Seniors & Aging

Hard-earned wisdom about money sustains seniors in tough times

Genevieve Schneider, 89, left, and sister Laura Quimby, 88, grew up and lived in Whatcom County. They now live at Lynden Manor in Lynden.  " You did whatever you had to do to survive, "  says Genevieve.
Genevieve Schneider, 89, left, and sister Laura Quimby, 88, grew up and lived in Whatcom County. They now live at Lynden Manor in Lynden. " You did whatever you had to do to survive, " says Genevieve. PHILIP A. DWYER THE BELLINGHAM HERALD

Like many seniors, Genevieve Schneider enjoys sharing how she survived and often thrived in a challenging economy.

Both widows, lifelong Whatcom County residents, Schneider, 90, and her sister Laura Quimby, 88, live together at Lynden Manor.

Schneider says she and her sister were wise with their resources and work ethic. Along with other local seniors and experts, the two offer advice on assuring the financial resources to maintain a comfortable old age despite difficult times.

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Bellingham certified financial planner Wayne Kwiatkowski has worked with countless local seniors over the past 27 years.

He says it's important for pre-retirees and retirees alike to establish solid goals for the rest of their lives. He says seniors should ask themselves serious questions about what they really want to do, where they want to travel, and what else they still hunger to accomplish. This will help focus their financial goals.

That takes discipline, seniors say. "It's never too late to save, and the years go by so fast," notes Dorothy Schuler, 82, who likes to share that she was the first female member of the Mount Baker Motorcycle Club.

Schuler and her daughter Judy Nelson, 61, live a few miles apart in Bellingham. Judy and Terry, her husband of 44 years, live in the family home and Dorothy, who has eight grandchildren and eight great-great grandchildren, lives in the Woodrose Senior Apartments.

"I'm doing OK," says Schuler. "But I think we (she and her late husband) should have saved and planned more, and that's the best advice I can give. We lived pretty much paycheck to paycheck. It wasn't always easy."

"When Terry and I started out together, Mom helped us a lot," Judy says. "We learned to be pretty frugal at the start, and now that's helping us. Without being aware of it, I think you just absorb those life lessons."

"NEVER, EVER TOO LATE"

Bellingham's Rick Steele, 55, is both a certified public accountant and a certified financial planner. He's seen many mistakes and misconceptions when it comes to financial planning.

"Not factoring inflation into retirement planning is one of the big mistakes people make," he says. "Over the last 20 years, health care has increased at about 7 percent annually, for example, so people need to plan for long-range inflation. Most people definitely have not "over-saved" for retirement."

Another mistake is not diversifying investments. "The mix varies according to the individual's risk tolerance, time horizon and what you need to do to achieve your goals," he says. "Diversity in investing is very important. You don't want to have everything invested in one type of stock or in one company."

"I really think it's never, ever too late to save," Steele says. "There's always something you can do. Ten percent is reasonable if you're young, although it may need to be more like 20 percent if you're in your 50s and you have little or no savings. All other things being equal, pay yourself first, and look for ways you can save. Make saving a priority.

Bellingham's Ron and June Kaaland, who celebrated their 60th anniversary May 22, have their own way of dealing with finances.

"Money?" Ron jokes when asked about sharing 60 years of marital financial wisdom. "We never had any money to argue about!"

Ron, 86, spent many years operating several businesses including his construction company. June, 85, enjoyed keeping the books and still takes care of family financial records.

Like many seniors, June feels she has still-valuable advice to share about what worked financially during their teenage years in the Great Depression and during the difficult years of World War II.

"We were both raised on dairy farms here in Whatcom County during the Depression," she says. "What we learned to do was share, barter and exchange goods and services with other people. Everything was traded, including labor. That's how we got along."

The Kaalands say financial success also hinges on communication and mutual values in a marriage.

"Before we were married, we discussed finances along with everything else," June says. "Make sure you share the same values with your spouse, or at least discuss everything."

"And, girls," Ron adds with a wink, "marry a guy who's a good conservative."

WISE INVESTMENTS

At Lynden Manor, sisters Schneider and Quimby and two friends, Bill Roberts, 90, and Mildred Likkel, 83, aren't shy when talking about general financial wisdom.

Roberts feels fortunate to be near his wife, Hilda, who is living at nearby Christian Health Care Center. When he was 65, they took out a pair of long-term care insurance policies, and he feels it was one of their best decisions.

"I think we did the right thing," says Roberts, who enjoyed a varied career in teaching, music and business.

"Had we not had those policies, we would have had to pay a lot more additional money for living expenses.

One thing that leads to peace of mind, and consequently good health, is not having to worry about where your next dollar is coming from.

Steele agrees. He often sees "either too much or too little insurance, although most people are under-insured when we're talking about disability, long term care and life insurance." In addition, he says, people who plan to solve their financial needs by continuing to work in their late 60s and 70s often fail to realize what can happen if they're unable to work, or if other pressing life issues pop up.

"What I would stress is the importance of getting a good financial adviser, one who doesn't take all your profits," Roberts says. "Start buying good-quality stocks and one or maybe two long-term-care insurance policies."

"What I really like to do is get people thinking about options they may not have really thought about, getting them to realize the potential in the assets they do have and getting them to understand the clock is ticking," Kwiatkowski says.

One of the biggest mistakes people make, he says, "is keeping too much money in low-interest accounts.

There are good, safe investment vehicles, such as certain bonds, that can bring more income. My goal is to maximize retirement income potential."

Typically, he offers a half-hour conference for free. His fee to lay out a comprehensive investment plan might be $500 to $1,000.

'WE WEREN'T WASTEFUL'

Likkel, a member of Lynden High School's class of 1943, is a widow with nine great-grandchildren. She advises people to look seriously into investments long before they'll need the money.

"I have no real regrets, although I do wish I had saved more," Likkel says. "I would advise anyone to try to save 10 percent of your income if you can. I wouldn't be here if we hadn't. A certain percentage of whatever you earn should be put away, and I also recommend paying down your mortgage."

Schneider, who operated a farm and later a mink ranch with her late husband, agrees that people need to give saving much stronger consideration, even those who can't save much.

"We didn't really think about saving," she says. "We kind of lived one day to the next, although we never lived high on the hog. I did a lot of canning and we butchered a lot of our own meat. We weren't wasteful. We were just plain ol' farmers."

'You just learned'

Bellingham's Kay Minge, a 1934 graduate of what is now Nooksack Valley High School, is 94 years old and has lived in her home near the shore of Lake Whatcom for 53 years. She gets along with Social Security, along with help from her son, who lives nearby. Friends and family take her shopping, to church and other places she needs to be.

Minge, who has five great-grandchildren, and her husband raised two children and were married 55 years until he passed away in 1992.

"I managed the money when my husband was working as a carpenter and we were raising our family," she says. "We paid cash, and you really learned to stretch that dollar hard.

"I had a huge garden, and we grew our own vegetables and fruits. I canned everything. You just learned how to be frugal in those days. We were poor during the Depression, but you know what? With all that, we didn't know we were poor."

She says people can weather tough times, but only if they're willing to accept frugality. "My only advice is to learn to live frugally, which young people won't always do because times are so different today. I just want to tell younger people that they need to prepare themselves financially."

Birch Bay's Sheila Clemens, 62, admits she should have followed that advice more closely. She has been married 46 years and works in a variety of capacities at the Blaine Senior Center.

"I just bought a motorcycle when I was 61," she says with a laugh, indicating she's doing OK financially. "But you know, I wish I had started saving when my brother-in-law and sister-in-law did. But it's never too late. I invested $7,500 eight years ago and now it's $12,000."

Clemens chuckles when she thinks of her real-estate sales. "We bought a home in California in 1969 for $18,000 and we sold it in 1989 for $194,000," she says. "Now it's worth $750,000. So you never know. But I don't regret any of that. I love it here, and I really love helping all the seniors at the senior center. Life is good."

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