Champagne, Chocolate and Unemployment

I’m almost out of chocolate, just two Dove promises left in the jar, though I think there may be about a quarter of a bag of mini chocolate chips in the pantry. I use those for my pumpkin chocolate chip cookies. I probably won’t make it to the grocery store until Tuesday, so I need to exercise some self control. That is tough to do since I’m on my second glass of wine, red, of course, and chocolate (for the non-chocolate aficionados, I should specify that I mean dark chocolate, although my dear friend Deb would say, “Is there any other kind?”) goes so well with red wine.

The wine happens to be a cabernet though I’m not a wine snob, which means I can’t tell if it is oaky or tannic or whatever other adjective might be used to describe it. I just like it or I don’t. I tend to prefer red to white and dry to sweet, and champagne makes me giggle – swear to god, if there is one. It might be the bubbles.

I used to have a Sunday night ritual. I would fix a small plate of cheese, fruit , a piece of cold chicken and a glass of wine. I would have my simple supper in the bathtub by candlelight with soft music playing. This was a perfect way to end the weekend and prepare myself for the work week ahead. I no longer do this since now there is no difference between a work day and a weekend day.

I have now been unemployed for 2 1/2 years. I was downsized out of a job along with most of the people in my department as the economy went south in November of 2008. I no longer look for employment. I joked to a friend that I can’t get hired by MacDonald’s or a gas station, though it really wasn’t a joke. I had applied to both. But the reality is that I live in a small rural county where the unemployment rate is about 14% and there aren’t many full time jobs for old people. Did I mention I will soon celebrate my 54th birthday?

I don’t feel old. And it is rare that anyone correctly guesses my age. I’ll probably have to show ID when I finally qualify for senior discounts. But employers seem to be reluctant to hire older workers, especially if it is a full time job with benefits. It seems we not only come with higher salary histories, we’re also more expensive to insure on health insurance plans.

Fortunately, the job I lost paid well and I have some savings which I am now tapping for my living expenses, and no debt. I have always lived within my means. I have my father to thank for this. When I got my first part-time job in high school, my father told me I should always pay myself first. I have always done this even in those early jobs that didn’t pay much and even if it was just $5 a paycheck to put in a savings account. Anytime I received a pay increase, I always upped my savings rate before increasing any other spending.

My second full time job was with Merrill Lynch as a cashier. The job didn’t pay well, but I learned so much about investing and my little savings account grew. Though I have sometimes been reluctant to take risks in my personal life, for some reason I never shied away from risk in my investments, though I always understood those risks. My account lost half its value when the tech bubble imploded, but I learned from it and continued to save and invest. I’m now a bit more conservative in my investments, since I’m pulling money out and need this little nest egg to last as long as is possible.

I do a little bit of work – house/petsitting which came about by chance and I’m now gaining clients by word of mouth. I’m on track to earn about $2000 this year from those activities. I think of it as a little bit of spending cash and a vacation of sorts since my clients have pools and cable channels I don’t get at home. I also do some volunteer work.

I must say, that except for the lack of income, unemployment is quite enjoyable. I volunteer. I experiment in the kitchen. I read voraciously. I kayak. I only buy what I need. I take line dancing classes with my mom (she just celebrated her 80th birthday on Monday) at a local senior center – 2 hours for $3 – can’t beat that and I’m the youngest person in the class! I have time for yard work. I play the piano. I ride my bike. I do yoga. I don’t wake up to an alarm clock. I no longer wear a watch.

I may even be retired, though I tend to think of retirement as a choice rather than something that is forced upon you. It’s funny, when I worked I was hoping to retire early and thought I might be able to do it between 55 and 60. I guess my wish came true, just a bit sooner than I expected.

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