 80s.  In the past 10 years, my world has done a 180-degree spin into a new galaxy. My long-time marriage ended six years ago. I've remarried, retired, traveled, taken up new free-lance work. Yes, I've worked hard at moving on. Family photos, those vacations and treks to the Idaho mountains were sorted, labeled and stored. Maybe my kids will want them some day.
Holiday booby traps
During the holidays, the past, the present and the future can get all tangled up. I find myself not breathing deeply enough, not sleeping as well. Yes, I find myself getting nostalgic and even worse, self-pitying.
Just before Christmas, two greeting cards caught me by surprise because both were intended for my former husband. One was labeled to him, his new partner and her son but with my mailing address. (Very sloppy addressing, this one.) The other just assumed that we were still married. Both cards were jarring. Divorce does make things harder because you're cut off from people you came to care about in the larger family circle. With a divorce, these people and the lives they are leading are severed from your life, they drop off the radar out of awkwardness or loyalty or whatever.
On the plus side, this year, the daughter of my best friend, Sandra, from the second grade (who died seven years ago) has come back into my life through correspondence. She's married and now has a baby daughter. I won't let her slip away again.
Even as new people come into our lives, others slip away, drift off. Two close friends from 10 years ago are not in touch. I'm the one seeking them out despite their seeming indifference. I don't take it personally. They've both faced difficulties. Maybe old friends remind them of those difficulties.
So in my sorting, I ran across friends who are lost, friends who are dead, family who have moved on, a husband who left for his own new life. My father who's been gone a long time and my children who are no longer children but men with their own lives, their own challenges. Did I hold on to their grade school records? Yep. They can throw them away.
Saying a healthy goodbye
All the thinking, the literature about saying goodbye and moving on seems to focus on personal inner growth.
"Sometimes we need to break a relationship, to bid someone or something farewell," writes Joyce Rupp in her book, "Praying Our Goodbyes." "It may be a marriage that has died, a friendship that is no longer healthy, a job that has failed, an old memory that has haunted us long enough...when we learn how to say goodbye we truly learn how to say to ourselves and others: 'Go, God be with you.'"
In the burning pain of fresh loss this concept is tough to embrace. It certainly was for me. Forgiveness, letting go is difficult. Perfection has been part of my personal torment. Yikes, my life has been a lot less than perfect and boy do I beat myself up on that one. Maybe it's been a matter of "tasting the darkness" so I can see the real light, as Rupp puts it.
Year's end is a time for closing a book, for shutting a door and opening a new one.
Six years ago I sat outside with my dog, Coot, and toasted the New Year with him. Life now is filled with wonderful new family and friends, my grandson and I have our own relationship, some friends have become more important --- bonded over aging parents, over the loss of spouses from death and divorce and the challenges we face with our children and the people they've chosen to marry. Don't get me started on that one. The lives we thought we'd have were probably always an illusion. But wow what a life we DO have.
We've learned by now that life is all about change, haven't we? By now we should be prepared for that, right, even laugh about it? I'm up for continuing to move forward out of what Rupp calls "the prison of my past."
Four steps to Praying a Goodbye:
- Recognize and acknowledge a loss. Sometimes we're too busy to have that profound recognition.
- Reflect on the loss. Find silence within yourself or a place of solitude to do this. Reflection is a vital part of healing our grief.
- Conduct a Ritual: Light a candle or burn a goodbye letter to the lost person or relationship. Ritualize the goodbye.
- Reorient your life. Come to terms with the loss and move on with an open heart.
For me, sorting through the files and photos from my grandmother's old desk seemed like ritual and reflection rolled into one. I took out each item of paper and each snapshot. I  read each one, looked over each photo... remembering and savoring that memory. Then I put them either in the waste basket by my desk or away in a labeled folder for true safekeeping. A lot went into the wastebasket.
Tonight with a shot of tequila, I'll toast the end of a good year. A good year with Ken, a good year with my children and newly acquired step-children and greater family. And I will toast what may may be the last year with my darling mother who is fading away at the care center.
In a couple of nights, I will drink to the New Year 2014. I will welcome this new year for the full life it will bring with family, friends, with experiences, good ones and some sad. This will be my "forever hello" toast.