The other day Crystal from BFS was sharing her experience volunteering for meals on wheels and it suddenly reminded me of a story of my own. Basically for Crystal, seeing people relying on meals on wheels for nutritious yet not so palatable food is a big motivator for her to save for retirement.
I had a very similar experience when I was growing up. We lived in a 3 decker apartment building. We lived in one unit and rented out the other two. When we first moved there in the 70’s, we inherited an elderly tenant in the process. I was in grammar school so this goes back a way’s but I remember the following things about him. The guy was old, frail, and extremely thin. He could barely walk, yet he lived in the 3rd floor apartment because it was cheaper. That apartment was a mess by the way. The toilet was plumbed where the sink was supposed to be in the kitchen. I can’t say that I remember people visiting him or how he managed to get his groceries. I think my parents may have shopped for him because I do remember going into his apartment on a regular basis.
For heating, he had a stove/heater combo unit that long have been discontinued. It was a gas stove with pilot lights. Every time I came over his house he had a tin of unopened beans sitting on top of his burner and a soggy used tea bag. He never had the lights on in his house, ever. In the summer, it was sweltering hot and in the winter it was always cold. As a kid I thought all of this behavior was really odd.
For every question I’d ask about this guy I got a variation of the same answer. “Why does he always sit in the dark?” “Because he doesn’t want to have a big electricity bill.” “Why does he store his beans on his stove?” “Because he’s using his pilot light to heat his beans so that he doesn’t have to turn the burner on to cook them”….and on and on it went. “Why does he eat his beans out of the can?” “Because he doesn’t want to use soap, water, and gas to clean his dishes.” “Why does he eat so many beans?” “Because they are cheap.” “Is that why his house smells so funny because he farts so much from eating all those beans?” “Yes, now please stop asking questions.” Eventually after my 2o questions, I think I figured it out. This dude was dirt poor and he wasn’t doing all this strange stuff because he wanted to, but because he had to.
This poor old man led the most miserable existence. He spent his golden years in a dark and dirty apartment, eating beans every day and spent most of it living under extreme temperature conditions. He wore the same clothes for days on end and I’m sure he was severely malnourished. I’m sure once babci dug her garden his diet got a lot better, but by that time, he was pretty far gone already. Sadly we couldn’t save him and he ended up going into a nursing home not too long after we moved there.
Even though I was only 7 at the time, it was one of those life changing experiences. Seems like negative role models tend to stick with me a lot more than positive experiences. I knew even way back then that I’d rather work my butt off so I could have money versus live in such dire straits. Some people think I obsess over money a little too much and have too big an emergency fund in my online savings accounts, but it’s experiences like these that scare the living daylights out of me. Maybe these days there are enough government safety nets in place that this type of life is no longer the norm, but who’s to say what the future holds.
Do you have a similar story that motivates you to save?