7 Things to Consider When Planning for Your “Golden Years”

First off, I apologize for missing a post this past week. I finally managed to get up north to see my father, who is in hospital, and more importantly, to have a good talk with my mother about what comes next. Since I had to grab whatever two days came in between the snowstorms, I really didn’t have much warning or choice about the trip. I just went, and was grateful that I was able to do it safely.

My talks with my mother centered around plans for her future. She’s in a position that she and my dad never planned for. In fact, I have a feeling that many people avoid planning for the situation my parents now find themselves in.

We’re all aware that at some point, we’re going to die. That’s a given. Anyone who is currently breathing in and out will one day stop doing so. Planning for something that will certainly happen is a lot easier than planning for the “what ifs.”

As in, “What if you live?”

My father’s body is still breathing in and out, and he’s had seven to ten more years than I ever thought he would have. Most of those years have actually been not bad, and I’ve been grateful. But the past two years have seen him slowly descend into senility. He can no longer speak coherently, or even feed himself. He is certainly unable to pay the bills, drive a car, or do any of the more advanced tasks required for daily living. And so, for the past two years, my mother, brother, and sister-in-law (who are at times barely able to care for themselves), have been caring for him. That arrangement lasted up until a week ago, when he tried to choke my brother. He’d previously attacked both my mother and my sister-in-law, but they brushed the first attack off, and did not act swiftly enough on the second.

My brother (not the one living with my parents) and I found out about the second attack, however, and we impressed upon my mother and brother that the next time dad attacked anyone, they were to call 911. In the meantime, they were to put into motion the process to have him admitted to a care home.

Two nights later, they had to call 911.

We’re all thankful that my father never reached for a knife–the results of this story could have been much more tragic. He’s now safe in hospital, where he is being treated for dehydration and is under some restraint and sedation so he doesn’t wander. My mother and brother and sister-in-law are much more coherent than they’ve been for the past two years, probably because they’ve been getting enough sleep. And we’re all beginning to plan for the next steps.

As I journey on this new path, I’ve recognized that there are things we all need to do in order to be prepared for whatever comes our way.

1) Do you have a will?

Even if you have nothing, you should have a basic will, because if you’re serious about improving your financial well-being, one day you WILL have something, and you’ll want to have a say in who gets what when you die.

2) Does your executor know where your will is? Does he or she have a certified copy?

One of the problems I’ve had in the past few years is knowing that my parents had new wills made, but not having a copy or even knowing where my mother kept them. They’re on my desk now, waiting to be copied and sent back. My mother wanted me to keep the originals, but my own feeling is that there should be at least two sets (one original, one certified copy) and that they should be in different places as insurance against fire and theft. I’m going to look in to having them on file with my lawyer.

3) Is your will up to date?

My parents had their wills redone in 1999 (that’s how long I’ve been pestering them for a copy!) because their previous wills (dated 1983) had me as the back-up executrix (they named each other as executors), and my sister as MY back-up. My sister died in 1993, and it took them SIX YEARS to change the wills! My mother will be changing her will again soon–with my dad unable to do the duty of executor, I’ll be named as the primary, with my son as back-up.

4) Do you have a power of attorney for personal care, and a power of attorney for property?

Because you might NOT die, but end up like my dad in a hospital bed. Once again, these two documents should be updated regularly to reflect changing conditions, and the persons named in the documents should know where the originals are and have a copy themselves.

Also, take the time to have a conversation with the person(s) named in your power of attorney. Tell them what you desire–do you prefer to be cared for at home if possible, or do you want them to find a nursing home for you? Do you want the doctors to do everything possible to save your life, or do you want them not to take extraordinary measures? Write it all down, sign it, and put it with your legal papers.

The document won’t be legally binding, and situations may change which might mean that you won’t get what you want. But at least those acting on your behalf will know what you want, and if you’ve chosen well, they’ll be happy to have that information to guide them.

3) What do you want to happen when you’re gone?

Do you want a memorial service? Where, and who do you want to conduct it? Cremation or burial? Religious or not?

Talk about these things with your family, and again, write them down and place them in the file with your wills.

As someone who has been very involved in church over the years, I’ve seen the kind of comfort preparing your memorial ahead of time can bring to loved ones. One particular man I know had a “red file.” When the time came, all the office administrator had to do was plug in the readings and hymns and scriptures he’d chosen, and put his picture on the bulletin. Another lady I know pre-recorded a message to be played for mourners at her funeral, which comforted them.

4) Do everything in your power to get out of debt and stay there by the time you hit retirement.

My parents could have paid off their mortgage instead of spending like there was no tomorrow. But tomorrow came, and instead of having a mortgage-free property, my mother had to re-mortgage just to pay the bills. If my father goes into a nursing home, she’ll have to sell-there is no other option any more. And half of what’s left after paying off the mortgage will go to support my father. If my cousin can’t come up with the money to buy it, my brother and sister-in-law will be homeless. I’ve reassured my family that my mother will never be homeless while I have a roof over my head, but I can’t take the others in, and neither can my other brother.

5) Consider having at least a part-time job as long as possible.

A part-time job will not only help stretch your nest egg, but will give you opportunities for socialization that earn you money instead of costing you money. You’ll have a reason to get out of bed and get dressed at least some days. A good job will also give meaning and purpose to your days, so you won’t end up being a plague on your kids or spouse. And it might help you live longer–depression is a major problem of retirees, and activity is one of the main ways to stave off that illness.

6) Choose your leisure activities carefully.

“I’m going to travel and play a lot of golf.”

Two words for that plan: Expensive. Boring.

Though travel isn’t necessarily boring, many retirees seem to travel to the same destinations as every other retiree–I sometimes think that during the winter months Florida has more Canadians over 65 than Canada does! Now I know that folks have friends down there, that the weather’s better than it is up here, that prices aren’t as bad down there.

But to me, it’s the “same old, same old” kind of thing. Use your imagination! There is so much more to life than travel and golf, and a lot of it is right in your hometown and doesn’t cost a dime. You don’t have to stay at home watching television if you don’t like golf and don’t have the money to travel.

7) Spend time, LOTS of time, with your children, grandchildren, brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, and friends.

Even if they’re grown up. ESPECIALLY if they’re grown up. A friend of mine was estranged from her family for years, and has only reconnected with them over the past five years or so. But over the past two years, she’s amassed a lifetime of memories, and spend more time with them than she had in the previous twenty. The reason? Her sister was diagnosed with terminal cancer just over two years ago. The love, the laughter, the experiences shared over the past two years will be with my friend for the rest of her life, as they will be with her sister’s children and husband. That’s worth more than any money could ever buy.

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3 Essential Resources for Financial & Life Stability

My journey towards making a better life for myself began just over five years ago. I was once again down in the dumps and on welfare. A friend of my daughter’s asked me if I would be so kind as to drive her to a job fair at our local multi-plex. On a whim, I printed off a resume and decided to apply with her. My daughter delayed us somewhat while she printed off her resume, and off the three of us went.

Guess which one of the three of us did not get a job?

At any rate, I was working again, albeit part-time and at the minimum wage. But I loved the job, did well, and soon was working almost full time. I got promoted to assistant manager at another theatre.

Though the job didn’t last forever, the depression that had overtaken me for the past fifteen years started to lift. I was happy again, and able to act on my own behalf, and to begin to plan for a future that didn’t include working in the field where I’d earned my degree. That door had been closed.

As I journeyed, I found that three major resources in my life became more and more important–so important, in fact, that I can’t envision myself being where I am if I hadn’t had those resources.

The good news is that they’re all available to most of us who live in the developed world. And two of them are free, and one of them can be free if you know where to look.

So, the resources:

1) Perhaps the most important resource is your own public library. If you live in a major city that has a public library, and you don’t have a card, you’re throwing away major money, and major opportunities to better yourself.

It’s not just the free books, though those are critical. Right now, I have about a dozen books out on topics ranging from how to write a novel to how to run a business to how to care for an aging parent who’s going senile. I also have a couple of romance novels out by my favourite author, so that I can relax and get to sleep at night.

If your library doesn’t have a book you want to borrow, there’s inter-library loans that can most probably get you the book you want from another library that has it.

In addition, our library offers movies and activities for kids (all free), DVDs, audio books, e-books, magazines and e-magazines, some job readiness activities (I once took a free personality test that told me I ought to be a writer, a member of the clergy, or an army sergeant. Um, yep. It was accurate), and research assistance. Our library even has internet access available.

And it’s all free!

If you’re hesitating because, well, you’re like me and returning your books sometimes slips your mind, be aware that in the last few years, libraries have embraced reality, and you can renew your books online. Though my fines haven’t disappeared, they’ve been considerably reduced.

If you’re trying to improve your life and get yourself into a place where you’re financially stable, you should be spending time at your library. Read books on how to manage your finances, how to invest, how to start a business, how to write a resume and interview for a better job and ask for a raise, how to change your habits, how to learn new skills, how to cook for yourself on a budget, how to repair things around the house…

You get the idea. If live in an area with a public libary and you don’t visit it at least monthly, start now.

2)The Internet

The internet comes second and not first for two reasons:

First, you can browse through the library, shelf by shelf, and be exposed to new worlds without knowing about them first. To browse the internet, you have to have at least a general idea of what you’re looking for.

Second, a web page such as this contains at best one or two thousand words on a topic. You’d have to do a lot of looking to find a whole book’s worth of information.

That’s called “doing research,” and it’s a valid occupation, but if the book exists because someone else has done the research, why not just read the book? Then go to the internet for further developments. (And if the book doesn’t exist yet, and you end up doing the research, keep track. Then write the damn book…)

I spend at least part of my day on Stumble Upon. When I’m not looking at cute kittens and babies, I get all sorts of interesting information on the topics I’ve checked off. Some of that is breaking news, which is critically importnat. Some of it is rubbish.

Which brings me to the other reason printed books are still an important resource. With self-publishing on the rise, fact checking and editing has decreased. The internet give you access to breaking news, but it won’t be the full story, and it might not even be the truth. A printed book by a reputable publisher has been looked over by many sets of eyes, and facts in it have (usually) been verified.

When I’m researching something, I may start with a website and go to a book, or I may start with a book and go to a website, but I’ll spend the time to verify that what I’m reading and considering is valid, and not just a figment of someone’s imagination.

Internet access does cost money, but there are two possible ways to get it without the monthly payments attached:

a) You can go to your public library, if they have access available, or

b) You can go to a coffee shop with your Wi-Fi enabled laptop and buy a coffee.

Though neither of these are ideal (they’re not private, for one thing), they’re better than not being connected at all. If there are free or cheap ways that readers connect to the interent, I’d really like to hear about them in the comments!

3) The above two resources are kind of “ho-hum” standard, for all that they’re critical to success in today’s world. The third will get some people on edge, I know. But I would not in any way be where I am today if it weren’t for this resource.

Having an active and caring religious community is an important part of my recovery from the depths.

Though I’m a Christian, I suspect that many religious communities of other faiths offer many of the same benefits, so I won’t substitute the word “church” for “religious community.” I do not, however, know of any Atheist organizations who offer the same benefits for free. (If you know of one, tell me politely in the comments so that I and other readers can learn from your experiences…)

My religious community, in addition to weekly services, offers trained clergy who are available to listen and offer their wisdom. Though they do not replace a needed therapist, they have been coaches, friends, and wise counsellors who have shared their caring and wisdom with me on many occasions. There are art groups, sports groups, book clubs, knitting and sewing circles, cooking groups, a food pantry, a weekly coffee klatch (in addition to the one after the service), men’s groups, women’s groups, children’s groups, youth groups, vacation Bible Camps, choirs, and drama clubs.

All of it is free or pay as you can.

It doesn’t stop there.

I have, at various times in my life, received material benefits beyond food and the occasional assistance from the benevolent fund. The neighbour of a congregation member upgraded his washer and dryer a few years back. The old ones are in my basement, and they work just fine. A member moved from his own home into a nursing residence. Was their anyone who needed a matching couch and chair? Another neighbour of a church friend had a sofa bed. I needed a complete new wardrobe once to apply for the managment job. At my lowest, I didn’t even have money for Christmas presents for my kids, so I thought about knitting them something. An appeal to the congregation both times brought me 1) wool, needles and other knitting supplies to last me years, and 2) a complete new wardrobe in my size.

Then, of course, there are the volunteer opportunities. Need computer skills? Volunteer to help if someone will train you. Thinking of becoming an office administrator? Would you like to try your hand at organizing events? Maybe you might like to one day be a teacher?

There is absolutely nowhere else I can think of that you can get all these benefits from one single organization for free, but it might take some research to find the best religious community for you.

First, if you’re not religious, or questioning, look for a community that isn’t going to pressure you to join or convert or profess your faith. There are many of them out there. Not every religioius community is closed-minded about having skeptics in their midst. The most enlightened of them actually celebrate the challeng you will bring to their entrenched beliefs!

Second, if I were looking for a religious community, I’d do a drive by a couple of times a week on different days and times and look at the parking lot. If it’s mostly empty, chances are the community is not as active as it could be, and activities will be more limited. If, however, the church is in a downtown area, you might actually have to go inside to check it out. Is the door usually locked?

Third, attend a service. Are the people mostly like you, or are they uniformly different from you, or are they somewhat varied? If you’re searching for support, you DO NOT want a community that’s made up mostly of folks like you–they probably won’t be able to give you a perspective on your situation that’s much different from your own. In addition, I’ve read that if you take the income of your five closest friends, you’ll probably be right in the middle of that group. While I doubt that changing your friends will increase your income immediately, it will give you a perspective on how others live that will dislodge your feeling that your life is perfectly normal and that’s the way everyone lives.

A varied community is best, but a community that has a lot of grey hair actually isn’t a bad place for you to be. Those grey hairs mean accumulated wisdom from which you can benefit, but it also means that there’s an opportunity for you to contribute to their well being as well.

Do the people welcome you, and talk to you, or do they keep to themselves? Are you comfortable with their approach to newcomers? I personally like to sit back in a new place and gradually get to know people, as opposed to having them mob me the first time I walk in. Others might prefer a more extroverted approach. Either way, you’ll want them to be friendly and open, but respectful of your needs.

Look at the bulletin or printed material, especially the schedule of upcoming events. Are they all focussed on introducing or enriching faith, or are there a variety of activities? Do they include community events and outreach, or only events for members? Do they interest you at all?

If you find a place that seems like it might be a good fit, make a commitment to yourself to attend services for one month during a relatively high attendance period for that organization. I say this because many religious organizations have low times. Sometimes during the summer, for example, there may be fewer and/or smaller services, or the services may even be shared with another community close by. If, after a month or two, you’re still comfortable, you’re becoming known to the community, and you’re participating in an activity or two, then I’d say you’ve found your community.

Does that sound too cold-hearted, like I’m using my church friends?

I assure you that I give back as much as I take, and that the opportunity to give back is one of the main reasons why I’m a life-long church member. I can’t give money, but I can and do give time and skills. It’s a win-win situation, and I know that my life would be a great deal less satisfying if I wasn’t an active member of my church.

These three resources won’t do the work of getting your life on track, but when you’re ready to do the work yourself, they’ll be there like a beacon shining in the dark to lead you onward.

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A Penny Saved Is Better

We’ve all heard the saying, “A penny saved is a penny earned,” haven’t we?

And in our quest to be rich (or even just to not be poor), we’re more interested in increasing our income than we are in reducing our spending. After all, a bigger income is bragworthy, but how much you saved by (gasp!) not buying something you really didn’t need isn’t much to talk about. Now is it?

But the math is firmly in the court of the saver, not the earner. Consider this:

Let’s say you get a raise of $1200 per year. An extra $100 a month to spend–yipee!

But wait a minute! You take a look at your paycheque, and the extra hundred dollars seems to have shrunk, hasn’t it? Even if you’re a minimum wage earner, the government is going to take a bite right off the top! Let’s say you’ve got a very modest 20% in tax and other deductions. Now that hundred dollars has turned to a mere $80.

Still, that’s money you can bank, or more likely spend. Because human nature almost impels us to raise our standard of living rather than saving the extra. So now you’re spending that $80. Since your basic needs were (hopefully) covered by your former paycheques, chances are you’re purchasing extra consumer goods that you’ve wanted but not been able to afford.

Still, an extra $80 can get you…

In Ontario, with HST at 13%, it can get you just under $71 worth of goods.

By the time you’ve spent the money, that $100 raise has shrunk by a whopping 30 percent!

Now consider the saver. Doesn’t get a raise, poor woman, but she manages to trim $100 off her budget. That’s $100 free and clear, as opposed to the earner’s $71. If she uses it to pay down her 20% interest credit card, she’s even better off, because there are not many investments that can pay better than that!

So a penny saved turns out to be a whole lot better than a penny earned, which is why my next few posts are going to be about ways I’ve found to save money.

Until then, don’t break the bank!

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10 Secrets of Lucky People

A couple of weeks ago I got handed a belated Christmas card. It was given to me by a third party, and I was expecting to open it and find a cheery message and a signature. I got the cheery message part, but instead of a signature (I don’t know who sent it, though I have my suspicions), there was a hundred dollar bill.

That’s right. Someone anonymous gave me a hundred dollars.

I’m lucky, aren’t I?

Then there’s my daughter the music teacher who got a phone call a couple of months ago from a woman she didn’t know offering a job she hadn’t known was available. She started teaching her new students two weeks later.

Lucky, right?

Actually, yes. Luck did have something to do with both of those events, though the actual lucky breaks were not recognized as such at the time, and had occurred years prior to the actual events.

Luck is one thing I’ve actually had in my life in abundance, and I got to thinking and researching about why some people seem luckier than others.

Here’s what I’ve learned:

There are two differing and mutually exclusive beliefs about luck. The first is that some people are naturally lucky, and others naturally unlucky. The opposite belief is that everyone has both lucky and unlucky breaks in their lives, and it isn’t the presence or absence of those breaks that brings what we call “luck” but the actions you take when these random events occur.

One belief is empowering, one disempowering, and I’m going to believe you have enough intelligence to figure out which is which.

If one believes that certain people are inherently lucky or unlucky, there is absolutely no reason for me to write this blog post. So obviously, I believe that luck is what happens when you take advantage of random events.

There’s a lot of bullshit out there that tells you that you can increase your chances of winning the sweepstakes by visualization and lucky numbers and writing out affirmations and such like. Visualization techniques are of use in certain situations, but really the only thing that can influence your chances of winning a lottery or a sweepstakes contest are the number of tickets you buy or entries you submit.

Techniques such as wearing lucky socks or other articles of clothing are mere superstitions, and won’t help you attract luck in any form.

One of the first things you need to figure out is which events are truly random, and cannot in any way be influenced or controlled, and which events can be used as opportunities for betterment.

Sweepstakes and the lottery are examples of truly random events that you cannot in any way influence to your advantage without breaking the law or cheating. And your chances of winning are so small, that even buying hundreds of tickets won’t really help you.

Your chances of winning a lottery with a single ticket range from a high of about one in fourteen MILLION to a low of about one in TWO HUNDRED MILLION. Lotteries are quite literally for losers! We all hear about the winners, of course, and we believe somebody has to win, so why won’t it be us? Well, why will it be you? What you don’t hear is about the millions of people who bought tickets and didn’t win. Come to think of it, if you’re reading this post, chances are close to 100% that you’ve never won big, either.

There are winners in the lottery. The people who sell the tickets win. The rich people who don’t buy tickets win because services that might have otherwise been funded by fair taxation are funded by lotteries, which are really a tax on fools, usually poor fools.

If you’re looking for luck so you can win the lottery, stop right now. To quote Vernon Dursley: “THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS MAGIC!”

But what about that other kind of luck, the kind my daughter and I seem to have? You know, job offers and hundred dollar bills coming seemingly out of nowhere?

Well, the short answer is that those two things (and many other things besides) did not come out of nowhere. There was preparation involved, work that took years in the making. But because it involved work, and not something like luck, the good news is that YOU CAN MAKE YOUR OWN LUCKY BREAKS!

How do we do it?

1) Lucky people are friendly people.

We help others out. We join organizations, and we contribute to them.

Regarding myself and my daughter, we’re both in an orchestra, one that contains both amateur and professional musicians. My daughter has contacts in the music world that she regularly keeps in touch with. We belong to a church. We go almost every Sunday. Allison teaches Sunday School, I help out in the office. We know the ministers, and the folks who run the food pantry, and they know us.

And so our luck now doesn’t seem so lucky, does it? We have friends who care, and those friends help us out by recommending us when jobs become available, and our names come to mind when there’s a little extra money to hand out at Christmas.

Having a wide circle of acquaintances who think well of you and who know what you need are a critical part of having “lucky breaks,” but there are other traits that contribute to maximum luck.

2) Lucky people get up off their a$$ and get out of the house.

No one, absolutely NO ONE, ever got lucky watching television! NO ONE ever got lucky playing video games.

Get up out of your easy chair, and get out of the house. Do something, learn something, meet someone. The more varied your environments, the more random events there will be to take advantage of.

3) Lucky people know what they want.

That’s the starting point. If you don’t know what you want, you send mixed messages to your friends and acquaintances, and they may not think of you when what you’re looking for becomes available.

You want work? What type of work? What shift, what pay level, what company?

You probably won’t score a perfect match, but if you don’t know what you want, you can’t score a match at all!

4) Lucky people are flexible, and willing to work with what’s offered even if it’s not precisely what they were looking for.

Allison was actually looking to build her studio in one of three different cities: the one where we live, the one where she was already teaching, and a third city that had no Suzuki music school. The job offer was for none of those cities, and will require her to move. She took it anyhow, with great enthusiasm.

5) Lucky people prepare.

Allison wasn’t offered a job as a music teacher after a mere few years as a student. She has a bachelor’s degree in music, and a number of Suzuki teaching courses under her belt.

6) Lucky people take action.

When they see an opportunity, they act on it immediately. Eons ago (or so it seems), I’m told my grandfather had the chance to buy a parcel of land for a mere $100. Though a hundred dollars was a lot in those days, it wasn’t considered a huge price for that particular parcel of land, and if he’d taken action, taken out a mortgage, well… He didn’t. The parcel of land he was offered is the parcel of land that became Downsview Air Force Base and is currently Toronto/Downsview Airport. I don’t think I need to tell you that if my grandfather had taken action, instead of letting the opportunity go, I’d have had a very different life than the one I have now!

7) Lucky people aren’t afraid to make mistakes.

Sometimes you’ll make wrong decisions. Lucky people don’t view these as a signal that they should retreat from life. Instead, these “failures” are instead reframed as “learning opportunities.” They think, “So that didn’t work. What should I do differently next time?”

8) Lucky people don’t give up.

Lucky people understand that life is not a half-hour sitcom, with the problem presented in the first five minutes and resolved in the last five minutes. Sometimes it will take a lot of effort to get what you need and want.

9) Lucky people treat others with respect and give as well as take.

Those who disrespect others or only take will soon find their pool of friends drying up, and their acquaintances will actively avoid them. I’ve even know folks who have cut ties with their own family members because the relationships were toxic and one-sided. How lucky do you think you’ll be if your own mother can’t stand to be around you?

10) Lucky people are constantly learning new things.

Again, it’s like getting out of the house, only mentally instead of physically. You can’t get a job as a music teacher, for example, if you don’t know anything about music.

A thread on Cracked.com was built around learning a new skill in 2013. It’s still going, but the title has changed to reflect the change of year. There are stories in the thread of both success and failure, but one of the successes stands out for me:
Re: The “Learn a Fascinating New Skill in 2013” Project

Quote from: antlia on December 19, 2012, 09:53 AM

        This article is in sync with the change of view point I had during 2012 when I thought I was going to die. So, I am going to get ridiculously good at making infographics. That’s it, regarding learning a new skill this is what I want to do. Let’s see how it goes during 2013.
        For the record, I’m a political scientist, I don’t know shit about using Illustrator or whatever designers use. I don’t care. I enrolled in a MOOC (massive open online course) about inphographics to begin. It starts in january 12th.
        Good luck everyone!!

Quote from: antlia on January 04, 2013, 08:19 AM

    Hey guys, I received the first email from my MOOC teacher and I feel very excited. As I said I know nothing about design and illustration but I’m all about learning right now. The first MOOC I took with the University of Pennsylvania through Coursera was great and helped me to get a part time job.
    There are over 200 FREE courses at Coursera about pretty much everything I’ve read in the forum, just check them out. I know there are other sites from MIT or Harvard, just search for MOOC’s on Google and you’ll find the right tool for your learning a fascinating new skill quest.
    Good luck and tons of discipline for everyone!!

Reply #984 on: May 06, 2013, 07:16 AM

    Beginning of may and even if it is hard to believe for myself, I got a job doing infographics as a political scientist. I forgot about this forum but it just hit me and I had to tell you! Tomorrow I’m starting my new job as information designer of scientific information for the government of my country. Da fuck? My fascinating new skill in 2013 is giving me something I’ve craved as far as I can remember, a cool and well paid job, and I’m not YET ridiculously good at making infographics. They just checked my CV and my little portfolio and decided to hire me.
    Guys, I’m trying to describe what it means for me and what it means for us all. It actually works, LOL I feel like presenting an infomertial but what can I say? My life changed in 4 months just by deciding to learn a new skill to put together what I already know.
    Don’t give up. If you turned down the project it’s time to come back. If it’s not giving you results yet, don’t let it go, it will serve you well sooner or later!!

Did you get that? She started learning a new skill on January 12th, and had a dream job by the beginning of May, using that skill.

If it’s beginning to sound like “luck” and “hard work” are equivalent, you’ve got the idea. Random events happen to everyone. Those who make the best of what they’re given are often seen by others as “lucky,” but what’s really happening is a lot of behind-the-scenes work that those who believe in luck simply don’t want to see.

If you’re one of those who continues to believe that luck is a matter of the right genetics and the right numbers and the right socks, I can’t help you, and neither can anyone else. And I can pretty much guarantee that you’ll continue being unlucky.

But if you embrace the fact that you make your own luck by preparing for and making the most of those random events that happen to all of us, I can pretty much guarantee that 2014 will be your luckiest year yet!

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The Death of a Dream

Many years ago, my parents had a trailer up on Balsalm Lake, and they’d often go for a drive to view the countryside. The tale goes that one day they were out driving, and my mother yelled, “Stop! This is it!”

“It” being their dream home in the country. A broken down house nearly a century old, with no kitchen, bathroom, or electricity. A barn that was ready to topple at the first stiff breeze. And acres of swamp, trees, and mosquitoes. And bears. And deer. And other assorted creatures, some benign, some not so benign.

They bought the “farm”, and for years travelled back and forth. The house was raised and put on a foundation. (My husband not-so-tactfully said that the word should have been spelled “razed.”)

They added on a kitchen and bathroom. They started to put in some insulation and drywall.

Eventually, they retired, and they moved to the country to start their dream life in earnest. They had a huge garden, almost always overgrown with weeds by mid-July. That is, if there was no frost that year. (Yes, they’ve had frost in July.) They had chickens, and even sold eggs. They even had show chickens, and my mother actually became a certified judge on the county circuit. They bought a small apartment building in town as an investment.

My brother joined them, and for a while, he even had work driving a garbage truck. My mother took a course and became a certified lay preacher, and became so involved in the church that she was eventually elected President of Bay of Quinte Conference, which is the equivalent in our church of an archbishop. For years they had a part time rural mail route, which also brought in much-needed extra income. My brother married, and his wife came to live with my parents.

Things were going well. At least, up until about five years ago.

Then age set in.

The garden and the chickens were the first to go. My parents just couldn’t do the work, and my brother wouldn’t.

The apartment was the next to go. Changes in the building code and the landlord tennant act meant that expensive repairs were needed before they could even sell. They watched any profit they might have realized dry up.

My brother lost his job–the government created something called “The City of Kawartha Lakes” (I should show you a picture of the sign someday–it’s in the middle of a forest!), and the contractor for the garbage collection no longer had a contract. My sister-in-law’s job had disappeared even before that. The two of them took to full-time drinking and television marathons in order to pass the time.

Then my father started to show signs of senile dementia, and my parents had to let the mail route go. My brother and sister-in-law applied, but it went to a former full-time postie who had retired up north.

They lost about twenty thousand dollars in yearly income in one go, and because my mother had never really been good with money (it was always my dad who took care of the finances, and he was no longer able to function), they didn’t stop spending until they were in deep, deep debt.

They refinanced, but the reality is that most people who refinance their homes to pay off consumer debt are back in deep trouble within two years. I’m not sure I’d give my parents that long–my mother is still spending as if she had money.

And my father is becoming a real problem, with incidents of violence, and nighttime wandering, and total confusion. As a sample, he woke up one morning asking who had stolen the fish tank from his room. There has NEVER been a fish tank in his room.

The reality is, he should be in a nursing home. It was, in fact, his stated wish when he talked to me about the future many years ago. But his pension is the only thing keeping the household afloat right now–if he goes into a home, my mother will be forced to sell the farm. My brother and sister-in-law will, at the ages of 51 and 56 respectively, be out on the street and looking for work with no recent experience and a significant alcohol addiciton. I can’t take them in.

My mother, of course, will be living with me. We’ll manage.

Many years ago, Bill and I moved to the country. We too wanted a “simpler” lifestyle. A place where our kids could grow up with fresh air, fresh water, good food, and surrounded by nature.

We lasted a little more than three years before we returned to the city.

Because the truth is that until recently, living off the land really isn’t a viable option for most of us. The work is extremely hard, even if you just have a few chickens and a big garden and a house to renovate and three kids, and there are NO days off. And you need money–a lot more money than most people realize.

Sure, our house was paid off, and taxes weren’t much. But everything else was more expensive. Food, gasoline (of which we needed much more, since it was a minimum half hour drive just to get groceries), heat (no natural gas, so we had to buy wood and oil), and so on.

And there were no jobs. None at all. In our last year in the country, Bill would leave me every Sunday night to return to Toronto to get what supply work he could, and he wouldn’t return until Friday night. And I had a newborn, a two-year-old, and a four-year-old to care for!

It sounds good, that move to the country. But in reality, it wasn’t nearly so pleasant as I’d imagined it to be. And financially, it was a disaster. We’d sold our city townhome for more than twice what we’d paid only two years earlier (we hit the real estate boom just right!), and bought the country place for cash, with money left over. And within three years, we were in debt again.

We gave up and moved back to the city, where there was work and neighbours and public transportation.

I’m glad we had our years in the country. Both Bill and I are a lot more self-reliant that we would have been if we’d stayed in the townhouse, and the kids did grow up with more awareness of where food comes from, even though they were very young when we moved back.

But I’m more aware than ever that when I work towards creating a “dream life,” that it is today’s dream I’m working on. Tomorrow, or a year from now, or ten years from now, the dream may sour. It may even, as it has in my parents’ case, become a bit of a nightmare.

And in order to prevent real disaster, there needs to be a stop-loss plan put in place. What happens if things go wrong, and your current lifestyle becomes unsustainable, or you begin to hate what you once loved?

In my parents’ case, they should have talked to one another long ago about what they preferred if they became unable to care for themselves. Because they had two very different preferences–where my father asked to be put in a home, my mother has confided that she has a horror of such a fate. And it’s my mother making the decision for my father.

Financially, they should have been debt free soon after retirement (and they did have the means), and they should have striven to stay that way. My mother should have taken a more active role in taking care of the money.

Most of all, I believe they could have taken better care of their bodies and minds.

It’s too late for my parents to change how things turned out. All we can do is make the best of it for their remaining years, and manage things so that my ship doesn’t go down with theirs.

But for myself, I’ll be applying the lessons I’ve learned in the past few years about preparing for the end of life. I’ll be getting myself out of debt and staying there. I’ll be working on developing some sort of retirement income that will keep me afloat. I’ll be looking for a house that will accommodate me even should I need a wheelchair or walker.

And I’ll be updating my will and my power of attorney, and making my wishes known IN WRITING regarding future care should I eventually become unable to care for myself.

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How I Lost My Chance to Be a Millionaire…

… and how I hope to change my life so that it’s even better.

The keeners who read this blog will note that up until yesterday, I’ve manage to publish a post every Monday and every Thursday since I started this blog. It’s a pace I’d hoped to continue indefinitely, and two months in, I’ve already broken the chain.

I do apologize to those of you who like to read my blog. All I can say is, such is life.

Life gives as much as it takes, however, and so I have a post!

I didn’t post yesterday because I was occupied caring for my youngest son. He’s 23 years old, well past the age when constant care is expected to be necessary, and yet he does require constant care, because he is profoundly autistic. He is unable to communicate more than his basic needs: “Want Kraft Dinner” is about the most gramatically correct sentence he can utter, and the most complex. When it comes to telling us what’s bothering him, it’s a guessing game that usually ends with no real answers.

And he woke up Sunday morning with some kind of pain or trouble that caused him great distress. His communication was even more disordered than usual: “Call police!” “Go to hospital.” “July. Get married. Happily ever after.”

If you can make sense of that without any context, you’re more of a genius than I am.

He banged the wall, leaving several big holes. He upset the entertainment centre, breaking a DVD and the VCR player. (Talk about hard to replace!) He broke the cover on the bathroom light. He banged his head, arms, legs against the wall. He has bruises. His dad has bruises. I have bruises.

Finally, yesterday morning we gave up and took him in to the emergency department. The staff there were fantastic, and it wasn’t long before we saw first a nurse, then a doctor, who asked great questions and had a look at ears, eyes, throat, and a boil on his leg.

No real answers. His ears looked a bit distended. Not certain if that was because he had an ear infection, or if it was because he was poking his fingers in his ears constantly, or maybe both, but the doctor perscriped antibiotics, and contacted the family doctor. We are to go in to see him next Monday so he can check Robin’s ears, and if the behaviour upset doesn’t stop, we’ll see him sooner for a sedative.

It becomes obvious that a parent with a child like Robin simply can’t take just any job. One parent has to be home at all times–behaviour like Robin’s is both violent and unpredicatble, and someone has to be ready to rush in and bring him home if he starts to act out at his work placement.

In our case, that parent is me.

I have two advanced degrees, and if I had followed the expected career path, I would have been earning upwards of $75,000 per year in a full time position. Having done the work I’m trained for part time for five years, I know that I would have been able to stay the course until retirement, or even after.

Over a twenty year career, that means I’ve forgone about 1.5 million dollars in income.

Not pocket change by any means!

Parents of children with disabilities and people who themselves have disabilities face the same problems worldwide. The collective will to support those who struggle with a living income seems to be lacking. Folks don’t seem to realize that they are only one car accident, stroke, fall, or pregnacy away from experiencing life with disability themselves, and private insurance is not only more expensive, but simply not feasible for the majority of the population.

Another story I read yesterday reinforced this fact. In Be A Free Range Human: Escape the 9 to 5, Create A Life You Love and Still Pay the Bills, Marianne Cantwell tells the story of Jon Morrow, a blogger at Boost Blog Traffic (a blog I’m going to be following in the very near future, like this afternoon!). Jon tells his tale of being hit by a car, re-examining his life, and choosing to move to Mexico and start a lucrative career blog writing and coaching. What he doesn’t say until halfway through the story is that the accident left him paralyzed from the neck down.

In order to qualify for Medicaid and other government programs, he was forced to spend only $700 on living expenses. The rest of what he earned HAD to go to medical expenses.

What kind of apartment, food, clothing and transportation can you afford on $700 a month in the United States or Canada? (Answer: you can’t even afford the basics on this)

Worst of all, he was not rewarded, EVER, for working to better himself. If he made $5000 in a month, he was only allowed to spend $700 on living expenses. The other $4300 had to go to defray his medical expenses. He says, “Nothing was left. Ever.”

He got sick of it, moved to Mexico, started making big money blogging, and hasn’t looked back. He supports himself, his parents, and a whole nursing staff with his voice and his computer.

Not every disabled person is that lucky, nor every caregiver for a disabled person. Some don’t have the support Jon did (and I do). Some don’t have enough education to make a go at something like that. Some don’t even have the mental capabilities, or the capability to move to another (less expensive) country.

So to blame those who remain in poverty for their own poverty is petty minded and unfair. We never know what another person is facing. We can only know (and even then only partially) what WE are facing.

So. I am facing at least five more years of being a stay-at-home parent of an adult with severe disability. That’s when his father is set to retire.

Until then, my income is fairly secure, as the majority of it is spousal support, and Bill has a platinum-plated career, and is at the top of his pay grid.

But the money isn’t enough to live well on, or to repay my student loans. And once he’s retired, my income will end. I will be in my late 50’s by that time–too late to start again in any sort of career and hope to end up at or near the top.

Not that I want that for my life anyhow.

So my own path out of poverty and into financial independence will involve some sort of self-employment. I’m best suited and trained for writing, coaching, and event planning–all viable careers in this digital age.

But I’m also an artist, a musician, and I’d like to make movies. Again, all careers that are much more viable now than they have ever been before, thanks to the internet. In the past five years, having a “Free Range” lifestyle has gone from being a pipe dream to being the newest viable path to a life of self-fulfillment and even riches.

And I guess that’s really where I’m going with this post. As 2014 progresses, I’ll be planning and putting into action a new lifestyle, one that earns me enough money to enjoy life, one that allows me to help my family and others, one that plays on my strengths and helps me to develop new skills.

Follow me as I journey!


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Do This Now, Save Thousands Later!

(And quite probably prevent a whole lot of pain, too…)

If I could go back and institute one simple habit that would have an enormous impact on my life now, it wouldn’t be saving lots of money, or not racking up huge student loans, or not buying something when I chose to buy. As detrimental as those bad habits were to my financial health, all of them can and will be rectified in the future. And I’ve learned a lot, even if it’s come at a price.

No, the one thing I’d change would be something that at first seems to have nothing to do with financial health.

If I could, I’d go back to my child or teen self, and make it clear that the choice to not brush my teeth and floss every day will have huge implications in the future, and that no amount of future dental care will ever make up for the fact that I’ve lost a number of teeth, and will lose a number more before the year ends.

As I write this, I’m under the influence of Tylenol 3 with Codiene and Caffiene, as well as taking a course of antibiotics to deal with the cause of the original pain, an infection of a cavity riddled tooth. The pain has kept me from washing the dishes, making my bed, putting away my clothes, and writing among other activities. I’ve consumed far to many painkillers in the last week or so, and I’ve had to call in the troops to help me with my paper route. Eating has been torture. (On the good side, I’ve lost about a pound in the last week…)

The dentist yesterday ruled out a root canal — in addition to the infection and the (previously filled) cavity, the tooth is cracked front to back. It needs to come out. Cost: About $250. Eventually, I’ll need an implant or dentures. Cost: Upwards from $1000. Yikes!

Our dental health is so integral to the rest of our health that it’s amazing to me that OHIP doesn’t cover it. According to the Mayo Clinic, gum disease (just one result of poor brushing habits) has been implicated not only in tooth loss, but coronary artery disease, stroke, low birth weight babies, poorly controled diabetes, and respiratory problems. I also can’t imagine that people with visibly stained, broken teeth will have an easy time getting high paying job, or even a lower paying one that requires interaction with the public, because the sad reality is that looks do matter. (I’m lucky that way–my front teeth are all in good condition, so my gaps don’t show, even when I smile.) And that’s on top of the problems you’ll have eating rare steak with no molars. Double and triple yikes!

And it can all be prevented with a toothbrush, toothpaste containing flouride, and dental floss. I’ve noted that these are readily available at food banks, if you can’t afford the three dollars plus tax that you’d pay for these items at a dollar store.

It’s not rocket science. Brush twice a day. Floss once a day. Keep your choppers in working order, and keep your gums nice and pink and intact.

Your pocketbook and your future self will thank you!

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