Fear of running out of money

This July a bunch of bloggers gave retrospectives of their time after achieving financial independence and leaving The Man.  I think I missed a couple, but here are three of them: mrtakoescapes , our next life , and retire by 40 .

And in these uncertain times, I just can’t.


Let me back up a bit.  We have had enough money for a while that we could retire to DH’s home town where his parents still live, buy a decent house for under 100K (or a nice one for under 200K) and live off our savings.  We would have nothing to buy and nothing to do.  There wouldn’t be money for frills or travel, but we’d see his family a lot.  The library isn’t very good.  The hospitals are neither near nor great.  (DH’s mom is a healthcare professional and is adamant about going to the city several hours away for anything important.)  This is really a non-starter for either of us, especially with kids.

Right now, and only recently, I think we have enough money to retire in place where we are right now using the 4% rule.  We’d have to cut out city trips, eating out, donations etc. and we’d have to drive to DH’s parents’ instead of fly.  But we could do it.  Most of our money is locked into retirement savings, but some of that is Roth principal and some of that is 457, so I think we could access it.  I would get bored or extremely upset here (because I would throw myself into political action which would be frustrating and unpleasant) with nothing to do.

We do not have enough money to move to paradise and live indefinitely.  There’s so much free stuff to do in paradise.  We have so many friends living in paradise.  Politics are so much less brutal in paradise.  (There’s no job for me in paradise that allows me to keep my professional identity or we’d move in a heartbeat.)  We can’t afford to buy a house in Paradise in a decent school district even using our current house’s proceeds as a downpayment.  If we’d bought a house 10 years ago, sure, but then we’d have gotten a million dollars in appreciation and would be even richer.

So that’s where we are, working someplace that’s not great to live and could be worse, wishing we were somewhere else, but not enough to actually move there because we’re not willing to make those trade-offs.


Lately I’ve been thinking– what would be the number that would allow us to live in Paradise without income?

And then I worry about the future.  What if health care costs continue to skyrocket and Paradise doesn’t have enough wherewithal to keep the ACA going state-wide?  What if property taxes or rental costs go way up?  What if the US becomes dangerously fascist and starts targeting people like me and we need to flee?  What if we start regressing in the next generation so that our kids don’t have the ability to move up without a trust fund?  What if we regress to being even less like the American Dream and more like those regency England books that I read where it is truly dangerous not to come from a family with money?

And I start understanding the impulse to leave a monetary legacy for my kids and their kids.  So they have more second chances.  Screw the millionaire next door.  We’re living in a different world now.  Maybe.  And there’s plenty of families that don’t just piss away their parents’ legacy on luxuries.

And if I can continue earning an upper-middle-class salary and saving it for doing meaningful work, why would I stop?  Even if I’d prefer to spend my days hiking and trying out new farmers markets and chatting with other highly educated liberals in a state that believes in bringing the bottom up.

Maybe there’s still a number I could retire at, but it would have to be one in which my salary is trivial compared to my investment income.  Not just one where I count on being able to not quite spend down before I die.  And I don’t see us ever getting there.  The future is too uncertain.


This fear is new and entirely caused by our political landscape starting to resemble dictatorships with wide inequality.  It is more important than ever to be a “have” because it is getting harder than ever to move out of “have not”.  The American Dream may have already been mostly a myth, but I still benefitted from it.  It will be harder for those in my children’s generation.

Have your beliefs about retirement and leaving a legacy changed?  At what point could you say goodbye to The Man?

32 Responses to “Fear of running out of money”

  1. Jenny F. Scientist Says:

    My great fear is healthcare. I’m chronically, and sometimes acutely, ill, and I would literally be dead without access to consistent, good healthcare. So I’m afraid for either one of us to stop working, because healthcare is getting more and more expensive (out of proportion to income) and what if we couldn’t afford it one day? Plus, the baseline Trumpland anxiety kind of magnifies all the other ones. What if they wreck the insurance market completely? What if… any number of things that seemed unlikely before?

  2. slnoonanj Says:

    I’m pretty lucky to live in a place I really like, working at a job that provides meaning. My husband is also an academic, so we have large chunks of time where we can work from anywhere, allowing us to travel a lot. I guess I’d retire if I won the lottery or something (note: I rarely play the lottery, buying one ticket when the jackpot is huge, so this is not going to happen), but otherwise, I am pretty happy with my lot in life. So I don’t really want to retire – I’d miss my work. I guess things are different when your job is for “the man,” but one of the big disconnects I have when reading FIRE blogs is that I don’t have a burning desire to retire early. That having been said, my husband and I are talking a lot more now about plan b – what we’ll do if things really start going south in this country. We live in a very blue state, so I think the odds of that happening are not high, but it never hurts to think about it. And it’s really more of a – what to do if things go all Handmaid’s Tale around here – not a – change the financial course we’ve plotted for ourselves plan.

  3. Linda Says:

    I think one of the reasons I was able to move to my Paradise was that I have no children and feel no great need to leave a legacy for anyone. That really does change the equation quite a bit.

    Now that I’m here, my wanderlust has diminished such that I really don’t mind that I haven’t traveled anywhere for vacation since the move over four years ago. There is so much to explore and do locally that I don’t mind staying local for my time off. (And there are other reasons like health issues that have made it appealing to just stay put for the most part, too.) Since my vacation budget is slim to nonexistent these days, this is helpful.

    I still see myself working for “The Man” pretty much until my social security retirement date, and likely beyond. Healthcare costs are a big part of that. I have a chronic condition now that requires lots of doctor visits and more surgeries. I still have another 14 years until I’m at Medicare age, assuming it is still around then. Since I live in a large Blue state, it’s possible that the state could manage to push through universal healthcare somehow before my SS retirement date. I’m not sure if that could change the equation or not, though.

    My current joblessness has thrown a bit of a wrench in my financial plans. But at least I made it out here to Paradise. It’s not a bad place to be “stuck” if my financial future gets more bleak.

  4. becca Says:

    Well that’s a very interesting take. Makes me consider how the top 20% enable fascism.

    It’s like, *individually* it’s rational to want to leave a legacy for your kids to ensure they are “haves”… even if that means your grandkids will more resemble Trump’s in terms of personality/values than you would have envisioned (for the record, I believe 100% that vast sums of money actively *make* you a bad person, not just that many bad people are willing to do money laundering/ect to get those Trump style fortunes). And that in turn reduces both your time/energy and motivation for working on the collective good.

    I have considered in depth how the every day mundane stuff becomes awful. How people who work in prisons or even slaughterhouses can teach us how easy it is to adjust to becoming a concentration camp guard. How the mindless grind of bureaucracy can keep us from seeing things as ever changing for the better. How the utter dysfunction of government starts in the places where people are most poor and need government the most and thus fuels hatred of government.
    I had not considered how the “good” people just give up in the collective good. It’s worth thinking on.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      There’s another post on drafts about where you are in the income/wealth spectrum rationally determining how important it is for there to be a social safety net. (And of course, the social safety net or lack thereof determines how important it is to be upper income…)

      Some people do good things with money. Warren Buffett seems like a good guy all around.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      (Also, I don’t think it’s the top 20%… I think it’s the top 1% or less and their vast propaganda network. With widening inequality the 80th percentile is a long way from “safe”.)

  5. nicoleandmaggie Says:

    Boy is this kind of a downer of a post. :/

    • chacha1 Says:

      United Shitstorm of America = downer. :/

      I have never felt, from the day I started thinking about it, that I would ever be free of money anxiety. Seeing as I’m 52 now, that’s 34 years of money anxiety. It’s why I have stayed in my mind-numbing, soul-deadening, pointless, unproductive line of work since 1989 (or rather, since about 1995 when it ceased to offer any meaningful personal rewards). It’s why I didn’t dare go freelance even after investing in two separate courses of study, why I’ve gradually done less and less of all the things I used to do “for me,” why I just don’t really even dream about overseas travel. And why I am profoundly and continuously grateful for my robust physical health.

  6. Mrs PoP Says:

    Well, you know Mr PoP quit his job about a month ago, but I’m still working and expect to for another year or so most likely at least.
    I think part of it, though, is that while we theoretically have enough to last us forever on a budget that is realistic today, we don’t expect to be out of the workforce forever, which is why we tend to call it a sabbatical instead of a retirement. We expect to take a couple years off, then maybe start our own business or do something more meaningful with our time even if it isn’t maximizing our income potential – personally working 3 days a week remotely this summer has been fabulous and I could totally see doing something like that long term even at a significantly reduced income. The savings that we have built us allow that degree of flexibility.

  7. Revanche @ A Gai Shan Life Says:

    Like Jenny, I literally cannot afford to not have affordable healthcare.

    Even before taking the political *waves hands* situation into account, I need a LOT of cash (well, assets) to feel safe enough to retire for real because I’ve been through the wringer already and have no desire to go anywhere near that ever again.

    Still, unrealistic as it may be for us to retire early given the uncertainties of healthcare and “enough” income, I am keeping it at the forefront of my mind as a target to aim for anyway.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I don’t think I can even come up with an “enough” number anymore. I used to say 5 million– enough to buy a house in paradise and pay property taxes etc., but now I don’t know that there is an upper limit for me to feel truly safe if I can keep bringing in more money.

  8. Cloud Says:

    This post probably does a better job than anything I’ve written of explaining why I decided to stop being an independent consultant and go back to working for “the man” despite how much I loved my independent consultant life. I just felt increasingly insecure about money, even though I was making enough. A large part was healthcare worries, because I no longer trust that even someone with a manageable pre-existing condition like mine (mild asthma) could buy reasonable health insurance on the open market. But I also wanted more money and a more predictable income so that I can buffer my family from any increasing BS that comes our way from the wider political situation.

    I am lucky that I can trade a reasonable amount of effort/time for a good salary and still have enough time off to scratch my travel itch. Also, since I live in a part of the world I really love, I can do short trips that are really cool, which means sometimes I can scratch my travel itch without much time off at all!

    I don’t really have a desire to retire early. What I really wanted is what I have – the ability to be somewhat picky about the work I do. I think my financial goal is to eventually be able to be even pickier, to the point where I could feasibly be semi-retired.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Having a big buffer just seems so much more necessary now. I read all these stories about people turned away from the US in the 1930s and wonder how much wealth we would need to escape a fascist/Nazi regime. It’s an insane thing to be thinking about. (And what about everyone left behind?)

      My completely manageable pre-existing condition is having once been diagnosed with infertility! That excluded me from a lot of pre-ACA insurance even though fertility treatment wasn’t covered (not even counting the PCOS underlying the infertility).

      • Cloud Says:

        If you want to look into how much money you’d need to reliably escape if things get worse, you could look at the immigration point systems in use in places like Canada and New Zealand. At least in the NZ system, a certain amount of money counts towards your points. This is how Peter Thiel, for instance, has a visa that would let him move to New Zealand. In the NZ case, you also get points for education level.

        Since I’m married to a NZ citizen, we don’t have to worry about buying our way into the country, but I would either have to see the need to leave early enough to be able to sell our house and conduct an orderly move, or we’d have to be willing to walk away from most of our assets and start over from scratch.

        These sorts of trains of thought are why I’m donating so much to political candidates and organizations like Let America Vote ahead of the midterms. It feels like a good investment.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        I have to admit, I have looked into Canada…

        Definitely a good investment! My current personal rule is any weekday that I don’t do a political action I have to donate $25 to a #resistworthy cause. (This morning I called about https://5calls.org/issue/sexual-abuse-detained-immigrants , with an extra dollop of https://5calls.org/issue/august-recess-town-hall for my rep who only does tele-town-halls.)

  9. Debbie M Says:

    In your place, I would definitely keep working. I’m wondering, is the goal of spending summers in Paradise reasonable?

    But to answer your questions, I have already said goodbye to The Man, and my beliefs about retirement and leaving a legacy have not changed. Except I’ve been realizing that I do actually have someone to whom I could leave a legacy (my nieces).

    It does bug me that I rely almost completely on my pension and on the free health insurance I get in retirement (though I will have to pay for Medicare as well when I turn 65 to continue to qualify). But I also have a house, which can be sold if property taxes become unaffordable. I do have my little Roth IRA, though if my pension tanks, it will be because the stock market has tanked. And I do qualify for Social Security (I’m one of the lucky ones who got to pay into both a pension and Social Security–and get credit for both).

    Being retired for three years, everything has gone about like I expected except for two things. One is that there have been a lot more travel opportunities, by which I mean a lot of people have been inviting me to travel with them and/or to them. And I have mostly been saying yes, too. The other one is that my boyfriend has been seriously underemployed for years now. So I actually did look for short-term work opportunities, and then actually got some.

    Health is scary. Already I’ve been to the hospital (appendectomy) and though I haven’t yet seen the bill (except for the anesthesiologist), it’s not going to be pretty. I do have good insurance, though.

    And politics. I think I’m relatively safe from persecution, but that doesn’t mean it’s okay to be surrounded by it. Already, the income differences, poor school quality, and horrible health insurance system mean that a huge number of people are stuck in horrible situations that lead to a worse environment for everyone. For example, so much “American” food is crap because we support companies who cut horrifying corners to make things cheap/affordable. (In a Mexican grocery store, I saw “American-style cheese” which was that embarrassment that we called processed American cheese food [spread] or, in my house, plasto-cheese (or spray-cheese-in-a-can). I say this even as a person who likes queso dip made with Velveeta.)

    I am doing mild research on escaping. All the fun places are too expensive for me. And mostly colder than I want. Panama will take me (because of my pension), and I do have a head start on learning Spanish. And life in Panama City would be okay, but I love so many things where I live right now–favorite restaurants and grocery stores. A doctor who listens, explains well, and knows stuff. Friends, of course. Etc.

    I’m not sure how well we could escape anyway. So much stuff we learned about in American history happened all over the place. Like the Great Depression, of course the World Wars, the ridiculous housing crisis, racism, sexism, homophobia, global warming. The Netherlands and Norway may be awesome, but they are so small, they don’t always get what they want. Canada is so cold.

  10. SP Says:

    Excellent post – this captures a lot of my feelings about RE, although we don’t have enough money to not work and stay where we are yet anyway. Even if we did, I’m not sure I could do it with all the uncertainty in the world. And I just don’t have a huge burning desire, though I’m interested to see how that changes when we have our baby. I can imagine a scenario where I retire and my husband would continue on. I do worry about the dynamic that could create, and we’d have to be confident he’d continue like his job in the long run to pull that trigger. (Plus, people would not consider me retired but “just a SAHM”.)

    We don’t have an obvious escape route, but have spent more time than I would have ever guessed figuring out which other countries we think my husband could get a job in. I suppose we aren’t the only ones with the same ideas and it will get harder if the situation deteriorates.

  11. nicoleandmaggie Says:


    Before Roe vs. Wade, rich (anti-choice except for their own families) people would fly to Japan to get abortions.

  12. undine Says:

    Wouldn’t you be bored if you retired right now? I think that’s what you mentioned above.

    I don’t know how old you are, even if you (speaking as a general “you” now) retire at 45, that’s approximately 50 more years of life that you have to fund if you live to 95 as a whole lot of people do these days. That’s assuming that there’s nothing chronic or debilitating, like Alzheimer’s, and that there would still be affordable health care left, which is under attack constantly in this political climate. Unless you’ve fully funded your children’s education through your savings (which you probably have), that’s another 15+ years of monthly loan payments in the $2-3,000 range, and that’s if they take out loans, too.

    If I have any point (besides being a downer–sorry), it’s that I don’t think I will ever feel secure enough to retire, so I guess it’s good that I like my job.

    • undine Says:

      Also, I had looked into Canadian residence years ago, when I lived there and when they actively wanted Americans. It was daunting: first getting a job offer (which “Canadian preference” made extremely difficult), then coming up with enough money to fund everything, answering all health concerns (even an eyeglass prescription stronger than usual was enough to nearly disqualify you), waiting to apply for landed immigrant status, hiring the necessary lawyers, waiting 5 years after that to apply for citizenship, etc. If you’re a tech millionaire, it’s easy, but not so much for people in my discipline.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Depends on where I retired! Paradise has really great libraries. :)

      If we were low income because of retirement, I think my kids would qualify for some pretty nice grants (like I did). If we retired here, state schools are relatively cheap and the kids could live at home.

      But yes, health care costs are uncertain and frightening.

  13. First Gen American Says:

    Theoretically we could do it too…. but I am fully the meat in my sandwich generation. I have 2kids and an 85 year old parent living with me that has ever increasing needs.

    Healthcare and college expenses are the two biggest things that drive me to continue to work my main job . I also like the other benefits. I like teaching a fitness class to get paid to workout and get free stuff like hotel rooms and various discounts. I think I will always want to a little side job for the freebies.

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