Until now I was able to live a fairly comfortable lifestyle. Just before my divorce I had lived five fairly worry free years - we'd paid off the college loans, were debt free except for our mortgage, and were starting a savings account for our retirement. This was a time when Bob supplemented his income with consulting fees and when we vacationed gratis, thanks to his foreign-based boondoggles. I enjoyed five years of worry free living. Then my marriage fell apart.
I recall a time in 1978 when we were graduate students in Boston and were down to our last $20. We needed to purchase food for the dogs before we could tend to our needs. We also had to set aside money for the subway, for we had no car. After expenses, all we could afford to eat for the rest of the week was rice and spaghetti. Although we were happy and looking forward to our future life after we completed school, our first 15 years of marriage were spent as students and paying off student loans. When we reached our mid-thirties and found real jobs we let out a sigh of relief and began to think about building our assets.
Then Bob got restless. When I signed our divorce decree, Bob's lifestyle didn't change. In fact it improved because he married a rich woman. My lifestyle returned to the one I had in my thirties - we had not been poor exactly, but we had to watch our pennies.
By canceling the wine of the month club, getting rid of cable, and reducing my vacations from six a year to one or two, I managed to live on a fraction of the income I had become accustomed to. Instead of going out to dinner, I would go out at lunch. Instead of seeing movies at the theater, I would rent them. I invested heavily in a better computer, and dropped my magazine and newspaper subscriptions, getting the news online. Instead of working out at an expensive club, I concentrated on walking my dog.
I purchased conservative investment clothes, many of which I can still wear because they are not trendy. I stopped streaking my hair, and began to color it myself. My haircuts became few and far between, and I have often solicited my mother's aid in cutting an inch or so off my blunt cut. I also built a kitchenette in my walk-out basement, which has a bedroom, bath, sitting room with fireplace, and a dining area. After moving out my belongings, I rented the downstairs to relatives of friends, using the income to pay off my gas, phone, and electric bills.
I also worked nights and weekends in a second job to help me through my adjustment period. As my salary rose, I made more adjustments, quitting my night job and reinstalling cable. For a while I felt that I was leading a comfortable lifestyle again, and I was quite content despite the fact that my former opulent life was gone.
This year the stock market bottomed out and the real estate market took a dive. While I was fiscally responsible, the effects of this economic downturn have taken their toll. I will not be receiving a raise this year. (Thank God I have a job.) My brother and I are unable to rent out our investment rental house. We had purchased it four years ago, and the income it generated allowed me to go on vacation and live free of debt. Even when the roof needed replacing, and the big old oak had to be cut down, I had the cash to deal with these emergencies.
Every time I must make a big purchase, I have to dip into my savings. My niece is getting married next week. Instead of treating my family to a big dinner out, I will be counting my pennies. My safety net is rapidly dwindling as I am nearing retirement age, and once again I am thinking of retrenching. I have signed a two-year contract for a Fios bundle, but will probably not reup the contract or keep my landline. The yard man will have to go, and I will live with my old ratty couches and sagging mattress for another decade, if not forever. I have also replaced my incandescent bulbs with energy saving fluorescent bulbs, and am keeping my thermostat down.
One more matter of business: my dog Cody. Our entire family is flying to my niece's destination wedding. Today, I designated a good friend as Cody' protector. Before I leave I will notify the vet and Cody's kennel that Jim will adopt him should anything happen to me and my family. What a sobering thought. But now that I have taken care of the most important little being in my life, I can breathe another sigh of relief.
I've taken care of current business. What's next? I shudder to think.