Indianapolis — Two years ago, my husband and I could see the economic downturn on the horizon. Homes on our block took longer to sell. Fewer customers shopped at the local mall. But we had no idea we were entering a recession that would drag on for at least two years. Now we are wondering when it will end.
We felt lucky to be living in Indianapolis, a city with a relatively low cost of living. We consider ourselves reasonably frugal.
All that changed when Bernard Madoff entered our lives. It was Dec. 14, 2008. My husband and I received a phone call informing us that money we’d invested in a fund had ties to Madoff. We had lost over $30,000 from a portion of a fund, the Merriwell Fund, part of which was invested with Madoff.
Even so, we were fortunate. Madoff wiped out many investors. Local Indianapolis temples and Jewish organizations, which had money tied up with Madoff, not only had to cut costs drastically but fire employees and restrict opening hours to stay afloat. We got off lightly; our financial portfolio had been hit — but not totaled.
However, our financial advisers admonished us to make major changes to our financial planning and not just because of Madoff. Other economic challenges started facing us and other Indianapolis families.
Homes are taking longer to sell and nervous friends asked us for job leads. (Indianapolis’ unemployment rate was at 7.7 percent in September.) When homes on our street sell, they go for bargain rates. After years of seeing our home appreciate it value, it is a shock to discover its lower value. That impacts our financial security, too.
Our investments are diversified, so we haven’t lost everything. But there’s never a good time for a couple in their mid 50s (I’m 55, my husband is 56) to take damage to their investments. We don’t have the advantage of youth and time to make up our losses before retirement.
When we got the Madoff news, we had one son in college. We’d promised to help him out if he got a scholarship that covered tuition. But because of financial woes, we had to scale back on how much we helped him.
That meant he had to take on student loans, something we’d hoped he could avoid for as long as possible. We still paid his health insurance, but he had to take a second job while at school.
Then, in late August, my husband’s employer, a local Indiana university, announced a pay freeze to manage costs. My husband, a college professor, won’t get a pay raise for the coming year. We’re happy he still has a job with benefits. But it did impact our budget. It also affected our investments, the ones outside Madoff’s reach.
Our retirement date was starting to look like a dream, somewhere in the distant future.
We’ve halved our monthly budget and still consider ourselves lucky. Lucky to have jobs when Indianapolis has high unemployment. Lucky to have a home and food on the table. Lucky not to have our finances scorched to the ground by Madoff. We’ve been told that we need to think of the long term and keep investing in the stock market to build our portfolio back to where it was before Madoff came along. Our advisers urge us to have trust in our financial future. We’re working on it.