What the Fieldings can teach us about retirement planning


Many movies are popular because audiences find the characters and the situations they are in to be so relatable. The Money Pit is one such movie. Although most of us will never find ourselves in a predicament like that, the movie can teach us some lessons about effective retirement planning.

The Money Pit is a movie from the 1980s in which Walter Fielding and his girlfriend Anna Crowley purchase what they think is a great property for a firesale price. There’s a classic series of scenes when the couple move in and quickly discover the home is actually a money pit: the plumbing is clogged with gunk, the electrical system catches fire, the bathtub falls through the floor, the main staircase collapses, a racoon is living in the dumbwaiter, and Mr. Fielding falls halfway through a hole in the floor and becomes trapped. Even the trees are “weak”: one falls over when Mr. Fielding leans on it.

The couple find their hopes and dreams come crashing down, like the chimney of the house. The home is not what they expected and they’re left figuring out what to do.

The scenes are memorable because of the couple’s seemingly endless string of bad luck. Viewers can relate to them because many have likewise embarked on a hopeful venture, only to watch it completely fall apart.

In the end, after four months of repairs and more stress, the home is repaired, and Walter and Anna are married in front of their newly restored home. Although the Fieldings’ experiences aren’t necessarily recommended, the movie offers useful lessons for new retirees and those close to retirement.

1. Be flexible. Like most human activities, retirement doesn’t always go as planned. If people aren’t prepared to adapt, adjust, and make the best of the situation, they can become embittered and discouraged. These negative emotions don’t help with effective retirement planning.

2. Have a clear plan. Just as Walter and Anna have a misimpression of the home when they tour it as prospective buyers, many preretirees have wrong perceptions about retirement. The seller insists on showing the house only by candlelight, purportedly to save money, which makes the home look romantic and conceals its flaws.

New retirees can find the reality of retirement, viewed in the clear daylight, is different from what they expected. They may not be able to get a suitable part-time job as quickly as they thought. The hobby that seemed so enjoyable when they did it on the weekends, is not as much fun now that they’re doing it every day. Their children or grandchildren may not be able to spend as much time with them as they thought.

Gathering facts and having a workable plan are crucial to successful retirement. These can help prevent you from a retirement “money pit”.

3. Keep realistic expectations. Just as Walter and Anna believed the home would make their lives and relationship better, many workers think retirement will fix their problems, and that things will be better and easier once they’ve stopped working.

Although surveys show the majority of retirees indicate they are satisfied with retirement, retirement by itself can come with a whole new set of challenges. In addition to generating enough income from savings and pensions to meet their expenses, retirees must find meaningful things to do to fill up that extra time.

Recreation and watching television aren’t satisfying for most retirees in the long term. Many retirees find they miss the social interactions and the sense of purpose and contribution that they previously got from working. Unless you find things to do that bring you satisfaction, you risk descending into boredom, depression, and even substance abuse.

4. Keep communications open. At one point in the movie, Anna sells some artwork back to her ex-husband to raise cash, and ends up waking up in his bed. There was some uncertainty whether they slept together (they didn’t). But the misunderstanding exacerbates the stress they are already both feeling and strains their relationship to the point that they agree to split up after the house is repaired.

Keeping communication open is important while planning for retirement. Those who discussed their retirement plans with their spouse were more likely to have a satisfying retirement than those who didn’t, surveys show. Your spouse may have a different vision of what retirement will look like, and even when to retire, than you do. Addressing these disagreements can mean the difference between a happy retirement and an unhappy one.

5. Don’t get scammed. At the end of the movie, it is revealed that the person who sold the home to Walter and Anna is a scammer and knew of the problems with the home.

It is an unfortunate fact that seniors are a prime target for scammers, because many are lonely, tend to be trusting, and have substantial financial resources. If you receive an offer that sounds too good to be true, talk it over with a trusted friend, relative, or advisor, and don’t be pressured into signing anything or handing over any cash or other assets without careful consideration. The scam section has more information and advice about avoiding scams.


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