This Is What Life Without Retirement Savings Looks Like

A friend sent me this article recently. This Is What Life Without Retirement Savings Looks Like. It talks about the financial issues facing many seniors.

As a home health nurse, I worked with many seniors. I saw many who struggled.  There were people who skipped medicine because they didn’t have the money, or didn’t eat well, had clothes and furniture well past their wearing out point, and houses in need of many repairs. They also had medical problems, and far too many were socially isolated which is not healthy. Social workers were called in, resources were scrounged, but there is only so much you can do when there isn’t much out there. And, according to the article, the situation is likely to get worse as more people reach retirement age without adequate resources.

This is exactly why we are in Panama. Even if we worked until 70 it would be very difficult to live on our social security in the US. We don’t have pensions and our savings aren’t enough to generate interest of any significance.

I know we are hardly alone in moving elsewhere for a lower cost of living. It has worked really well for us, but it’s not for everyone for a variety of reasons. I worry about our brothers and sisters struggling to survive on very limited resources. Our government, rather than helping, seems to want to take away the limited help that is available. Nearly half of all single homeless adults are over 50? That is so sad but I think true. I encountered many homeless on my bike trip and very few, only two that I can think of, were younger.

I don’t have any answers. I am so thankful that this life in Panama is working for us. It is life and attitude changing to have the need to make money removed, to have the worry about having enough money removed. I wish it could be so for more seniors. I hope changes are coming in the future that will offer more help.

About Kris Cunningham

We live in David, Chiriqui Provence, Republic of Panama! This blog is about some of our experiences in our new country.
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14 Responses to This Is What Life Without Retirement Savings Looks Like

  1. James Sullivan says:

    I hear what you are saying and I believe that if it weren’t for my governmental job that i retired from, I’d have to work until drop dead. As we all know it gets harder and harder to save money. The bills constantly go up and even small apartments are hard for people to afford. When I forst moved to Florida in 1993, I was shocked at the low pay, The saying used to be, “You’re paid in sunshine”. Try sending an envelope of sunshine to FP&L (Power company) and see what happens. I wish I knew then what I know now because I would have worked more hours when i was younger and save 25% of my salary even if it meant doing without some stuff it was nice to have but still get the stuff I needed to have. I keep trying to get my wife to do an exploration to Panama to have a better retirement life but her main concern seems to be her perception of the medical care. Any help in that front might help me to get her to take a trip there.


    • We lived in Florida before moving here. No way could we retire there. It’s just too expensive. Of course saving money when young is the best, but when you are working hard just to stay afloat it isn’t a priority, unfortunately. Even that isn’t a guarantee though. A friend did everything right, had a good retirement account and lost a lot of it in the recession, at the worst time too, retirement time.
      But, I have much better things to say about health care in Panama! As I said, I’m a nurse, worked 35 years mainly in hospital and home health. I have been very impressed with care here. My husband’s mother was here for the first 6 months and saw a number of doctors and had more success with things here than in years of treatment in the US. I met another blog friend when he visited, and he could hardly breath (COPD and pneumonia). I took him to a lung doctor who immediately hospitalized him. He was treated appropriately, as good as what he would have gotten in the US, and the bill for 6 days, total, around $1700. That’s for private hospital. Public would have been much less. Doctors spend time, share their cell phone numbers, and aren’t drowning in paperwork and fear of litigation. There is probably anything you would need here in David, and if not Panama City has even more available. Also keep in mind, there is great respect for the elderly here, unlike the US where seniors are often just given more medication and not really listened to.


  2. oldsalt1942 says:

    When people hear that I live on a small sailboat they most often say, “Wow, that’s cool!” I look at them and say, “”Not all the time.” I live on a 22-foot sailboat at anchor because I live entirely on SS. I CAN’T AFFORD to spend $600-$800 a month OR MORE for an apartment. Living in Panama where I rented a fully-furnished HOUSE for $175/month I was able to save up a few thousand over eight years and I was able to buy this boat when I got back to the states on the “One Easy Payment Plan.” It’s NOT a “yacht” and it’s very cramped. I live “on the hook” as we say because I can’t afford the $500-$700 a month dock rental in a marina and most marinas won’t let you live on board, anyway.

    Getting old isn’t for sissies…


    • Yeah, I worry about you. I know how much everything costs up there and even though living on the water is your dream, it isn’t easy and you aren’t a kid any more. But, you are making it work, and are an inspiration!


  3. Felipe says:

    From what I read you both have the most positive, wonderful attitude to living in Panama. I expect many would have a better quality of life living there in retirement, but not all would go with your great attitude. Sometimes if we feel forced into economic exile, we resent where we end up. Turning it into an adventure, and looking for all the good things around you surely helps. I sadly doubt all would find the experience as positive as you are. And I love that you’re not in a gated expat-only community.

    20 years ago Castro was letting old people go live with relatives in the US. Many thought it was to save their social system money. Perhaps that’s part of the US plan to save on Medicare, hoping more will leave as you did.
    If I leave the US, it won’t be for financial reasons but more for pure quality of life. Social attitudes and food that tastes as it did from Grandma’s garden.


    • I think some people love change, and others hate it. If you want life to be the same this would be really difficult. Lucky for me, I dislike everything always the same. I was the float nurse at the hospital because I didn’t want the same department day after day. Since change is what suits me, this is a great experience and I’ve never been so happy. Who would have thought! I’ve moved a number of times and adjusted and made a happy life, but I never imagined it would be this good. We are taught in the US that we are the best in everything. We should all have the experience of looking at it from outside the borders and making our own judgements.


  4. People laugh when I tell them we are Social Security Refugees living in Panama with Dignity. Something that was impossible in the USA!


  5. jim and nena says:

    Hola Kris,
    My story may not be typical but I think it is useful to hear about how the system does sometimes work. We brought my sister-in-law to the USA in 2006 after waiting 12 years for her green card. She was 68 years old. She has no degree or trade. She found work in a nursing home laundry and sacked groceries at a local supermarket and in her spare time she cleaned houses. She retired last year after 10+ years of paying into SSA. She has a one bedroom apartment in a retirement building where they co-op utilities and healthcare insurance. She has Medicare. She has never driven so she rides buses everywhere or takes the van ride provided for shopping trips.

    Nine months ago, at age 79, we took her to the ER where they found blocked coronary arteries. Two stents were put in. Last month, she was in pain suddenly and we took her to the ER again. One stent was blocked, other arteries were partially blocked. On Valentine’s day, she had triple coronary artery bypass surgery. Today, she was moved to convalescent care at the nursing home where she worked (the staff remembered when she used to bring them empanadas!) and she should be there for a couple weeks, maybe less.

    Throughout all of this, Medicare and heath insurance has covered almost everything. She never received the astronomical bills that I have heard everyone talking about. I think she gets SSI from the government, don’t know how much, but she wants for nothing and still travels home to see her daughter and grand daughter every year.

    This is just my firsthand experience with someone starting with nothing and making it work for her. In her case, the government provided assistance once she had her required work history met. She was never on welfare, and probably wouldn’t have taken it if it were offered.


    • If she gets SSI, maybe she also is on Medicaid which will pick up anything that’s Medicare doesn’t? Or does she have supplemental insurance? (Which costs money). Every situation is different and good for her that her needs are being met. Cost of living costs can vary, depending on location. Florida is expensive so you can have enough to disqualify you from Medicaid but still struggle to meet basic expenses. And, navigating the system can be overwhelming, which is why I always brought in a social worker to be sure a struggling patient was getting any help available. And, Medicare only pays 80% of most things, and if you don’t/can’t pay for a plan that covers the rest, ouch. It’s difficult and complicated, and I don’t understand why we can’t just take care of everybody. Don’t even get me started on dental care!
      I’m glad your sister in law is getting care, and I wish her a speedy and successful recovery!


  6. Robert&Helen. says:

    We are retired Europeans.The USA spent the peoples money on wars (after WW2 they lost all) and the military industrial complex. A highly corrupt mafia government. In Europe it is different, good affordable health care. Excellent public transport. Low cost education. The Dollar is tanking and lost about 18% against the Euro in the past 14 months. I am an expat for 30 years. West Africa, Spain and the Caribbean. Panama has been our best choice. The USA has become a 2nd world country.


  7. Robert&Helen. says:

    The USA is now a copy of the Roman Empire.


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