Sage: Wife fearful husband may crack up over nest egg!

Dear Sage:


We are four months into retirement, and my husband is licking his chops as he checks on our 401(k) and other savings, and I’m worried that he might pounce on our modest but comfortable savings like a vulture. I remind him that we did not win the lottery and that we need to follow the conventional wisdom and limit ourselves to withdrawing roughly 3 or 4 percent of our retirement funds per year. But he’s saying things like, ‘Hey, can’t we take out just an extra $5,000 or $10,000?’ And I tell him, ‘Fine, we’ll do that next time you get through a night without snoring like a bull moose and the next time you clean your john.’ After all, we could live 30 years and will face major costs for health care, house repairs, cars and other normal expenses, plus I would like to leave part of our nest egg to our children and grandchildren.  


Hubby is talking about joining a country club. He’s scouring travel sites for European cruises. He mentions expensive restaurants, theater tickets, a boat, and a man cave bigger than the state of Rhode Island. I tell him that if he spends too much of this money, he’ll be so stressed that he’ll end up in an urn on our mantle, likely with my assistance. Help!!!


                                                                                                          -- Terrified in Texas



Dear Terrified:


If you are truly worried that Dear Hubby may go off the deep end, you might consult a mental health professional to prevent an emotional disorder that could lead to serious impulse control issues and financial Armageddon. If he is otherwise healthy mentally, you might do well to set strict and realistic spending guidelines, perhaps with a financial expert. Good choice: Someone who played for the Cowboys, who weighs 350 pounds and is 7-feet-six, and who promises to drop by once a week just to check on things.

That aside, let’s assume that Dear Hubby is being a knucklehead and is itching to do the equivalent of eating his way through a candy store even though he’s a diabetic. Many people, including lottery winners, end up broke. The Sage personally knows a couple who won $2.5 million and lived a $500,000 house. Then they renovated their home, gave the kids down payments for houses, took extravagant trips, bought a motorhome, had plastic surgery, and got a $4,000 parrot that, at the end of their spending spree, spent his day screeching, ‘You idiot! You moron! You imbecile!’ Sadly, the couple had to take out a hefty mortgage on a smaller house to pay off the bills and struggled to make the payments. Winners of huge lotteries have suffered the same fate, and many have ended up destitute, depressed, and wistful for the good old days, when they couldn’t afford even a hummingbird feeder.


You might be well served to turn to more reasonable and realistic hobbies and interests – ones that don’t require the income of a professional athlete – such as jigsaw puzzles, tennis, kayaking or the Texas Parcheesi Champions Circuit.


Instead of a boat, go sailing for an afternoon – any boat owner will tell you that it’s much more gratifying to get addicted to sailing on someone else’s boat that it is to endure ownership, which has been described as standing in a cold shower tearing up thousand-dollar bills. Likewise, don’t bark up the wrong tree by trying to run with the big dogs who enjoy $300 dinners; instead, suggest nice lunches at reasonably priced restaurants you like that serve hefty portions – lunch often will cost half of what dinner will cost, and still you’ll likely go home with dinner as well. Avoid the $12 glasses of wine – buy a whole bottle for the same price. Many retirees have their glass before or after going out to a restaurant, which is not recommended either if (1.) you’re driving and (2.) it’s breakfast. If you have to show off for people who are showing off to you, well, then, you may all end up becoming Wal-Mart greeters working nights and weekends well into your 90s, and you’ll wait excitedly for hamburger to go on sale at $1.99 a pound.


Instead of that European cruise, go on a domestic one if you can afford it. There are many ports from which to depart along both coasts and in a few other states (note: Nebraska is not one of them). Some people save for these trips and go every three or four years, sometimes with kids and grandkids, and often to mark milestone anniversaries or birthdays. Whether a cruise or other type of trip, direct Hubby’s energy into finding the most economical ones that are great bargains. He can research this until he’s blue in the face and every point south. That in itself can be a great hobby. Ditto gaming the airlines for the most reasonable fares, usually well in advance. Meanwhile, plan local weekend trips to give you both something to look forward to all the time. These, too, can be very rewarding and inexpensive, especially if you go with other couples who insist on paying for the gas, breakfasts, lunches, dinners, wine and souvenirs. You’ll be glad you’re not them!


Instead of a country club, try a regular $30 course or mini-golf. You’ll avoid the $250,000 initiation fee and be less frustrated on the course.


Good luck. May your savings remain healthy until the Second Coming, or at least until the day before.


Humbly Yours,

The Sage