Life’s wake up calls can help get your finances in order

“We’re all in this together, by ourselves.” Lily Tomlin

We like to all think that we can self motivate ourselves to positive action when it comes to health, exercise and even personal finance. When I was in my late 30’s, I had two life crises and a course that woke me up to the need to look after my own little red wagon and piggy bank! Here’s my life experience on wake up calls that helped me to take control of my personal finances.

Aging, retirement, and pensions

Aging, Retirement, and Pensions was the title of an Adult Education course I took at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education as part of my Master’s program. The teacher was Dr. Betty MacLeod and she pulled no punches about the reality of aging in Canada. She particularly spoke about the plight of women and the high percentage that lived out their years in poverty as seniors. She told us about demographics and the dependency ratio, the effects of an aging population on families including caretaking, the health care system, longevity, seniors in the workplace and the challenges facing legislators to come. She also told us to get our ducks in a row early and to take an investment course. Thank you, Betty!


Finding a new home on my own, caring for a three-year-old, hiring a good lawyer, negotiating a divorce settlement, working out co-parenting details, and facing a future alone tends to focus one. I learned how valuable my pension was and what a benefits package is worth. I came to realize how lucky I was to have both! I learned about the costs to buy, maintain and renovate a home and look after a car.

I realized how much having a child gets you thinking about the future in a very responsible way. Also, I found out what a great family and group of friends mean as a social support network that comes in very handy in such times of crisis.

Illness threw a curveball

Shortly after the divorce, I nearly died after a three-month illness which I ignored and kept going to work. As a result, I was in the hospital for almost 2 weeks. They let me out if my Mom, a nurse, would take care of me and she did.

Then I had a three-month period recovering at home, went back to work part-time and finally full time. The doctor told me I had a chronic condition and might not make it to retirement. I took much better care of myself and did what I wanted to just in case. I retired early to prove the doctor wrong on that one!

That experience certainly made me aware of my mortality and the need to put things in place to make sure my son would be taken care of if I could not be there for him. I also changed my spending and saving habits. I simplified, got more careful and I lived on 80 percent of my salary or less and took self-funded leaves from work to do things I wanted to while I could. I have no regrets!

Pay attention

That course and those two crises got my attention and got me focused on looking after myself in terms of money and health. They became opportunities to get serious about my life and mortality. Thankfully, I have had a much richer life and a better bank account as a result.

What gets your attention?


  1. Claude Mayrand


    It’s interesting how danger or close calls motivate one to take charge. Almost like we should get them.

    Around 37 years old I had serious food poisoning when I thought I would die. Was never afraid of death again.

    Around 45 I was unemployed, my UI (then) expired, was dipping in my RRSP to pay for child support and rent. Resolved to seriously rebuild my retirement capital ASAP.

    Around 57 I was unemployed, again; took a EI subsidized course but couldn’t find work, other than part-time minimum wage wastes-of-time jobs.

    I decided to create my own part-time minimum wage income from home. What was the worst that could happen? I’d die (financially)? Was no longer afraid of death. It took 6 months or so but I could see success after a few months, so I plodded on. All I needed was “the shove” to develop an income strategy and perfect it.

    Am I exceptional? I think so ☺! But everyone can set a goal, develop a plan or a strategy, work at it, improve it, seriously benefit.

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