After all this time and all of the work we’ve done, many of us feel three things at this stage of our lives: pride, fear, and shame. We’re proud that over the course of our lives we forged ahead, asserted our rights, shattered glass ceilings, broke the mold… and we are proud that as the realities of life hit us, we did what we must: paid outrageous interest rates when we were just getting started in life (the interest rate on my first mortgage for a coop apartment in New York City was 13.5%), scaled back or suspended careers for kids, got divorced, helped our children out when they got dumped into the crappy economy that greeted them upon adulthood. We are proud, and maybe we have no regrets, but now all of our life events and life choices have landed many of us in a not-really-secure place when it comes to money. We’re not spendthrifts, we’re not irresponsible, we’re not idiots, we have worked very hard – but we don’t have the money we thought we would have when we got here – here, at the threshold of our wide open, full-of-potential second adulthood. Many of us feel afraid – and ashamed.
Where are we going to go from here, without the accumulated and undamaged estate of a two-earner family? How will we map out a plan for a financially secure future?
Eleanor Blayney of the Certified Financial Planners Board says that we should plan, save, invest wisely, put ourselves first (if only to avoid being a burden later to those we love) – all true. But before I share her advice below, I want to say that there’s a financial life-saver available to you that I’ll bet you haven’t thought to consider. It’s based on one simple and very important truth: We’ve got each other. Remember that “broke the mold” thing? We’re masters at that. So I want to encourage you to take all this good financial advice in your hands, and walk it outside the box of your current thinking, and regard it in a wide-open field of possibility – the possibility of shared homes. Many women are looking into shared living arrangements of their own making as an option for their futures; some for year-round living, some as a way to have that dreamed-of-yet-not-quite-attainable second home. And this idea of sharing is not just for single women – it’s something for anyone to consider, married or living with a partner or not. Think about it.
What I’m saying is that financial planning isn’t just a numbers thing; it’s a lifestyle thing, and we are the Woodstock generation. Woodstock is in our bones. We have a communal spirit. We are much more willing than our mothers were, I think, to seek out like-minded women to live with than to seek out solitary independence. We have a sisterhood. And this sisterhood can play a big part in your future health, happiness, and yes, your financial security.
So with that in mind, here are a few of Blayney’s recommendations for financial planning:
- Put yourself first, even ahead of children and elderly parents. Make sure your resources are not depleted in an effort to help them. Tap parents’ own assets for their care rather than paying out of your own pocket. Set a limit on what you will give to your adult children.
- Put money aside for retirement in your own name, no matter what. For example, if you live with a partner and he’s earning an income and you’re not, you should not agree to put all retirement savings in your partner’s name. You should have an IRA or after-tax savings account in your own name.
- Be aware of Social Security – your benefits will be calculated on your highest 35 years of earnings. Perhaps you should work a few years longer than you originally planned to, in order to knock out a couple of your lowest earning years and replace them with your higher earnings today, in order to increase your Social Security benefits for a lifetime.
I’m talking with a friend myself right now – someone I met through Women At Woodstock, as a matter of fact – about maybe buying a house together in the Catskills in a couple of years to share as a second home. She and her husband would use it certain months of the year; my husband and I other months, and maybe my friend and I might meet sometime each year, just the two of us, to use the place as a secluded writing retreat. The idea has me so excited that I’ve been talking about it kind of incessantly, and every time I bring up the subject with another woman my age, she says, “I want to do something like that!” Seems like the idea of sharing homes strikes a chord with women of our generation.
So I’ve decided to put together a workshop at Women At Woodstock this year called “Creative Legal Options for Setting Up Shared Homes.” This will include arrangements to share housing year-round, share vacation homes under a time-share type of contract, and share homes for investment purposes as well as vacation use. I’m talking with an attorney about it right now. I’m excited and I can’t wait to share it with you!