Seniors & Aging

Simple joys and faith sustain Blaine great-grandmother

Mary Lou Felts, 73, volunteers at the Blaine Senior Center.
Mary Lou Felts, 73, volunteers at the Blaine Senior Center. PHILIP A. DWYER THE BELLINGHAM HERALD

Name: Mary Lou Felts.

Age: 73.

Residence: Blaine for 2½ years, but grew up in Tennessee.

Career: Office work in churches.

Family: Felts has a daughter who lives in Blaine and eight other grown children.

Unexpected move: While visiting her daughter in Whatcom County, Felts had a heart attack and went through open-heart surgery. Eventually, she decided she liked the weather and health care here, so she decided to stay.

Hobbies: Felts likes to sing, go to the Blaine Senior Center and play Scrabble. She goes to a writing class where she pens stories about her life and volunteers at the front desk. She is also involved in a program through her church to help boys ages 17-22 get their GED. Her daughter is in charge of the program and also works with Whatcom Literacy Council.

Retirement planning: "I have never thought of saving for retirement. I don't have a retirement plan. In the senior center, there are more than me that live day to day without much in retirement. I live on what I get for Social Security."

Advice for family: "They are in different circumstances, but I suggest they look into preparing now for retirement. My oldest son is 53 and my youngest is 33. I have nine children."

Saves on: Housing. "I have moved into an apartment for senior citizens and you pay according to what you have coming in, so my rent is much less than if I went through a normal, commercial renting process."

Splurges on: "I really don't splurge too often, but probably at Christmas for Christmas gifts for my 23 grandchildren and 19 great-grandchildren."

Financial strategy: "I don't plan for big purchases," Felts says. She doesn't need a car, since she lives close to a senior center and walks to the grocery store. "I do want to put away and get a good computer, so I just save for it. I don't plan to put anything on payments."

Tracking expenses: "I keep record in a check book and have a little notebook I keep it in," Felts says. "I put down totals for food and rent and electricity and be sure I never go over what comes in."

Picking priorities: "I pray about it and I consider what it will cost and how much it will mean to me, not just now but in the long run."

Does technology help? "I think it would, and that is one reason I want (a computer)," Felts says. "Another good thing about the senior center is they have a class about learning to use the computer."

Best way to save: "Basically staying out of debt."

Big picture: "I think the first thing is get with a good church and good friends so that you won't spend money on things that don't matter."

Looking back: Felts says she would have "prepared better" for retirement.

Sound advice: "Think about what you are doing and count the cost, rather than just buying what you want at the moment. I think if people have a plan, they get much more out of their money."

Caveat: "I think credit cards are a real problem. They are good at certain times, but they are used too freely and cause problems for young people."

Message to youth: "They really should prepare and save for the future, even if they don't make much and even if it is hard. Put a little away and invest in bonds or savings. Put a little away each month. I hadn't done that, and I wish I had. If you start young, you'll be better off when you're older."

Learning to manage money: Felts says she learned a lot from her mother, who took care of the finances in their house. Also, she learned a great deal from experience. "I had to go to work very early, and along the way I have had very good bosses who have helped me be aware of taking care and how to do bookkeeping."

Keeping perspective: "I'm a person different from most, because I truly believe money isn't anything," Felts says. "I'm very active in church work and I'm a born-again Christian. I do pray about my finances." Felts remains active with attending classes, volunteering, teaching Bible classes and more. "I keep busy and I don't have time to sit around and put money on a pedestal. I have everything I need."

Greatest gift: "My salvation and my children," Felts says. "And my grandchildren and my great-grandchildren."