We have a lovely older couple who live across the street from us and who have lived in this neighbourhood since the 1970s. Our neighbour, let’s call him Bill, is almost 80 and is the caretaker of his developmentally disabled daughter and his wife, who has dementia. Bill is an absolute treasure and unlike so many people his age, he has a positive outlook on life. One of the things he always says is, “I see every day I am here as a gift!” His life isn’t easy but he is grateful for everything he has and he’s a real inspiration to us youngins’.
Bill doesn’t have a cell phone and will often just pop in for a coffee. Today he dropped in and the conversation turned to how expensive everything is with inflation. He laughed because his last pair of “good” shoes were 30 years old and they had fallen apart. He said that the last time he went to buy shoes they had cost him $29.99 and looking at a recent flyer that came in the mail, it looks like now he’ll have to pay $80 for a similar pair.
He then went on to tell us that he had spent his entire life saving money for a good retirement only to discover he couldn’t spend it. “I have enough for all of us to spend and live comfortably for a long time but there is nothing I want to buy,” he said. Bill lives a really good life, too. He doesn’t deny himself, he takes the odd trip with the family, and spends money to maintain his house and yard (with pool). “My wife used to buy all of my clothes but honestly, I haven’t needed to shop much for clothes for years because they have lasted.” Bill isn’t a miser, either. He often buys my children little gifts like backpacks for school, and flower kits you can grow indoors. He’s just discovered that he doesn’t need – or want – to spend money.
The New York Times recently wrote that research suggests that this is common.“As people age, they report less satisfaction from travel, as well as from new cars, clothes and appliances. The decline is strongest in people who say their health is poor. People who say they’re in excellent health say their enjoyment from travel and leisure is actually greater than it was six years earlier. People in excellent health also report more satisfaction from giving financial support, which goes against the notion that those who expect to live a lot longer are worried about running out of money.” I would also say that after years of saving and learning how to get the things you want on a reduced budget that you just continue this even when you retire. Bill is a retired teacher with a pension, his house is paid off, his car is paid off and he has enough for a really good life for the three of them. So his savings keeps growing while his lifestyle stays similar to what it has always been.
This got me thinking about our own budget. We currently save a huge chunk of our income for our house prepayment, retirement, and our children’s education – not including “planned spending” items like buying a new car every 10 years, which is more “saving to spend.” Our life is a really solid middle class life: roof over our heads, food on the table, bills are paid and there is money for extras. We also have a category for leisure and travel that is well-funded. But I do know from my calculations that once our mortgage is paid off next year, we will be able to easily live off of just the money I bring in.
According to research, we’re also in our peak budget years as the kids are t(w)eens. They will also be here for at least 5-7 years (more if they go to post-secondary in the city). That means our expenses are relatively high. We pay for very pricey activities and save a huge amount towards their RESPs – not to mention the basic costs of feeding and clothing them. We are so used to having this money go to them that when (and if!) they leave home, I wonder if we will feel like Bill. Having everything for a good life already, will we want to spend more?
Despite our current moratorium on air travel, we probably would like to travel a bit more in the future (PLS willing!). I suspect that over time we will find ourselves like the people in the above NYT article: unwilling to travel due to disability. We will also find room in our budget to help the kids as they try and build an adult life for themselves. Still, our coffee with Bill reminded me that having spent a long time saving for the future, we probably will find ourselves in the same position: having enough.