“You’re out of touch with reality.”
That was the admonishment my partner directed my way the other day. She was adamant that I just did not understand the plight of the “average” person today.
This is how it began…
Over the years, I’ve accumulated some rental properties.
I have been using the same handyman, Jim, for at least a decade. He is the best. He knows how to do everything from fixing an HVAC system to installing a new kitchen.
Jim’s currently in his 70s. Before taking on the handyman job, he oversaw maintenance at a nationally known bakery that had a big operation in town. After they closed and laid Jim off (he was the last to be laid off because they needed him to maintain the machinery), he began his new life.
He was in great shape at the time. But years of smoking caught up to him, and he developed cancer. The first go-around, the doctors removed part of his jaw. It took about nine months from beginning to end for him to recover. But he had such a strong spirit that he made it through and was back at work. He could barely speak, but he could still drive a nail!
Late last year, his cancer returned. Before he went in for surgery, he asked me to help his wife, who suffered from diabetes, in the event he didn’t survive. He wanted someone to help her navigate through whatever processes one must deal with after the death of a spouse, ranging from Social Security to taxes. I said I would do it, but he shouldn’t worry because he’d make it out of surgery OK. He did. But this time he lost his voice box and could no longer eat solid food.
Two weeks ago, Jim sent me a text. His wife passed away. He was beyond distraught. Still unable to speak, he sent me long texts.
He was in trouble…
The funeral home wanted $3,350 to cremate his wife. Without the payment, they would not release the death certificate and he wouldn’t be able to claim a small life insurance policy.
He asked me to pay for the cremation and he would pay me back when he received the proceeds from the insurance company. I didn’t hesitate for a second. I wanted him to be at ease through such a difficult time. Even if he had no policy to look forward to, I felt obliged to help him. He had done a lot for me, and I wasn’t about to leave him hanging.
But it got me to thinking… Here is someone who worked for more than 50 years of his life. He has amazing skills. Even as a handyman, I was paying him $30 per hour because of his technical prowess, efficiency and honesty. One call to Jim and I would never hear from the tenant again.
Yet, now, in his 70s, he didn’t have the money to bury his wife.
I talked about this with my partner and she said, “You’re out of touch with reality. People are so strapped these days that what happened is not uncommon. In fact, it might be the norm.”
I disagreed. My point was that throughout life, you have opportunities to save money, even a little here or there.
I remember being younger and starting from scratch. I learned how to save from my parents and have been a saver since. I still call my insurance, cable and just about any other company once a year to make sure I am getting a competitive rate. I buy only used cars. I do a lot of work around my house if I know what to do. Heck, I even check the flyers from my local grocery store every Thursday to see what’s on special.
I admit: I am having a very hard time understanding Jim’s plight. He is honest, hard-working, caring and skilled, yet something went so wrong that he finds himself with little more than a roof over his head, Social Security and a truck full of tools.
I need your help understanding how this can happen…
Am I out of touch?