Alternative retirement planning

Once upon a time I wrote a personal finance column for a South African daily newspaper. The column was called “Smart Money”, and every week I used it to yatter on humorously about stocks, bonds, money markets and such esoteric entities. It was fun. I got invited to insurance company shindigs and had lunch with movers and shakers like the head of the Johannesburg Stock Exchange, and they would ask my opinion about the economy, and listen with interest as I repeated whatever I could remember from the last shindig or lunch I’d attended.

Fun, but also scary. I was constantly aware that, at any moment, I could lose my conversational balance and plummet like a sheep out of a tree.

My friends and family thought this was the funniest thing of all the absurd things I’d ever done. In fact, the only time I ever generated more whoops of appalled laughter was a few years later, after I’d moved to the US, when I got a job driving a school bus. According to the people who claim to love me, the only thing I do worse than manage money is drive.

I’ve been thinking about this quite a lot lately, and pondering how much easier it is to give great advice than to follow it. Take my “Smart Money” column, for example. I knew I was entirely unqualified to advise people where to invest, or to forecast economic trends. But I figured out pretty damn quick that many of my readers were people who had accumulated money by being good at whatever they did, but were as clueless as I about how to make their money grow. They were widget-makers and dream-sellers, not investors. So instead of competing with those much cleverer columnists who pontificated knowledgeably about this or that investment opportunity, I kept just one step ahead of my readers by hearing terminology I didn’t understand, getting boffins to explain it to me, and passing along what I’d learned at a rate of about 750 words a week.

Unfortunately none of this knowledge actually stuck, in the sense of me personally doing anything with it. As a result I’m now hurtling inexorably toward 60 – 70 – 80 sans safety net or parachute. The Hubbit is a fair bit older than I am, so when he retired we chose the larger-pension-for-the-rest-of-his-life option, rather than the very much smaller-pension-until-whichever-of-us-lives-longer-snuffs-it option. Not to be ghoulish about it, I’m expecting a decade or so of widowhood (preferably later rather than sooner). I’ve always assumed I’d be the merry sort of widow – like this one:

Seniorin mit Hund am Laptop, auf Wiese liegend
Okay, so she’s not merry, exactly. Poking around Adobe’s stock photos I found lots of beaming bints with gray hair, kicking up their heels or frolicking on the beach. But this is my kind of happy. Dog, laptop, solitude, trees. That’s plenty merry enough for me.

Not like this one…

Homeless elderly woman sleeping rough in a park
If I’m ever homeless, I hope I at least have a dog.

Only … a question that lately has been coming to mind with disconcerting frequency is, “How?”

I’ve reached that life stage where you start reconnecting with all the old farts you went to school or varsity with, way back in the Pleistocene … and they all seem so darn stable. Settled. Secure. A nice house in the suburbs, a holiday cottage here, an overseas trip there. How did they do it?

I seem to have lived my life just outside the masquerade ball. I can hear music and tantalizing scraps of conversations, I can smell food and perfume, I watch the dancers flirt from behind their masks and fans. I think I was invited but … ehhh … my mask makes my nose sweat. If I tried to dance I’d be like a sheep in a tree – baa-aa-aah, two, three, plummet.

Abandoning that strangely mixed metaphor and getting back to my point (I think I have one; I must just keep circling until I close in on it) … it’s clearly too late for me to spend my adult life preparing for old age.

For a while, until a couple months ago, I thought I’d get a job. After all, I’ve spent a lot of years doing a bunch of interesting things – not just journalism and tech writing; I’ve also started and run several businesses, a mission school and a dog rescue, some of which turned out well and taught me all sorts of useful skills. So now that I’m willing to let some plutocrat chain me to a desk for 40 hours a week in return for health insurance and enough money to pay down our mortgage, wouldn’t you think prospective employers would stare in awe at my résumé and exclaim, “Wow – you’re clearly a flexible, innovative problem-solver! We need you on our team right now!

We-e-ell, no. As it happened, their response tended to be more along the lines of “Seriously? WTF is this?” And, even more worrisome, every time someone turned me down I felt quite dizzy with relief that I’d evaded having to sit down at the same desk at the same time surrounded by the same people every day, regardless of whether or not I wanted to.

I’ve pondered getting back into freelance technical writing, but the problem with that is, you have to market yourself. Back in South Africa when I partnered with my bestie, Twiglet, she slapped on face paint, donned a pantsuit with a nice brooch and high heels, and topped it off with an elegant hairstyle, and clients had no difficulty at all taking her seriously. I, on the other hand, with my swirling caftans and my hair falling out of a bun? Not so easy to sell to go-getting executive types. Plus I hate it.

So the fruit of my recent ponderings is as follows.

First, the masquerade ball is almost over. The dancers are getting tired; some have already left. I didn’t want to go when it was in full swing; why would I go now at the draggy tail-end of the party? Baa-aa-aah-plummet – and then what?

Second, I kinda like what the Hubbit and I have managed to pull together in our small corner of the planet. It’s shabby and untidy and a tad heavy on the dog hair, but I’d rather spruce it up (or not) than replace it.

ants and grasshopper

Third, in nearly sixty years of rarely worrying about tomorrow, this grasshopper has never gone hungry. I guess God likes the sound of my fiddling; at any rate, He’s provided for me this far, and I continue to do my grasshopper best to please Him. (I understand the moral of the fable; I’ve just never liked it. Those ants are a miserable, self-righteous, mean-spirited bunch – why would anyone want to be like them?)

So I have decided: enough with the worrying and pondering. Definitely don’t start with the wishing and regretting. I’m grabbing whatever time I have left and doing what I love.

In other words, work on my book continues, y’all! It’s called “A is for Affenpinscher”, and it’s the first in a series of 26, which is enough to keep me busy for a while. This first one is going slower than I like because I’m having to take time to walk in circles and get acquainted with the various characters, and then make notes so I don’t get them mixed up. But it’s moving along quite nicely; I’m having fun with it and look forward to putting it out there.

Speaking of which, two months from today is the annual Pacific Northwest Writers Association conference. The cost of attending is wince-worthy, but it provides an opportunity to meet with 22 – yes, twenty-two, that’s two hands plus two thumbs up – editors and agents, all a-tremble with their eagerness to sign up fresh talent.

In two months I can finish writing the first book in the series, map out the second, and maybe overhaul a completely different manuscript (a YA fantasy) that I set aside years ago when I realized it needed … oh well, I’ll spare you the details, but I have to do a shitload of research in the form of gaming, which scares me a bit because what if I get addicted?

So, anyway, that’s my retirement plan. If you think it’s a little nuts, you’re probably right. On the other hand, look what I found in my fortune cookie tonight!

Fortune cookie

It’s a sign, right?

If you’re a gamer, which game would you recommend for fantasy, quests and magic? And, regardless of whether or not you’re a gamer, how do you plan to spend your declining years?

Author: Belladonna Took

Well into my second half-century and still trying to figure out what to be when I grow up. Born South African, naturalized American, perpetually at risk of losing my balance and landing ass-first in the Atlantic.

35 thoughts on “Alternative retirement planning”

  1. You sha’n’t be homeless, unless I’m homeless, and we can each have a dog and they can lie at our backs and keep us warm while we cuddle in the snow.

    But actually I’d much rather buy you a place in the wilderness where you can spend the rest of your days looking at ocean/trees/mountains, spitting dog hair out of your mouth and writing wonderful stories. That’s totes the one that’s going to happen. Not the first one. The homeless one. That one’s silly. We should just discard it immediately 😉

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Also, I’m pretty sure the 18+ year financial investment you made a while back is the one which will be yielding returns. Just saying. YAY FORTUNE COOKIE!


    2. Well, thank you, Girl Child! The African approach to retirement planning – become a lasting drain on your children. On the other hand, God has blessed me with a bunch of other children. Lebang and Emily have both invited me to live with them, and Sylvia has promised to build me a house in Sekhukhune, so I guess between you you’ll figure something out. In any case, aren’t you on track to become obscenely rich?


    1. Ha – yes! Although my favorite bulls and bears story had to do with the first time Twiglet and I went into a meeting together, to work on a big corporate profile for Business Day. She marched to the head of the boardroom table, snapped open her briefcase, and laid out her papers, all very businesslike. I shambled in behind her, one hand holding cell phone to the ear while the other tried to shove hair back into clip, and I took the seat at the end of the table. Every single man sat down turned away from me (yes, they were all white men) and she launched into her speech.

      It was going well until she started talking about bull markets and bear markets and got stuck. “Damn, Bella,” she said. “I can never remember. Are bulls a good market or a bad one?” Patiently I explained, “Bears jump on you and knock you down. Bulls toss you up in the air. Easy.”

      As though controlled by a string, every man in the room swiveled to face me. Poor things looked so dismayed – it was priceless! But we pulled together a good report, and that’s why we went into business together. Fun times!


  2. Apparently my declining years will be spent avoiding getting up for work on time by reading blogs to wake up. The flying sheep sketch is worth skipping breakfast though. Who needs to shower anyway, really!


      1. I’ve seen the entire Holy Grail movie. I enjoyed it very much…but the ending left me a little confused. It was my first taste of English humor, I believe.


        1. Trying to remember the ending … Was it the deadly bunny? I know there was a part where the voice of God boomed out, and – as someone who regards God with considerable awe and respect – I didn’t like that. But the killer bunny was hilarious. I’ll have to watch the whole thing again.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Oh yes, Ellen is a dream. I don’t know that I’d bother her with a non sequitur like this but I watch a fair amount of British programming, so I can muddle through to some small degree. But an explanation for Benny Hill, now that would be helpful! (Gasp! Just realizing Benny was actually my first English sketch humor, not Monty Python. I lied. Mea Culpa!)


          2. I write non sequiturs, so I could hardly object to them. The problem is, I’ve never watched Benny Hill (when for some reason the name was part of a joke, someone had to explain to me who–or is that what?–the hell Benny Hill was) and I’m a very minor-league Python fan, so I haven’t memorized the scenes. As for the role of cops here, I’m not sure I can really answer well. They seem to be different from in the US but basically they arrest people, so same thing there. Most of them aren’t armed. That’s very, very different, although armed policing seems to be creeping in on the fringes. Racism seems to be a problem in both countries’ police forces, although not quite as explosively here–possibly because they’re not armed. None of which is relevant. Or funny.

            In short, I’m no help at all. Sorry. And I’d have replied to Kirizar but this was the only Reply button I could find.


          3. Dang. I was so sure you could be funny about ANYTHING. Their hats, for example … Bobbies wear those round hats, while our boys have something I can only describe as bonnets. But you’re right … policemen, particularly when armed, aren’t much of a joking matter.


          4. Ummm… the Bobbies are now carrying weapons… ever since Radical Islamics have started blowing things up in the UK. I bring your attention to the following latest news articles:
            In both articles please note the Bobbies carrying full-automatic assault rifles.


          5. Actually … I think the picture in the first article is of soldiers. The second article shows what I think may be police – see the checkered band on the hat – but in Britain most police aren’t armed; guns are carried by specially trained forces.


          6. No, the first picture is of “Counter-Terrorism Police”, what in the USA we call “SWAT”. Factually, approximately 10% of the UK’s police are armed. And, of course, in the USA it’s 100% armed.

            Liked by 1 person

  3. I don’t know what’s going on with the universe, but I’m getting some pretty hectic messages at the moment. This post is one of them. Thank you. I’ve realised the rest of what I wrote must be in a private message, so all that’s left to say is that I can’t wait for the book!!


  4. The way things are going in the US, I suspect all the funds I and my employers paid into the social security safety net will have been frivolously spent on tax breaks for the wealthy and increased military spending by the time I’m set to retire, so I’ll have to continue to work right up until the afternoon my funeral is scheduled.

    Hopefully, the death committees will be well established by then and give me at least 3 days notice, which is what I need to schedule a vacation day.

    Until then, I’ll chainmaille my stresses away, continue to generate numbers for ‘the Man’, and contemplate what I want to come back as in the next life.


    1. Well, apparently the weather in Puerto Rico is wonderful year round, and the cost of living is low if you don’t want imported goods. What say we establish an artists’ colony on a beach somewhere? Only you have to like dogs, or you’re not invited.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Dogs are fun creatures. Throwing a stick keeps them amused for DAYS…especially if you have a beach for them to romp all over.

        I’m in if we can include cats in the mix. If nothing else, they’ll keep the rat population down and give the dogs something to play with when all the sticks end up in the ocean.


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