You saved it, so go ahead and spend it

Some folks think we are not being frugal enough in our semiretirement. A column talking about our high-cost health insurance and travels, and how our budget allows for $60,000 a year in expenditures, seems to have thrown a few of you for a loop.

“Your column makes me wonder if you are even retired,” wrote a reader from Fountain View, Calif., echoing the views of many others. “Isn’t spending $60,000 too much for frugal people like you?”

The mere fact we are writing this column shows we are not completely retired, although none of us works full-time. Doing some - but not too much - work in retirement is becoming the norm, not the exception. While the main reason we do it is because we like it, the added income clearly comes in handy.

As to your question, why would any amount you can easily afford be “too much” to spend?

Through the years, we’ve built a reputation for being disciplined savers. Now we are enjoying the rewards of that discipline, even as we still put away a few cents of every dollar we make.

The problem - far more prevalent that we thought, based on our mail and what financial planners tell us - is that many people who’ve lived frugally all their lives have great difficulty allowing themselves to spend their money, even when they have more than enough.

“They put so much effort into savings, they are afraid to use the money,” said Benjamin Tobias, president of the Financial Planning Association of Broward in South Florida. “But that’s why you saved it,” Tobias said, so at some point you could spend it.

On to a reader e-mail on another topic:

“Your column about fraud against older people reiterated many of the points that are usually made in such situations,” a worried wife wrote. “The one pertinent point that your column overlooked is the willingness, actually eagerness, with which older people talk to anyone ... nonstop.

“My husband is no dummy. He has a doctorate in chemistry and worked well into his 70s. He is sharp about investments and well aware of the dangers involved. However, he will talk to any person making a cold call, and for an interminable length of time. I am always nervous that one time he will slip in his eagerness to have a conversation, any conversation.”

Cold callers on the phone pitching questionable - if not outright fraudulent investments - or fake sweepstakes prizes or charitable donation scams, are usually reading from carefully crafted scripts. They’ve been trained to gain their victims’ confidence by appearing to be interested in them personally.

So start off by recognizing that scam artists are pros at what they do, including engaging their victims in conversation. Many elderly people, often lacking other social contacts and craving for them, can be easily drawn into those conversations.

That, among many others reasons, is why seniors should strive to remain socially active and engaged, so they don’t need to depend on cold callers for companionship.

We close with yet another e-mail, this one from a former Marine in Auburndale, Fla. He said he felt has was from another planet after reading about the newly retired man who spent most of his time reading the newspaper and watching television while his wife did all the work.

That man, as you may recall from our previous column, wanted to spend the first few months in retirement “just relaxing.” His wife, who still worked full time, ended up doing all the housework, too.

“My wife has always (worked) and still is working full time,’' this ex-Marine said. “From the day of my retirement in 2002, I have done all the yard work, housecleaning and cooking. This was simply common sense; she works full time and I don’t. I cannot imagine it any other way, or anyone unwilling to do their share.”

Neither can we.

Humberto and Georgina Cruz are a husband-and-wife writing team who work together in this column. Send questions and comments to or