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- My husband died when I was 31; we'd been diligently saving for retirement.
- I regret not spending more of our earnings on experiences and things we would have enjoyed.
- As a widow, I'm spending on my home and mobility instead of saving for a future that's not promised.
There's a lot of pressure out there to save for retirement, but I'm not buying it. I believe in financial literacy and practice sound money management, but this is one piece of financial advice that I'm ignoring, at least for now. I'm 36 years old. I was 31 when I became a widow. My husband and I had been diligently putting money aside for our retirement when he died suddenly in 2017 and my whole world changed.
As a rule, I don't waste a lot of time on regrets and things I can't change, but I do regret that, as a couple, we didn't spend more of our hard-earned money on experiences and things that could have improved our quality of life, like taking that long-anticipated and partially planned hiking holiday in Iceland or moving to a more spacious apartment on a quieter street.
Losing my husband changed my perspective on spending and saving
Early in life, I observed from my dad's sometimes extremely frugal ways and internalized a waste-not-want-not mentality. In my 20s, I married a man who was cautious with money and favored saving and investing over spending. Among the many hard-won lessons of his unexpected death, I learned to focus more fully on the present, which has affected how I manage my finances. In my 30s, I'm actively working to balance saving for my future with enjoying the fruits of my labor, now, while I can.
I have a modest RRSP (Registered Retirement Savings Plan), which I contribute to every so often, but it's far from my main financial focus. I hear some of you out there gasping at what may sound like a flippant attitude toward planning for my financial future. It's not.
I'm saving for 3 things I care about
Right now, I'm saving for home repairs and odd jobs around the house, driving lessons and a car, and a gravel bike.
The home-repair savings help me sleep at night in my century-old home that I bought in 2020 and have been loving back to its former glory ever since.
Driving lessons and a car
The driving lessons and eventual car represent new learning, increased independence, and moving forward in my life.
Yes, I'm a 36-year-old who's never learned to drive. I've always lived in cities where driving would have been more of a headache or a nice-to-have than a need. I left the city for small-town life to buy my first home and dream of buying a rural country property with land in the next five years. A car is essential to that dream and not having one or being able to drive is already cramping my lifestyle in my new home.
A gravel bike
The gravel bike represents fun, freedom, is an attainable financial goal that will be a tangible reminder of my hard work, and will hopefully tide me over until I have my driver's license.
Depriving myself of these things in the interest of putting aside money for a future retirement that may never come or that, at the very least, feels too far off to be real, doesn't make sense to me right now. This may sound maudlin or overly dramatic, but I've lived it, I am living it: Tomorrow is never promised.
I don't spend recklessly, but I do prioritize the life I'm living right now over a future that isn't promised
I'm a freelancer with my own business. I work very hard and I don't play enough. I'm working on that, too. I'm coming around to the idea that I deserve to enjoy my money. Not least of all because I don't have the life I thought I would: I've lost my husband, the children we planned to have, and the house in the city we saved up to buy, all in one horrible instant. I don't use this tragic loss to justify reckless spending. Rather, it's a lens I use to bring into greater focus the choices I make, both financially and in other areas of my life. I've loved and been loved deeply and I've lost profoundly. And, I'm still here. I'm working to rebuild my life. I'm adjusting my financial goals and behaviors accordingly.
When tax season approaches and the messages urging all of us to contribute to retirement planning start to circulate, momentum building toward the deadline, a noisy, ticking pressure-filled clock, I tune it all out. When I feel myself buckling under the pressure, I call to mind what my wise and wonderful financial planner, Liz, once told me during our first session after I bought my first home: "You live in your biggest investment — in a sense, it's your retirement fund, especially once the house is paid off."
Last year, I didn't contribute to my retirement savings, or the year before that. If I have a particularly good year this year, I may well contribute, but it won't be at the expense of doing the things that make my life full right now. I've learned that life is short and I want to spend money on experiences and things I can enjoy now, but that doesn't mean I'm spending money recklessly. I'm making the right financial decisions for my life — the life I have now, not the life I thought I'd have and naively believed was promised.