Financial Well Being: One Year Later
On a windy, sun-filled day, I returned to Rancho La Puerta. It had been an entire year since the “hot-tub confab,” and I looked forward to seeing women I had come to know, understand, and care about.
I rode across the border from San Diego with a sense of excitement, and when we finally pulled into the plaza in front of the retreat’s main entrance, I bounced happily from the bus. While the luggage was being unloaded, I strolled down a walk laden with vines and fragrant flowers to the dining hall so that I could have a light lunch.
“Joan!” called a familiar voice. I turned to see Sadie Chung sitting at a large table on the back patio. We hugged, and after going inside to ﬁll my tray with salad, minestrone soup, and some delicious seven-grain bread, I joined her.
Sadie looked wonderful. Her skin had a fresh-washed glow that made her appear much younger than her sixty years. Her face had lost much of its puffiness, and her forehead wasn’t quite as crinkled with worry as it had been a year earlier.
“I heard you’re writing a book,” she said.
“Yes,” I replied. “It will be out next year.”
“What’s it all about?”
“Of course, dear,” Sadie said. “That conversation really had quite an influence on me, and it inspired some changes. You know, until we met, I was going to stop traveling, playing bridge, entertaining, just about everything except the volunteer work I do—all because my money was such a mess. You inspired me and you helped me ‘clean out my closet,’ so to speak, and left me with time for the things I really love.”
“Thank you so much, Sadie. I’m glad I could help you, and I hope my book will bring the same message to other women, too,” I said.
Later that night, Sadie and I met for dinner. We found our old table near the open hearth and greeted old friends as they walked by. I spotted a pregnant woman walking arm in arm with a young, attractive man.
“Rachel! Please join us,” I said with glee.
Rachel and her husband, David, were beginning to ﬁll us in on their year when June breezed in. She had an energy and a spring to her stride, and an air of confidence that simply hadn’t existed a year ago.
“I haven’t kept still for two weeks straight!” June announced. “Steve and I are on the go all the time, and my mother is even taking a few trips every now and then.”
Not only had June made some smart choices for her and Steve’s money, but she had also proven to be a good manager of her mother’s cash. At the age of seventy-three, her mother needed a nice return on the dollar to produce a good, steady income. So June took $100,000 from her father’s insurance policy and put it into several sturdy ETFs. She put the other $25,000 in some Treasury notes, which mature every six months, in case her mother needs money to take care of emergencies, or wants some extra cash to splurge on herself.
Steve, as it turns out, is very happy with June’s newfound financial savvy. “He’s real proud of me,” June said. “I thought he’d pull that man thing about being the provider and the money manager. But he was relieved, I think, to be able to step aside—or stand by me—so we could do this together. We’re partners now.”
“That’s just great,” I said.
“Yes, June, it is. I guess all of us made some changes over the year.” Rachel beamed.
That was David’s cue. “I don’t know if Rachel told you, Joan, but we had delayed having a child because we both were afraid we wouldn’t be able to afford one.”
“We feel so relieved now, knowing that our financial future is progressing,” Rachel jumped in. “I’m telling you, there’s nothing like peace of mind. Nothing.”
Our little group was shaping up for a reunion, but we were missing a few of our hot-tub companions. Betty and Linette were late, but would be here for sure.
Maggie, though, would not be coming. I had talked to her shortly before Christmas, and she said the retreat was not in her budget this year. She’d started working a number of craft fairs, selling her handmade photo frames. She was doing so well that her second job was beginning to eclipse her primary one. But she remained at the photographer’s studio because of its health and insurance benefits, which would be too costly for her to assume on her own.
From our conversation, I could tell that Maggie, too, had changed during the year. She’d grown more mature and more certain of herself. And the sweetest part is that Maggie and her mother have a closer, more adult relationship. They’ve been helping each other to understand their money lives better, and Patricia has even joined Maggie’s investment club.
We all missed not having Maggie around, but Betty with her quick wit, and Linette with her infectious good nature, filled in the gap. They missed our dinner because they’d been delayed at the airport, but Linette was waiting for me in my room when I returned later that evening. Her eyes sparkled, and the red rim left from a trail of tears was no more.
“Kimberly and I are doing really well,” Linette said. “I hated leaving her for a week, but my mother was delighted to have her all to herself. When I was married, we always had a nanny stay over when we went away. But you know something? I don’t miss it in the least.” We sat curled on the soft cotton rug before the ﬁreplace as we sipped from mugs of hot cider.
“You seem much more peaceful,” I said.
“The divorce is final, and I feel terriﬁc, mostly because I’m in charge of me now, not Marshall. I know where my money is going, and I know where I’m going. It feels great,” she said.
Using the $55,000 in stock options she got in the divorce, Linette opened her own brokerage account and, with the help of a good coach, made more intelligent investment choices than Marshall had by choosing three wave-of-the-future ETFs. Her Money Machine is now steaming. She also rents out the beach house for part of the year, and the income helps pay for Kimberly’s schooling.
My companions were walking easier and brighter paths in their lives, and I was touched by the great strides they had taken and the courage they’d shown.
The next morning, I went hiking up the mountain with Betty. Once again, we were awed by the dramatic colors early morning brings, and we drank in the sweet rosemary-laced air. As we neared “the pig,” that jagged touchstone that marked the highest point of our journey, Betty turned to me and announced she had something important to tell me. “But I’d better wait until we’re back down the mountain,” she added mischievously. “You’ll be so surprised, you might trip and fall!.”
She broke the news as we crossed the footbridge leading back to the Ranch. “I quit my job,” she said with a grin. “Now I just work part-time as a consultant. I made a little studio in my basement, and I started making pots. I also held my very first mentoring session with a few girls at a high school in Oakland.”
“Betty, how fabulous! Congratulations! But how does your stomach feel?” I asked.
“Calm as a clam. I couldn’t be happier. And you know what? Although I’m working part-time, I’m still generating enough income to pay my mortgage and meet my necessities, plus feed my Money Machine,” she said. “It’s a dream come true.”
A friendly breeze brushed by us as we paused by a tree, stretching and breathing deeply to cool our bodies and let our hearts slow down to their normal pace. The wind captured the rosemary scent. We could tell it was going to be a beautiful day.
Ah, such sweet pleasure!