Last week I received a sad email from Sophie in New Zealand, she wrote:
"I just wanted to write you a wee note to tell you of my experinces in the last month. I was away in the US with my daughter having a new baby (she paid for me to go over to her) and my husband was killed in a car accident. He was 52 years old, and I am 51. We had been married almost 32 years and were very happy.
The main reason i am writing to tell you this is that while I have followed your blog for several years now and posted sometimes I am on my own now and am very unprepared. We have some debt, a mortgage etc. my income for the next five years is going to be about a third of what he was earning. I have never worked outside the home. After 5 years my payments will cease and I am not sure what I will do then. We had no life insurance but do have a little savings which will help with funeral expenses etc. I have learnt so much from your blog and I know I can do it, but I do somewhat regret that we were unprepared. We never thought anything like this would happen to us and that we had time to get into a better position. I am grateful that the government here in New Zealand will help me for the next five years as I know in other countries there would be no help for me. There is no use in looking back and I will go forward and do the best I can."
Although Sophie didn't specifically ask for help, I asked her if she would like me to show this email on my blog, open it up to helpful comments, and for me to put in my two cents worth. She was happy to do that. I think the major help Sophie will have will be from people she knows, but sometimes people who are are further removed, especially people who live in a similar way, can come up with suggestions that others may not have thought about. That was the reasoning behind my offer, as well as offering the hand of friendship and support to someone going through a sad and difficult time.
My first thought was that Sophie is lucky to have that buffer provided by her government - five years financial support. We have a similar payment here in Australia for widows born before 1955. My second thought was that, depending on how much equity you have in your home, Sophie, you probably have a sizeable asset you can use. If there is not much to pay off the mortgage, I would suggest selling the home, paying off the mortgage and the other debt and buying a smaller house or unit. That would be a huge burden lifted and would open up the future for saving and living frugally. No matter what happens, your debt will have to be paid off somehow. Now that you're on a pension it will be difficult to pay off that mortgage. If it was all paid off using the house, and enough left over to buy a smaller property, you would be in a much better financial position. Did your husband have any superannuation? You say there was no life insurance but if he has been working all his life, there has to be superannuation.
When your five years is up, you'll be 56 years old - still nine years away from retirement. If I were you, I'd use those five years to build up skills so you can get a job. Hopefully, you can get a job doing something you enjoy. Five years will give you a good amount of time to think about what you could do, then the experience or training you may need.
Overall though, if you've been reading my blog for a few years, you have probably been doing a lot of the things I do. You may already be living frugally, you may already have a vegetable garden and cook from scratch. Keep doing all those things because the lower your weekly expenses, the better off you'll be. It might be a good move, when you can, to sell off anything you no longer need - like a second car, and to pare down on mobile phone, internet and pay TV accounts, if you have any of them. Do a little bit at a time, not all at once, and start with the most expensive things first.
I can't imagine how stressful this time must be for you, Sophie, but if you can pay off that debt, I'm sure you'll worry less and feel better. Moving from the family home will probably be a wrench for you but remember that you carry your memories with you, they do not reside in any one place. I have no doubt you developed the strength to get you through recent events and I hope that strength and resilience continue to support you.
Now, as a reader, you can offer some wise words to Sophie? And hopefully our New Zealand friends will be able to give very practical, relevant and sound advice about the local things we in other countries know nothing about. Thank you.