I’M KNOWN AS A FRUGAL, rational and practical spender. My husband Jim likes to remind me that, six months into dating, my first birthday present to him was prefaced with, “I think I know what you want and need.” It was a three-compartment laundry hamper to separate his clothes before washing.
But one area where I’m neither rational nor practical is cats. I wholeheartedly agree with Jim Kerr’s recent dog story, where he wrote that a pet is a terrible investment—if we’re only considering money.
THE DALLAS HOUSING market has recently shown signs of slowing. In our townhome community, I’ve noticed that houses are sitting unsold for longer. Until recently, any place on the market for more than seven days was considered unusually long.
Two weeks ago, we became interested in buying a two bedroom, two bath townhome on our street as a rental property. It was listed at $375,000. Upon a closer look, however, we found the following:
The property hasn’t been upgraded since 1988.
EVEN BEFORE COVID-19, I was no stranger to working remotely. From 2011 until I retired in 2018, I worked for a major bank from my home office. I started working remotely a few days a week and then, in 2013, requested to work fulltime from home. This was met with skepticism from friends, colleagues and supervisors.
They had concerns that working remotely would make it difficult to connect with others and to get promoted.
I RECENTLY CHATTED with a clerk at an art supply store. We both complained about the Texas heat. Whenever I engage in small talk or meet new people, the weather is my safe, go-to topic. As the saying goes, “Everyone talks about the weather, but no one does anything about it.”
Changes in the weather affect us to varying degrees—pun intended. Some effects are minor, like rain interrupting our outdoor plans. Others are more serious.
WE RETIRED AND MOVED to Spain in 2018. We were excited and eager to explore our new home and a new culture. We traveled a lot, mostly in Spain, but also the rest of Europe and Asia. But since the pandemic started, our travel has been limited.
Indeed, COVID-19 sped our return to Dallas. I’m happy that we’re now closer to our sons, and can see family and friends in person. But having lived in Dallas for 28 years,
I WROTE PREVIOUSLY about my parents being victims of financial abuse by one of my brothers. Recently, I returned to Bangkok, which gave me a chance to discuss this situation at length with the entire family, including my other brothers and my uncle.
When the financial abuse of an elderly person is committed by a stranger, the rest of the family often has no chance to see warning signs. But 90% of abusers are family members or trusted individuals.
MY MOST MEMORABLE experiences are family vacations—and that includes the mishaps. Those become the stories we laugh about years later.
For instance, when our boys were young, we took an overnight train from Bangkok to northern Thailand. We found ourselves trapped for three days in Chiangmai by an unexpected torrential flood. Multiple times, we had to modify our plans for getting back to Bangkok. Finally, we got a flight on a small airplane. As we walked up to the plane,
JIM AND I JUST CAME back from two weeks’ vacation in Greece and Turkey. We planned the trip at the last minute, and booked our tickets less than a week before flying.
Many imagine high prices when they think of travelling abroad. But in fact, there are many international destinations that are more affordable than vacationing in the U.S. We spent much less on lodging and food—the costliest items after airfare—than we would in America.
BEFORE I RETIRED, I was a credit risk manager. I had to take compliance courses annually. One course focused on financial abuse, especially of the elderly. I learned that the most common perpetrators are not strangers, but family members, friends and caregivers who take advantage of too-trusting seniors.
But it’s one thing to know this theoretically—and quite another to find out it’s happening in your own family.
I previously wrote about now both my late father and his close friend were victims of financial abuse.
DURING OUR TIME in Spain, we came to admire the water fountains common in mudejar architecture, the Moorish-style homes of Andalusia. During the lockdown, while I tried my hand at creating art, Jim picked up the hobby of making water fountains using a few basic items, including a small water pump and terra cotta planters that he found around the apartment.
As the lockdown dragged on, Jim progressed to building more complex fountains. He built an indoor one in a Zen-like style,
I RECENTLY INJURED my lower back playing tennis. I rested for a day and then decided I was well enough to resume my usual activities. But my haste worsened the pain, extending my recuperation to more than a week. Every move—even sneezing—hurt. Putting on my pants was a major struggle. I was forced to do nothing except rest.
Doing nothing was the one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Ironically, at the time of my injury,
IN THE PAST THREE years, Jim and I have moved five times—three times in Spain and twice in Dallas. We sold almost all our possessions when we moved to Spain, taking just four suitcases and two cats. When we returned to Dallas, we didn’t bring home much more—five suitcases and two cats.
Fortunately, I’ve discovered that I prefer living in a smaller home. I love the design of Spanish houses, which are—on average—just half the size of equivalent U.S.
IS SUCCESS WITHIN reach for anybody willing to work hard? We like to think of the U.S. as a meritocracy with a one-to-one correlation between effort and achievement. It’s a notion that allows us to feel that we’re in control of our destiny and that we’ve fully earned the success we enjoy.
But in truth, there are many factors that continue to tilt the playing field one way or another. Socioeconomic status, race and gender still sway the game.
MY RELATIONSHIP with money is complicated. I want to get the best value for our dollars, so I spend a lot of time comparison shopping. Other people hunt for bargains. I go on long safaris.
My frugality and comparison shopping have served Jim and me well. In our double-income household, we managed to save 50% of our combined pay—basically living on one income and saving the rest. That, coupled with some lucky breaks, propelled us to early retirement.
THREE YEARS AGO, Jim and I decided to retire to Spain. We were attracted by the promise of excellent health care, warm weather, low cost of living and travel throughout Europe. From there, we’d also be able to fly with relative easy to both the U.S. and Asia, allowing us to maintain family connections. All of this gave us a great quality of life for almost three years.
Then COVID-19 hit. Like everyone else,