Thinking About Retirement: My Blue Collar Roots

By Kimberlie Lairson of Portland, Oregon, who describes herself thusly: "All my collars are blue, even when I bleach them."

It comes as rather a shock for my husband and me to find ourselves where we are today, staring retirement in the face and actually feeling prepared. Our children are raised and on their own, living their lives much differently than how ours started out together. My hardworking husband has kept his nose to the grindstone and through much hard work and perseverance managed to move (only very recently) to middle management. I went to work in a City Bureau after being a stay-at-home mom for 18 years and am now vested in PERS. Who knows if it'll be there when the time comes for me to withdraw it. We are by no means wealthy. We still budget and are responsible with money. But we now feel a freedom to spend on 'big ticket' items without having to float a loan or charge on a card.

When I look at our parent's situation, still living from one Social Security check to the next I wonder, how can this be? Why are they still struggling so? Why aren't we? Why aren't our children? And why is the nation's unemployment rate still so high, especially in Oregon?

I come from a hard working bunch. My parents made just enough money to keep food on the table and buy new school clothes every fall. Christmas and birthdays were observed but certainly not extravagant. When I married at a very young age, my new husband worked at Mickey D's while I worked at a competing fast food restaurant. My husband's parents were also hard working, blue collar Oregonians. My husband's dream was to go into the Air Force and learn to fly. We had no clue you couldn't just sign up and strap yourself in the pilot seat and fly away! So he quit his minimum wage paying job and enlisted. I stayed home and worked to save money to join him with our new twin daughters. Life was hard for us newly wedded, newly blessed former fast-foodies. We followed our parent's example and spent our money putting food on the table and making Christmas and birthdays a priority. We did without most conveniences, repaired our own used 12yo used car, paid rent in 2 bedroom apartments in low rent districts, rarely ate out, etc. But we didn't know the difference and were happy, blissfully so. We followed the example set for us. Sure we got in over our heads a few times. But we ultimately pulled out of it.

So is it just 'the luck of the draw' that got us to this place? Our parents tell us that while they were working and raising families retirement was a faraway goal and when they thought about it, if they thought ahead to it, their understanding was that Social Security would cover their needs (PDF, 4 pages) and what few investments they were able to scrape together would certainly be enough to leave a generous inheritance for us. They didn't see themselves still budgeting their lives after all those years of hard work. They've been lucky enough not to have to get part time jobs as some retirees have done. There won't be much to 'will' the children and grandchildren. They still do their own car repairs, still send $5 in birthday cards and eat out only occasionally. All those years of 'scraping' have gotten them to their golden years, still scraping.

Our children on the other hand entered the work force knowing that the benefits package, retirement options and other 'perks' would make all the difference in deciding which jobs to accept. They've chosen well and planned ahead. Our son in law lost his job at Intel the day our granddaughter was born and he was unemployed for the first 12 months of her life. They had also just moved into their new house. But because of our son in law's savvy in negotiating the job in the first place, his shrewd investing and his unemployment benefits, they came through it. They were able to keep the house, pay their bills and drew on the example of their blue collar parents and grandparents. They budgeted, they scrimped and they saved The experience also served as a learning tool for negotiating the next job. Our daughter is still a stay-at-home mom and they live a comfortable life.

So I do feel sort of lucky. I didn't plan to ever have to retire, you don't retire from parenting. My husband had his parent's mindset about retirement for years, rather 'we'll be taken care of'. But now that we are here, facing it, anticipating it, even embracing it I wonder, why do I feel so damn guilty?


  • Randy (unverified)

    You planned well and worked hard. You should not feel gulity but proud.

  • (Show?)

    I work with retired folks for a living. I help with their insurance planning, etc. so I'm probably more familiar with the finances of retired people than just about anyone besides their financial advisors. Anyway... you are lucky but, more importantly, you've been smart. So many folks I meet with live SSI check to SSI check. And those checks ain't that big for most people (and are getting smaller with the increases in their Medicare Part B Premiums !!) - especially single women in their 70s who didn't enter the workforce at 14 like I did, but at 40 or 50 after their kids had grown.

    In the current generation of retirees, there is truly a chasm between the "haves" and the "have nots." But much like anyone who has worked hard and planned for life (at any phase - be they middle-aged or heading into retirement) and has had the luck and ingenuity to be successful, there is no reason to feel guilty if you happen to fall into the "haves" column. Pat yourself on the back, for God's sake, you've earned it - then maybe treat yourself to a cruise. ;-)

    And, you know, if you still feel guilty, there are ways to help seniors who are less fortunate than you are. Meals on Wheels, etc. Nothin' like a little volunteer work to assuage some guilt. :-)

    Oh and as a PS - don't let any smarmy insurance person try to replace your ODS Medicare Supplement that you should get w/ PERS - just to "save you a few dollars" - the prescription benefits are too good to lose and well worth the $10-15/month premium difference.

  • Marv (unverified)

    You'll get over it. I am in roughly the same situation, but I worked past retirement age because I was afraid to let go. I also felt guilty for a while, but our kids and other people kept pointing out that we earned it. I was wary about talking about the things we did because I thought working people would resent it. It turned out they look at us as roll models. Don't forget that the downside is that you had to get old to do it. Relax, enjoy it, you deserve it, you earned it.

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