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- After years of working for nonprofits, I’m approaching 60 with no pension or retirement savings.
- Although financial aid is only “supposed” to flow from parent to child in North America, this has not been the case for me.
- It was embarrassing, but my daughter and son-in-law help me financially.
I will soon be 60 years old. For me, the prospect of retirement is terrifying. Or rather it would be, if I didn’t have a girl with whom I have an exceptional relationship.
I’ll eventually have to stop working in my drivel, obviously. When I did, without help, I would have an incredibly low standard of living. Impossible because my total income from the Government of Canada will be around $1,500 per month.
I have never had a job with a pension, nor been able to save. The average price for a one-bedroom apartment in Toronto, where I live, is currently $2,100. Luckily, I live in a rent-controlled two-bedroom apartment that I pay $1,800 for. I share it with a recent refugee, which helps both of us.
I’m on a waiting list for decent subsidized senior housing, which could cost me as little as $600 a month. The waiting list is about 12 years, but I found out in time. If I need life support, well… I can’t bear to think about it. The pandemic has proven that Ontario, like many other North American provinces and states, views seniors as indispensable.
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My financial journey has not been linear
I grew up with racial and class privilege. My intention was not to waste it, but rather to spread it. I worked in the nonprofit sector, trying to spread opportunity and hope more evenly. Much of this work, I regret to say, has been undone. After many layoffs, I chose to run my own business, which failed spectacularly along with my relationship. I haven’t been encumbered with any assets since.
My mother died when I was only 26. I was too embroiled in the grief and stress of caring for my father to deal with the windfall that followed. My inheritance was not enough to live lavishly, but enough to put down a large down payment on a house. I put $45,000 on a $149,000 property, I remember exactly. About an equal amount that I kind of let slip through my fingers – and my husband’s, which were very smooth. We were too young not to want to travel and eat in restaurants and buy adult stuff.
I was able to stay in the housing market until my business went bankrupt. But as a woman over 50, I found my employability extremely limited when I needed to get back into the workforce. I couldn’t even get the low-paying job I had done before without a postgraduate degree. And I didn’t have one because I had become a parent at a very young age.
Things started going south pretty quickly. I only got short term contracts and ended up working as a nanny. I got into more and more debt, not living much, but just buying groceries, prescription drugs, and sometimes a little art to keep my spirits up.
I eventually had to consolidate my debts through an insolvency agreement, which destroyed my credit rating but saved my bacon. Almost. Some months, I still failed, if I had had an unexpected expense or succumbed to a little urge to splurge. It really sucked. I had to think long and hard about how I got here and try to forgive myself.
Asking my daughter for help was awkward, but we make it work
In North America, where adversity is meant to be overcome and where the myth of the autodidact still dominates, the only direction financial help is meant to flow is from parent to child.
Much has been written lately about the fact that only millennials who can bank on mom or dad will ever buy homes. Some of my contemporaries still go to the bank of their very old mums or dads to make ends meet, because this generation, which paid 3 x annual salary for a house instead of 10 x annual salary, was able to save. Many of my peers, especially artists, have no pensions and inflation has become unmanageable.
I had to do the unthinkable and go to the daughter and son-in-law’s bank, not that her stash is large — they’ve just finished a slew of college degrees and are settling down.
Why is financial support from a child to a parent so shameful? In many cultures, this would not be the case. Elders are respected, even venerated. They are taken care of first. But not in my social circle.
It was very embarrassing to have to ask my daughter for help. All I could do to save face was joke that I would provide more than she got for her money in free daycare if she had kids. What she did. And I did; I cared for my granddaughter full time for a year during the pandemic. I keep going back and forth to help her new twin sisters as often as my part-time job and writing gigs allow. As we navigated this mutual aid arrangement, my daughter persuaded me to stop doing the math.
My daughter Emma, now 36, often reminds me of the values I instilled in her (she wasn’t exactly a red diaper baby, but rather a pink one): addiction is not a weakness , economic polarity is appalling, greed is about the worst fault a person can have. And money is not a means of assessing value. So I try to heed his reminders.
I no longer write myself IOU notes to follow his help. I’m glad I succumbed to a sales pitch for whole life insurance years ago; I feel good to leave at least that, because there will be no inheritance. What makes me feel much better, however, is knowing that my beneficiary doesn’t care about the policy and would rather not collect on it for a very long time.