THIS IS A NEW feeling for me. I’m constantly stressed about money. The thing is, there’s no valid reason for it. Nonetheless, I’ve taken to constantly checking all the details of our finances—investments, bank accounts and, most important, spending.
All this from the guy who says a budget isn’t necessary.
While I still believe in my simple strategy—don’t worry how you spend, but never spend more than your after-tax income minus savings and never charge more on your credit cards than you can pay off each month—I couldn’t help checking exactly how we’re spending our money. I found that all of our ongoing expenses—housing, utilities, taxes, insurance, even my wife’s salon visits—are easily covered. But I also found there’s a chunk of change going toward eating out. I’m thinking that’s indicative of the stress factor and that I’m trying to buy myself some relief.
What’s going on? Upon reflection, it seems everything that’s going on is what’s going on.
The stock market is nuts. Don’t tell me that, in the last two years, my average annual return was 16%. I’m looking at the $300,000 decline in our net worth since Feb. 1. Next, I calculated that 2023’s Social Security cost-of-living adjustment will be at least 7.3%. But somehow, I don’t find that comforting, especially when I just spent $6 a gallon to fill up my car.
Participants in a recent survey said their first line of defense against inflation was to travel less and eat out less. I can understand why.
Adding to my stress: My car was damaged in a freak storm. A piece of roofing smashed both headlights and short-circuited the car’s computer. The dealer just called and said the repairs will cost at least $6,000, plus sales tax. Yeah, a big portion will be paid by insurance, I hope, but it still adds to my stress.
On top of that, I received a notice from Medicare that it denied two charges stemming from my recent surgery. The charges were $8,000 each. I have no intention of paying those surprise charges, but it’s still unsettling. I can’t imagine how a person who doesn’t know much about health insurance would deal with such a notice.
If the current economy and stock market can stress me out, what’s it doing to the majority of Americans, who have far less money?
We’ve been through times like this before. But it’s little comfort to most Americans that this too shall pass, that sooner or later inflation will wane, and that the stock market will recover. There are lessons to be learned—about portfolio diversification, being a long-term investor, having an emergency fund, watching discretionary spending. Perhaps we should even rethink the type of car we drive—and where we park it.
The South Africa model is what concerns us. I retired 5 months ago so stock market declines and inflation on top of the already expected psychological burden of shifting from saving to withdrawing is troubling.
Sadly, my fear is that recent events are “by design” to level the playing field for everyone (minus the politicians of course). I don’t want to live in Venezuela but there are days I worry that is where we’re going.
But as noted, virtually all readers here are in what most would view as enviable positions. I’ve always maintained that if one cannot count their blessings, they really don’t have any. I try to focus on that every day.
Now though is a great time to focus on a contingency plan and to work to reduce expenditures. Collectively that will help head us toward recession, but now is certainly not a time for reckless spending.
If you don’t have good health, getting stressed over the rest is pretty unimportant. On a positive note, how many fat people have you seen in pictures from the Great Depression?
Five months ago my six-year old grandson suffered a stoke. He currently can’t walk or talk and my never regain these abilities. I no longer concern myself with insignificant changes in my portfolio. My suggestion is to be grateful for what you have and don’t sweat the small stuff.
Hang in there. I have found similar discontent due to the state of our politics in this country but I then take a break from the news and keep telling myself I only need concern myself with what is in my control. Recently had my own challenge with a medical bill – received it and insurance had not paid anything! Like you I always question because it is not uncommon for the billing to have incorrect information. Which is what happened here again – but what a runaround trying to ensure they got the correct info. I am well educated on the medical billing issues and I find it difficult sometimes, so like you I dont know how many people deal with this! (My husband included – I told him if anything happens to me he will need to know how to navigate this..lol)
Dick, how will you fight the two Medicare surprise charges?
At this point the charges have been denied by Medicare and my Medigap, but i have not yet been billed by the providers. If they do i will contact them and tell them i will not pay and why. I have many years experience doing this for employees. Then i will use the surprise billing law if necessary.
Thanks. We’ve been lucky with Medicare so far and haven’t had any surprise charges. But I’m sure it’ll happen at some point.
When you speak with the providers, what reasons will you give them for not paying their charges?
The services was determined not medically necessary.
I feel the same way you do and I suspect many readers of this column do. Keep us posted on Medicare. I have found that any denials we have had were because of coding errors and were quickly corrected. I agree, I don’t know how the average patient deals with it .
These charges were both billed as assistant surgeons which are always questionable for any insurance. I thought the robot was the assistant 😎
Dick, thanks for sharing. I share your concerns. My favorite line is “everything that’s going on is what’s going on”. I find that the accumulation of unsettling news makes it worse. I’m rationally confident in our retirement plan, but I still worry like the rest of us. I spoke to a few friends of a similar age and financial status. We agreed that if the current losses hold, we are most likely impacting the legacy we leave to our children. That should make us feel OK about our plans, but it still “hurts” in some emotional way. This may sound trite and cliche, but form all your writings it sounds like you are a pretty lucky, with much of your luck earned, guy with a great family and much to be thankful for. I know that’s how I feel in my rational moments, and it does help. Good luck with the car and fighting medicare.
Yes, fortunate and lucky and thankful for both. I guess some of the stress comes from the – irrational- feeling that after 79 years it could all go wrong. The last two and a half years could be seen as the perfect storm of things we can’t control.
except it’s not irrational..
in South Africa my parents had negative stock market returns for many years, coupled with high inflation and currency devaluation. My investments there in stocks that were worth about $10 000 US in 1989, are now worth less than $100. My mother was a lawyer who understood investing, even she wasn’t able to keep their savings from vanishing. They were only able to keep going because my father had an old-fashioned pension from the government and a paid-off house..
Germany following WWI could tell a similar story and I’m sure there are many more.
I have been going through the same thing. Being retired I have too much time to dwell on all the negatives. I’m not one for sticking my head in the sand, but a little sabbatical from the 24/7 news cycle is definitely in order. Lately my wife and I have been decluttering, this has helped focus my attention on other things, and give me a feeling that I actually control some things. It has been a rough couple of years, but like a kidney stone things will pass! Hopefully!
Yes, a rough couple of years, but as I look back on from being quarantined on a ship to two bouts with COVID followed by surgery, when compared to many other people I have nothing to complain about. Keep calm and carry on as the British say.
Perhaps your risk tolerance has, unsurprisingly as we age, gone down. Maybe it’s time to have a permanent higher allocation in cash. Sure you’ll lose to inflation but better nights sleeping is so worth it.
A valid point. My dilemma is balancing my goal to help my children and grandchildren with our assets, assure my wife is fully provided for, and covering the risk of either of us needing LTC at some point and, of course, never being a financial burden on our children.
I’ve been told I’m too conservative with money, that I worry too much. That may be true, but I like to think I’ve covered all the bases-or at least try.
It’s been a long journey. I don’t want to screw it up now.
Maybe you need to put those goals in priority order, you seem to be treating them as equally important. How are your kids doing? Do you really expect they will need an inheritance? Nice to have is not the same as need to have.
Folks like us experiencing unease is a sign that scary times are here.