What I’ve Learned About Money Over 60+ Years

Two of my favorite things about finance blogs are real numbers and real stories. And today we’re going to share a jam packed mixture of both :)

This note you’re about to read was sent over by a new reader of this site who’s gone through an array of ups and downs throughout her lifetime, and was kind enough to let me publish this. She’s a Sexagenarian (person in her 60’s, ow ow!) and shares her decades long journey with money so far.

Well worth the entire read!

I’m really enjoying your blog. I thoroughly endorse your constant message to your readers to SAVE!

I’m retired now, but my husband & I started IRA accounts the first year they came out. I was fortunate enough to be employed by a large company that started a matching 401(k) plan in the 1980s. Even though the investment options offered pretty much sucked at first and the expenses were hidden (and high), the plan improved over time and I stuck with it for 23 years.

By the time I retired in 2006 the IRAs were $260,000.

I never made more than $55,000, but we watched our expenses and created a lot of wealth by buying and selling homes which was a good investment until 2008. Fortunately, we downsized in 2004 before the financial crisis so we were able to bank the proceeds.

However, after 2 very costly divorces, I would urge you to suggest to your female readers to keep at least some of their finances and wealth separate from their husband’s. I never took a married name which in the 70s really upset our insurance company and the IRS for a while, but they finally got the message. It is documented that most couples fight about money! Couples need to talk money BEFORE they tie the knot! Love can be blind, but it shouldn’t be stupid!

Oddly, in both marriages we were absolutely on the same page where budgeting, spending, and savings were concerned. I just wasn’t prepared for the first marriage ending after 27 years because my spouse realized they were transgender, and the second marriage ending after 10 years due to domestic violence. You never know what life has in store for you!

Currently, I’m in my mid-60s, very happily single, and enjoying the new life I have made for myself (and my dog). I own my own little home in Southern AZ, have no debt and am living comfortably on my S.S. and pension. I continue to let my savings grow. I don’t need to touch it yet. All this is do to the fact that I always saved whatever I could. It definitely pays off in the long term!

After the “crash” in 2008 my IRA accounts had shrunk to $186,000. However, I did not panic and sell. I started educating myself. I starting attending a local investing class that emphasized ETFs over mutual funds to lower costs. I must have watched “The Retirement Gamble” a PBS FRONTLINE program originally broadcast in April 2013 a half dozen times. I subscribe to BARRONS and read the business section of my local newspaper and the NY Times on Sunday. I watch CNBC on the net. I keep abreast of financial trends. I got out of mutual funds entirely and went to index funds, ETF sector funds and large cap individual companies that pay consistent dividends. I have some monies also in an MLP and REIT.

[Side note: My husbands & I have attended multiple financial “seminars” or “informational” meetings. We also interviewed with various “financial planners” (whatever that may mean) over the years. We never found one who didn’t want to sell us something or manage our accounts for a 1% to 2%/year fee. I’m sure there must be some honest planner out there, but I never met one! Beware!! Do not trust anyone with your money until you have thoroughly investigated them!]

After my divorce when I was 60 and really struggling, I used my low income to convert some of my traditional IRA money to my Roth IRA account with very little tax consequence. My portfolio is now $420,000. I also have a deferred annuity I bought with qualified money that I will start tapping after I’m 69-1/2. It has grown from $73,000 to $130,000 and should provide about $1,000/month income from that point on. I bought a long term health care policy when I was 55 from MetLife (who is now out of the business). It will pay $255/day for a 4 year term. Boy was that ever a good move! It only costs me $891/year.

I have NO debt. I OWN my home. I use credit cards exclusively to earn $$ back; typically about $200/year. However, I pay off my balance every month. If I can’t afford it, I don’t buy it.

I live in a delightful retirement area with many recreational, educational, and social opportunities. I am a regular volunteer at our local animal shelter and the local camera club. I have my 500 mile patch from our local hiking club.

Life is good! Everyone has struggles. I am not unique. It is how you manage the set backs in your life that matters. Because of my part-time business of dog sitting/dog walking/dog boarding I am off to the Pacific Northwest where I have rented a beach house for the month of July!

Cheers and keep spreading the news of fiscal responsibility.


What a ride so far! I’m so glad there was a happy ending to all this :) Pretty bad ass too that she hasn’t even tapped her savings/investments yet and lives off Social Security and her pension. I manage all my money without regard to SS or any other accounts/funding outside of my control so I very much approve. Better to count on money that’s there vs money that may or may not be!

Here were 10 other financial nuggets I caught:

  1. Start saving now and let time work its magic
  2. You don’t need a large salary to grow a nest egg!
  3. Talk about money with your lovers!!!
  4. Educate yourself and know where your money is at all times
  5. Beware of financial seminars and people trying to sell you $hit
  6. Shoot for no debt in retirement! Not even your home!
  7. Credit cards are not the devil if used responsibly
  8. Everyone has struggles – don’t let it define you!
  9. Side hustles aren’t only for spring chickens ;)
  10. And lastly: if you can’t afford it, don’t buy it.

I hereby anoint you my favorite person of the week, new reader ;) And we should all be so lucky to come out of this thing alive and well cared for financially!

I hope this inspires any of you just waiting to pull that trigger on something financial yourself… Gotta get those money seeds planted and growing today!

Additional reading based on some of these nuggets:

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  1. Jayson @ Monster Piggy Bank April 20, 2015 at 6:17 AM

    That is my ideal retirement life where I can say that life is really good and I don’t have to worry about earning money anymore. All I have to do is to enjoy every single day, J Money.

  2. Emma | Money Can Buy Me Happiness April 20, 2015 at 6:20 AM

    Words from the wise! What an inspiring woman.
    The one thing that I notice about successful and happy retirees is they almost always live in a paid off home. Paying rent when you are living on social security would really hurt in retirement, that’s why I really don’t believe in renting for life. It’s just not wise for most people.

    1. J. Money April 20, 2015 at 8:48 PM

      I think that’s the best bet for most people, yeah. My problem is that I’m not good at staying in one spot for long so I’d have to adapt at some point or else it would still make no sense to own even in retirement. But I’m thinking my kids and wife will have a say in this at some point, hah.

  3. Jason @ Islands of Investing April 20, 2015 at 6:24 AM

    What a wonderful story, despite some of the unfortunate events along the way. It just shows you what having a great attitude, along with some great consistent money habits, can really do for you over the long run – no matter what difficult circumstances might come your way!

    Thanks so much for sharing, these personal stories are just fantastic to hear about.



  4. MyMoneyDesign April 20, 2015 at 6:26 AM

    That was quite a gold nugget of an email to receive! Bravo for her. The thing I especially like about this story is her attitude. Despite any struggles or setbacks she was still able to make things work. This just goes to show you that you don’t need to have a +$100K salary to pull off a comfortable retirement.

  5. Mrs. Frugalwoods April 20, 2015 at 7:09 AM

    Wise words! I especially like her advice about talking to one’s partner about money before getting married! Disagreements over money are the #1 cause of divorce and yet, so many couples sweep the topic under the rug and just assume they’ll “figure it out.” I’m a huge fan of money transparency and shared goals in relationships–whether you have joint finances or not. Thanks for sharing this!

  6. Mrs. 1500 April 20, 2015 at 7:45 AM

    What a great story! Thanks for letting her share her story, J.

    For me, the two most important points are:
    Do your research – no one cares about your money as much as you do.

    Don’t panic in the low points.

    1. J. Money April 20, 2015 at 8:51 PM

      And in the low points of the stock market, buy buy buy! :)

      1. Master Nerd April 24, 2015 at 1:09 PM

        Exactly! I look forward to market dips. That just means everything goes on sale, and I love shopping from the clearance rack while I chuckle at everyone paying full price!

  7. Mark@BareBudgetGuy April 20, 2015 at 7:46 AM

    Great reminder to be ready for anything and not to expect that our financial or personal lives will go exactly according to our perfect plans.

  8. Free Money Minute April 20, 2015 at 7:50 AM

    Great works from someone who has lived life. Life is not easy and is not a straight road. However, saving can help you smooth that road out, especially the earlier you get started. Very motivating for anyone who has had setbacks. Just keep putting one foot in front of another and keep putting one more dollar in your savings account each day.

  9. Stefanie @ The Broke and Beautiful Life April 20, 2015 at 8:13 AM

    Wow, what a story, great lessons. I think if I ever get married, rather than keeping separate accounts, I’ll favor a prenuptial agreement.

    1. J. Money April 20, 2015 at 8:53 PM

      I’ve never once met anyone who’s actually done a prenup, have you? I like it in theory and always hear about it but very much want to meet a couple who have one. That’s not rich and famous :)

  10. Maureen @ A Debt Free Stress Free Life April 20, 2015 at 8:29 AM

    Great story and lessons. I’m only 53 and my home is just about paid off. I don’t want to retire and be worried about money. No debt either. Retirement should be stress free living.

    1. J. Money April 20, 2015 at 8:53 PM

      Way to go, Maureen!

  11. John @ Frugal Rules April 20, 2015 at 8:32 AM

    Awesome story & great lessons! Life rarely ever happens the way we would imagine it and kudos to her for taking what many would take as excuses and grow on them to set herself up very well. Thanks for the inspiration on a Monday morning!

  12. Chris @ Flipping A Dollar April 20, 2015 at 8:34 AM

    That is a great story. Someone who went through a big struggle and still came out on top with a positive outlook!

    I think the real moral of the story is that divorce is costly for any retirement plans regardless of the gender. Not sure why this would only apply to women.

    One question I have is the comment about ETFs and Mutual funds. When I invest in Vanguard, these two types are identical in terms of fees. Maybe this is because I’m doing it in a large enough quantity? I like the mutual funds because I can do random amounts instead of having to pay for the whole share.

    1. J. Money April 20, 2015 at 8:54 PM

      Great question indeed. I’m gonna guess it’s just because Vanguard is kick-ass :)

    2. Master Nerd April 24, 2015 at 1:11 PM

      If the fees are the same, than I guess it’s a matter of comparing the performance of each.

  13. Brian @ Debt Discipline April 20, 2015 at 8:36 AM

    Great story from someone who have lived it! Start saving and educated yourself about your money. Pretty simple and straight forward advice.

  14. Nicola April 20, 2015 at 8:54 AM

    What a great story :) I think it’s great that she’s managing to live off less and still enjoy her retirement – that’s exactly the position I hope us to be in when we get there.

  15. Lisa O April 20, 2015 at 9:12 AM

    Enjoyed that story! It is so nice to see a hardworking person finish the work race and be happy and feel financial security. I especially love that she never made over $55K and is living life the way she wants :)

    1. J. Money April 20, 2015 at 8:55 PM

      It’s a beautiful ending indeed :)

  16. Michelle April 20, 2015 at 9:18 AM

    My biggest take away from this post is that everyone has struggles. It’s how you manage those struggles that makes all the difference. I appreciate her sharing her story and wish her continued success! Am feeling inspired right now.

  17. Mortgage Free Mike April 20, 2015 at 9:32 AM

    This is amazing! Thank you for posting this. All of her top 10 tips are great, but most importantly– is to remember that everyone has setbacks. She did not let them stop her from living a happy life. Such a great post.

  18. Barry @ Moneywehave April 20, 2015 at 10:24 AM

    I wish more Canadians took this advice. Many millennials have not seen a housing crash in Canada and that stock market drop of 2008 seems like a distant memory. We’re much more interested in spending over saving.

    1. J. Money April 20, 2015 at 8:56 PM

      Don’t worry, it’ll happen again and for 5.5 seconds people will stop and save ;)

  19. Amy @ DebtGal April 20, 2015 at 11:30 AM

    Thanks so much for sharing this truly inspirational story. “New Reader” sounds like a pretty awesome lady!!

  20. Jamie April 20, 2015 at 11:56 AM

    Awesome article. I totally agree with #2, #3 and #6 but all ten hold great value.

  21. Walnut April 20, 2015 at 11:58 AM

    I’d like to know how women actually accomplish keeping separate accounts that are protected in case of divorce. I owned my house when my husband and I got married and I was absolutely floored that when it came time to sell, he had to sign off on the sale. His name wasn’t on the title, the mortgage or anything, yet it was still considered a “joint” asset.

    My husband and I each have our names only on our 401ks, Roth IRAs, HSAs, and vehicles with only the new house house, checking and savings accounts being “joint” assets. We have full visibility to balances on all of these items and in the back of our minds, we always figured that if things went south, our retirement accounts would still be our own and we’d mostly have to figure out the house and liquid accounts.

    Yet, it seems like the legal system doesn’t care one iota about that and a judge would have the liberty of splitting things in any way they (and the attorney’s) pleased. I’ve always been a subscriber to the “agree on an exit plan while you still love each other.” I certainly married with forever in mind, but WHO KNOWS what could happen.

    1. J. Money April 20, 2015 at 8:58 PM

      That is pretty interesting… I suppose if you had something written up with how you’d like things to go in the event of divorce that would hold some weight, eh? Like a prenup after you’re already married? Is there a term for that? :)

      1. Isabel April 22, 2015 at 2:48 PM

        Its called a postnup!

  22. Kim April 20, 2015 at 1:13 PM

    How refreshing to see someone who doesn’t use excuses to let unfortunate circumstances derail her happy retirement. I wish people in my family could share that attitude instead of blaming everything on other family memberes, the economy or people in Washington.

    1. J. Money April 20, 2015 at 9:01 PM

      According to a lot of people it’s all Obama’s fault :) He’s probably the reason there are thunderstorms and flooding going on around my house right now… And probably why there are wasp nests on my front porch as well. That dang Obama….

  23. Shannon @ Financially Blonde April 20, 2015 at 1:20 PM

    I think number 3 is HUGE. I just sat with a couple last week that is engaged and we went through their numbers and when I shared how much credit card debt the future hubby had, the future wife almost fell out of her seat. She really started to question how smart his money choices were if he racked up so much debt and hearing that number also made her uneasy about combining the finances which is something he wants and she’s not so sure about. It’s crazy how we are more comfortable swapping bodily fluids than we are balance sheets.

    1. J. Money April 20, 2015 at 9:02 PM

      oh hot damn – I’m totally tweeting that!!!! :)

  24. Jason April 20, 2015 at 1:57 PM

    I too am on my second divorce. The first one had no financial consequences but the second one has cost me loads in attorney fees and it looks like I’m going to loose the house. Talk about money and dare I say it… consider a prenuptial agreement. Divorces are rarely “fair”.

    1. J. Money April 20, 2015 at 9:03 PM

      Sorry to hear man, geez. Doesn’t sound fun in the least.

  25. Fervent Finance April 20, 2015 at 1:59 PM

    Wow great story! After two big divorces, she’s still killin’ it! Even has a side hustle with the doggie businesses. This just motivates me more to ride the roller coaster which is the stock market (not try and time it), and save as much as possible.

  26. Done by Forty April 20, 2015 at 3:43 PM

    With so much of the PF writing about what things are GOING to be like (when we’re FI, when we retire, when we finally pay off debt), I really love hearing about the perspective of someone who’s gone through the process.

    That perspective is GOLD.

    1. J. Money April 20, 2015 at 9:04 PM

      Gotta do both I suppose!

  27. EL April 20, 2015 at 4:29 PM

    Great story and it goes to show, you don’t need much to retire 260K when she left her regular job. Granted we don’t know how much cash flow the real estate provided for her. ITs a motivating story, and makes a Monday that much better. Good Luck new reader.

  28. Elise @ Simply Scaled Down April 20, 2015 at 5:01 PM

    This piece is great! I love hearing how people retire and don’t touch their IRAs or 401ks and only live off of other earnings. Its gives me hope that one day we will be able to do the same (and retire earlier than planned).

    I also agree that in a marriage both partners should contribute evenly to retirement accounts. I currently stay at home with our children and while I earn no income outside of the home, I am still a valuable member/ financial partner in this family. If my husband were to get hit on the head and decide he wants to leave (because I’m awesome…and that’s the only way he would leave..haha), I like knowing that a lot of our accounts are still in my name, making settlements much easier for both parties. Its not a doom and gloom approach, just a safety precaution.

    1. J. Money April 20, 2015 at 9:07 PM

      Haha… I’d like to be the one to hit him on the head if that ever comes to fruition please :)

  29. Tawcan April 20, 2015 at 5:53 PM

    Great story and definitely shows that you need to do your research when it comes to handing your money over to someone else to manage it for you.

  30. Amanda S @ Passionately Simple Life April 20, 2015 at 9:32 PM

    Great story! Sometimes it’s nice hearing about the average joe (or jane for this example!) who makes it work when many out there say it is impossible!

  31. Carlotta April 21, 2015 at 6:05 AM

    *its magic. :/
    sorry I’m an Italian grammar nazi ( fascist?)
    I love your blog and I’m very envy of the american system in this case!
    I have an appointment in the bank next week to start my private pension account, wish me luck ! ( in Europe in 2015 that means that I hope for a 1% interest/year, for 20 years…I know. )

    1. J. Money April 27, 2015 at 11:57 AM

      Good luck! Can never go wrong with saving no matter what the deal is :) And thx for that typo notice, I actually love it when people let me know because I suck at catching them!

  32. Prudence Debtfree April 21, 2015 at 9:22 PM

    I love this woman’s story – especially what you’ve identified as item #8. The upheavals in her life would be enough to derail many people – but not her! Item #2 really impresses me too. People who manage well financially on modest incomes humble and inspire me. Lots of wisdom to be gleaned here.

  33. C@thesingledollar April 22, 2015 at 10:39 PM

    I love this! She sounds like she was both a frugal saver when she could be, and excellent at rolling with the punches and creatively sorting her life out when it threw her some major curveballs (to mix my sports metaphors.) I hope I’m like her in thirty years, although probably without the two marriages :) Actually, if she wanted to do a followup on being single in her sixties, I’d read it….

    1. J. Money April 27, 2015 at 11:59 AM

      That would have to go on my other blog, SingleIsSexy.com ;)

  34. Reelika @Financially Wise On Heels April 23, 2015 at 6:05 AM

    Awesome, I am going to share this with my audience as well! Great advice based on experience. However, important thing to keep in mind is that there is no one size fits all. People need to diversify and see what works for them. Love this post! :)

    1. J. Money April 27, 2015 at 11:59 AM

      Good! I hope you do – she’d love it! :)

  35. Christine @ The Pursuit of Green April 23, 2015 at 8:36 PM

    I love this story!!! New Reader you are amazing. It’s rare to actually hear stories of success of this kind. Really great energy booster for all of us.

  36. kay ~ lifestylevoices.com April 26, 2015 at 4:38 PM

    WOW! That was an inspiring story. Thank you for sharing, Anonymous Reader! :)