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Delayed Reaction

Dennis Friedman

IF YOU’VE READ MY articles, you know I don’t respond to readers’ comments very often. It’s not because I’m quiet or shy. Rather, it’s because I like to be thoughtful in my responses, rather than firing off a quick one- or two-sentence answer in the comments section.

That brings me to four comments that I’ve found myself pondering, often months or even years after the article appeared. Here’s my belated response to each.

Trading up. I wrote an article where I mentioned that we own a 2007 Honda Fit. One reader thought we should get a newer car, so we have the latest safety technology to protect us from aggressive drivers. “If not for yourself, get a newer car to protect your wife,” the commenter said.

When we start taking some cross-country road trips, we’d like to buy a newer car with the latest safety features. In fact, our current budget calls for us to purchase a new vehicle this year. But I don’t think that’s going to happen because the Honda Fit is running well, and we don’t drive it very much.

Indeed, last year, the car was driven just 545 miles. It’s well maintained and it’s only used for running errands, so we never take it very far from the house. Still, there will be a time when we’ll need another car, and one with the latest safety technology would be a good idea.

Maybe the biggest reason I’m putting off buying a newer car is because I’ve had two cars stolen. They were both found, but one had been set on fire and the other was missing most of its parts.

The more traumatic theft happened in the early 1970s, when I was 20 years old. I’d bought a Volkswagen Super Beetle and had it for just six months when it was stolen while I was busy attending college classes. For months afterward, I’d panic and my heart would start pounding if I didn’t immediately see my car in the parking lot.

I still haven’t completely gotten over the loss of the two stolen cars. Last year, I was at Lowe’s. I couldn’t find our Honda Civic, which is our other car. The first thing I thought was, “It’s been stolen.” I called my wife and told her what had happened. I got her all upset.

I wandered around the parking lot, pressing the emergency button on the remote. I finally saw the flashing lights and I could faintly hear my car’s horn in the distance. I can’t imagine how I would have reacted if it was a newer, more expensive car.

Home help. A reader, who saw one of my articles when it was posted on MarketWatch, wanted to know how much money we had. The short answer: We have enough. My wife and I both lived frugally before we got married. When we married and merged our finances, we became even more financially secure.

Still, we can’t ignore the fact that we’ve received some help along the way. We inherited our current home from my parents. My sister, who lives in Tennessee, didn’t want the house. She was more than happy to take other assets. It’s easy to settle an estate when you have two siblings who feel they already have enough.

The house we inherited in 2019 was appraised for $750,000. Today, Zillow’s estimate is $1.3 million. Inheriting the house made a big difference in our life. No, the current price doesn’t change our lifestyle because we have no intention of selling. Rather, I wish my parents were still alive, so they could see how much Rachel and I enjoy living in the home they bought in 1978 for $86,000.

Left alone. One gentleman commented on one of my articles that he’d lost his wife when he was 72 years old, my current age. I was lost for words when I read that comment because that’s one of my greatest fears.

My mother struggled with my father’s death. After he died, she put away all his photos and wanted all his clothes removed from the closet right away. She thought if she hid everything that reminded her of him, some of the pain might go away. That, of course, didn’t work.

When I started spending more time with my mother, she’d sometimes call me Sam, my father’s name. I took her to see a couple of therapists. One sold her his book, and mostly talked about himself. She even tried attending church again. But the only thing that really seemed to help her was what the reader said helped him—which is the support of family and friends.

Aging in place. Some readers question the viability of our plan to stay in our home for as long as we can. Some thought we should consider a continuing care retirement community.

As I mentioned in a previous article, I believe we have enough money to pay for the care we might need if we stay in our home. But as I watch what’s currently happening with my neighbor Sue, I’m also aware that aging in place might not be feasible.

Sue is 94 years old and lives alone. Her daughter comes over often to take her out to lunch, but Sue is pretty much on her own. One day, I saw her daughter drive off with some of Sue’s belongings. I haven’t seen Sue since.

I can see Sue’s living room from our bedroom window. At night, before I go to bed, I look out the window. I used to see her television and a light on. Sue likes to stay up late watching movies. The past three weeks, her house has been dark.

When I crawl into bed at night, Rachel asks me whether Sue is home. We’re both anxious for her return. From our bedroom window, we can see the threat that Sue’s currently fighting—and we know it could also await us.

Dennis Friedman retired from Boeing Satellite Systems after a 30-year career in manufacturing. Born in Ohio, Dennis is a California transplant with a bachelor’s degree in history and an MBA. A self-described “humble investor,” he likes reading historical novels and about personal finance. Check out his earlier articles and follow him on X @DMFrie.

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