My Wake-up Call
Never ask, Can I do this? Instead ask, How can I do this?
I was mostly daydreaming when it hit. It was an emotional jolt with the sensation I would expect from being struck by lightning. I’d been gathering data and statistics in preparation to write this book, but at that moment my heart was not in it.
I considered approaching the subject with humor. I was thinking of pithy zingers like, “I will never be over the hill. I’m too tired to climb it!” Or, “Middle age: that time when you finally get your head together and your body starts falling apart!” And I’d lobby hard for this title: Real Women Don’t Have Hot Flashes; They Have Power Surges!
That still makes me laugh.
As I was thinking about all of this while rummaging through websites and publications relating to retirement, the official sign-up window for Medicare applicants caught my attention. On a lark, I decided to figure out the month The Smart Woman’s Guide to Planning for Retirement and year that I, your humble, much younger author, would be ready to hang it up and prepare for the end.
There I was, sitting at my desk, half staring out the window, thinking to myself that every car in the parking lot was black, and working on a mental grocery list. That’s when I got a rush of adrenaline that made my heart pound. Calm down, I told myself. I must have put in the wrong birth year. Yeah, that had to be it.
I started over and came up with the same result. I couldn’t believe it. Nine months from that exact day my window of opportunity to sign up for Medicare would open. Nine months! That’s 270 days. It might as well have been the next day for how close it felt.
Let me explain something. It’s not like I don’t know my age. And yes, I am aware that Medicare is for people who have reached the age of threescore and five. But this was the first time in my life that those two facts converged on the highway of life, with my name splattered all over the collision.
For the longest time I just sat there, stunned. Why didn’t I see this coming? It’s not like I hadn’t thought about retirement or even made a few plans here and there. But it was always so far away—like in another lifetime. I would deal with it later at a more convenient time. Why waste my youth worrying or planning for something over which I had no control?
When finally I could speak, I informed my husband.
“I’ve entered the sunset of my life,” I said.
“What brought that on?”
“Nine months . . . I have only nine months before my final act.”
And in my mind, I became a fully developed senior citizen. My wake-up call was not the kind of gentle tap on the shoulder your mom might give you to let you know that dinner is ready. I’m talking about a kind of wake-up call that blasts you out of a sound sleep, sets your heart racing, and puts your mind into overdrive. My emotions were all over the place. Fear, panic, dread—you name it. If it was an unpleasant feeling, I had it in spades.
How did this happen? How could my life just sneak up on me like that? My reaction was overly dramatic, I can see that now. But it was real and something I will never forget. I am grateful, too, because it jerked me out of my fantasies. Am I the only woman on earth who secretly assumed she would never have to deal with the issues of retirement? While I don’t think I ever uttered the words, in my heart I knew I was too young to be old. And I would do anything to remain “not old” forever.
Over the years, I’d had much calmer and gentler wake-up calls, which I chose to ignore. It took this call with all the force of a ship’s horn to get my attention. Have you had a retirement wake-up call? I can promise you they intensify with age.
Had I paid attention in my twenties, I would have responded to that sweet, tender voice that suggested I put ten dollars a week into an aggressive investment program. Another call came in my thirties when a very kind employer set up a plan for me to invest in real estate. Did I respond? No. I believed I couldn’t afford to participate. I would do that when I got my finances straightened out. I could go on and on, but I think you get my point.
Wake-up calls can take many forms. It might be the annual statement from your tax-advantaged retirement account that projects what you’ll have in there by the time you retire, or it might be your estimated benefits statement from the Social: The Smart Woman’s Guide to Planning for Retirement Security. It doesn’t have to take something severe to get you thinking about and planning for the future.
In fact, smart women don’t procrastinate. They take action, even if only by taking baby steps. This book could be the gentle call you need to wake up and get going.
I’ve learned a lot over the years but nothing more important than this: Failure to plan is expensive. Choosing to anticipate is the way to head off the big financial blows, because you are buying a commodity more precious than money: time. I don’t think it is a mere coincidence that I am writing this and you are reading it. Our paths have crossed for a purpose.
I cannot know for certain what challenges you are facing or where you are in your life story, but the subject of saving for retirement has brought us together.
As for my age, I’m back to not caring about it that much. Moving into this next season of my life has been remarkably painless because I know that I get to bring the wisdom and experiences of my life with me into this new adventure. And that has filled me with a sense of excitement and purpose.
To learn more about the author Mary Hunt or to buy her new book,
please visit The Smart Woman’s Guide to Planning for Retirement
Mary Hunt is the award-winning and bestselling author of several books, including 7 Money Rules for Life, as well as a sought-after motivational speaker. She is founder and publisher of the interactive website Debt-Proof Living (www.debtproofliving.com), which features financial tools, resources, and information for her online members. Her books have sold more than a million copies, and her daily newspaper column is nationally syndicated through Creators Syndicate and enjoyed by hundreds of thousands of readers. Hunt speaks widely on personal finance and has appeared on shows such as NBC’s Today, FOX News, Oprah, and Focus on the Family. She and her husband live in California.