My mother and I used to go for long walks, usually ending up at one of the strip malls that punctuated our southern California town. As we stood on the front porch ready to go, she’d lock the door, check it and recheck it before turning to me to share her time-honored parental advice: Remember. Look for money.
Seriously. Mom’s thing was to look for money as we walked, I guess because there was never enough. And the funny thing is – we usually found it! Scattered coins in the sidewalk cracks, a dollar blowing in the breeze. Once we found two $5 bills, and it was as though we’d won the lottery.
Sometimes we’d celebrate with a bite to eat at the dime store lunch counter. Was it J.J. Newberry or Woolworth’s? I can’t remember, and they’re both gone now. Mom got Jello because it wasn’t fattening. Grilled cheese for me because it was cheap.
Money was in short supply at our house, and perhaps that is why I grew up obsessed with making sure I had enough. And with this mindset, it’s easy to believe there will never be enough. No sacrifice to great, no cushion to thick – more money always wins.
Some baby boomers are reluctant to retire, in part because they haven’t saved enough and in part because they can’t give it up. Boomers say it’s the work they can’t give up, and I get that, because what we do for a living is part of our identity. But I also wonder if it’s the need to make money and the habit of spending money we can’t quite quit.
Only in the last few years did I begin to reconsider my relationship with money. I had a nice nest egg from years of saving, and that helped. But as I closed in on the concept of retirement, it occurred to me I could feel more secure with that nest egg if I spent less. You don’t need as much stuff as you think.
It is scary when the regular paychecks stop. I’m not super-frugal, and I’m not a financial whiz. Preparing for retirement was more about changing my mindset … believing I could live differently and gain back what we used to call a life. Time to sleep late, read, write and cook from scratch. Meet with friends, volunteer, maybe a little side hustle just in case.
I still love my long walks, and now I have time for them. Sometimes I enjoy a mindless loop, and other times I like walking toward a destination. There’s a little strip mall at the bottom of the hill, and I often think about stopping for a bite to eat. For now, I just keep going, occasionally scanning the grass that lines the sidewalk, looking for money.
Donna Pekar is an aging badass (for real) who lives in California and writes Retirement Confidential.