A Little Kindness Goes a Long Way

A mother and daughter sitting on a balcony at a café

The recent Sun Life retirement survey finds that Canadians are discovering that retirement is not all it’s cracked up to be. According to Jonathan Chevreau in his Financial Independence Hub blog, “if you think Retirement is about eternal sea cruises and African safaris, you may be abashed by the Sun Life finding that almost one in four (23%) describe their lifestyle as a frugal one that involves ‘following a strict budget and refraining from spending money on non-essential items.’”

Many are still working after 65, as am I, as a freelancer and author. “In fact, among the 2,150 employed Canadians polled by the 2019 Sun Life Barometer poll conducted by Ipsos, almost half (44%) expect they’ll still be employed full-time at age 66. “Among the ‘frugal’ retirees still working after the traditional retirement age, 65% say it’s because they need to work for the money rather than because they enjoy it.”

What continues to astonish me is how expensive everything is. It’s not that I haven’t planned for my retirement, factoring in a healthy pension, CPP and OAS. It’s that the cost of living is taking bigger and bigger bites out of my budget every month. Other than a few short trips in Canada, my husband and I haven’t taken a full-blown vacation for more than two years. We’re careful with our expenditures, watching for good deals when an appliance breaks down or finding a contractor when the roof begins to leak. The other issue is that other than the growth in equity in our home, investments haven’t been particularly kind.

It’s a matter of taking risks, which, at my age, isn’t the smartest strategy to follow. The higher the uncertainty in the market, the bigger the opportunity to make some real gains, but most retirees are risk adverse, as we should be. We don’t have the long years to make up the losses, should they occur. When I lost 32% of my stock market investments during the 2008 crash, I still believed I could make them back, and I did. I shouldn’t count on the same reversal today, so I try to be conservative even when the market is soaring and breaking new records.

What’s a girl to do? My response is two-fold. On the strict dollars and cents level, as a do-it-yourself investor, I try my best to spend an hour every morning reviewing my portfolio, paying attention to the stock market, reading the financial press and making what I consider tough decisions about money matters. As is the case for most DIY investors, I’m charged $10.00 for each and every trade, so that can add up if I’m making excessive trades. This fall, most of my investments are in ETFs, although the most significant share remains in one balanced mutual fund that has served me well over the years.

On an emotional level, I’m spending more time considering new ways to improve my daily life, ways that have next to nothing to do with finances or buying things. The payoff is astonishingly significant. I’m attracted to the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation, a small non-profit that invests its resources in making kindness the norm. I know it might sound corny, but if you can suspend disbelief for just a moment, it could change the way you act and how good you feel about yourself and your community.

As Brooke JonesVice President of the organization says, “I want to live in a world where people choose kindness over violence, compassion over cruelty, and action over indifference.” Random Acts of Kindness Operations Coordinator Cathy Stacks believes that “everyone can make a difference every day with one small act of kindness (being friendly, generous, and considerate).” She imagines what the world would be if we all lived in care and support of the other in the environment and community in which we live.

Lately, I’ve been experimenting with random acts of kindness. At an authors’ reading I attended, one woman’s chair collapsed beneath her, and it was difficult for her to get up. I helped her, as did others. When she was standing, I simply remarked, “we’ve all been there,” rather than ignoring her. It was something I was thinking, yet normally would be embarrassed to share. I would assume I was intruding. I wasn’t, and my simple words helped her regains her composure and her dignity.

Since then, I’ve been talking more to strangers, people in the check out line at the supermarket (no automated check-out counters for me), the servers at my table, or the solitary diners, who look like they could use a smile or a quick hello. As we grow older, I can’t think of anything more important than battling the scourge of loneliness. In the U.K., there is a Minister of Loneliness, and she’s introduced “chatting benches” where people can sit together on park benches and just chat when they’re feeling lonely.

It’s not the same as embarking on a European river cruise, but you might be surprised how good random acts of kindness can make you feel. And what better time to try them out as we approach the holiday season?

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