guilt: the gift that keeps on giving

By Deb Baer Becker
Woman Newspapers

A few months ago the Hubster emailed me an invitation to accompany him to a retirement seminar. That’s right, a full day of lectures about retirement income, Medicare, Social Security benefits, taxes on investments - if we’re lucky enough to have investments - and a boxed lunch. At the time, I couldn’t think of anything more boring and tedious, except possibly the Suze Orman show.

Retirement. Ha! I’ll never retire. I’m FREELANCE. Employed by SELF. I’ll be writing columns until arthritis stiffens my hands into small hoofs. The Hubster will retire. Can you say golf? Meanwhile, I’ll be hunched at my desk trying to read my computer’s screen through thick bifocals and milky cataracts. 

Later is the word I’d become accustomed to when we talked about retirement. But now that we’ve reached extreme middle age, later has been replaced by sooner. The thought of retirement is daunting. What will we do? The dogs and I are not accustomed to sharing the house during the day. Our current daytime routine is both comfortable and well rehearsed. Retirement will change everything. 

So that night after dinner, while we washed and put up our two plates, we talked about the seminar. 

"I know we have to think about retirement,” I said, “but must planning for it take a whole day?” I had deadlines. OK, I only had one deadline.

“Let’s plan our golden years together,” Hubster said, and he looked at me with his Sinatra blue eyes.

“OK,” I said, “But I’m only doing this to make you happy.”

Those are the words I wish I could take back.

The seminar day arrived, and we were in the car headed downtown. Gray clouds muddled the sky and countless cars clogged the freeway. We were late, thank you, Traffic.

I’d read somewhere that the way you do any one thing in life is the way you do everything in life, and in this moment Hubster smiled at me, and gave my hand a little squeeze.

Me? I sat stiff lipped in the passenger seat, a festering boil of impatience and negative anticipation and resentment. I could be doing so many other things right now, I thought.

“Probably won’t live long enough to retire anyway,” I grumbled, staring at the red tail lights of what seemed like a million cars in front of ours.

“You’re going to live a long time,” Hubster said. “We’re going to enjoy a great life together.”

He’s my positive charge. The sunshine Yang to my moody Yin.

“It’s just money,” I said, like I don’t need it, never touch the stuff, as if our money doesn’t matter. If Suze Orman had heard me say “it’s just money” she would have - for sure - bitch-slapped me upside the head. The undeniable truth here is that I spend our money, quite a lot of it, and I could use a dose of Suze Orman-style advice.

I’m not a money person, and I don’t have that ticker-tape brain, but what I knew deep down is that our financial life is a part of our together life, and I needed to work harder to understand it.

Let’s face it, when retirement starts, the paycheck stops, and we’ll all have to choose more carefully between our needs and our wants. We’ll have to set retirement goals, determine our needs, and track our money’s progress.

There were about 30 of us in the seminar - and the presenter was actually entertaining! I was energized, learning new concepts and essential information that helped me begin to understand the process and gain confidence in my own ability to make money decisions. Maybe I can be more help in the management of our funds after all. Maybe I can help my mom, become an advocate for her should she ever need my help. Social Security benefits and Medicare are essential to seniors, but the processes can be complicated. And just like anything else, the more you know, the more decision-making power you possess.

Just then I felt like I might cry. I realized I’d been such a jerk about not wanting to attend something so important - Hubster spent more than 30 years building this nest for us, and I didn’t want to spend eight hours learning about it?

As the presenter dimmed the lights and started the presentation titled, “Planning for Your Third Act,” I grabbed Hubster’s hand, gave it a squeeze. He turned to me and smiled.