Is Your Parent Afraid of Running Out of Money in Retirement? Part 1

By on June 27, 2007

My Dad was a victim of Bag-Lady syndrome.

It took me a long time to understand what was going on. I finally found the name for my father’s terrible fear of losing his money in an article in MSN Money of all places!

Bag-Lady syndrome is the fear, often found in women at all economic levels, that financial security could vanish overnight. The spectre of being penniless and homeless haunts some women’s dreams.

Olivia Mellan, a Washington, D.C. therapist who specializes in money psychology, comments, “One of the ways that it impacts women’s lives is it makes them afraid to take risks with their money. That’s why a lot of women have lots of money sitting in a checking or savings account doing nothing. They’re afraid they might need it if they end up on the street.”

That’s it! But, how did my father end up with Bag-Lady syndrome?

According to Mellan, men don’t usually have this type of fear. “They have fears that are more rational and related to their provider burden: being injured, dying young, being laid off, things like that. Whereas bag-lady syndrome is more global, a magical, nameless thing like free-floating anxiety.”

At age 83, my father had already been retired for 18 years. His health had deteriorated so much that we joked about his quarterly “vacations” at the local hospital. Even with Medicare and supplemental insurance coverage picking up most of the bill, those vacations were shrinking his retirement savings.

If he needed to earn more money today, who would hire someone who was hard of hearing, walked haltingly with a cane and was flummoxed by high tech equipment?

All of my attempts to chart his retirement assets and show him graphs about how long his retirement money would last, were useless. It didn’t matter how much money he had. His fear had to do with not knowing how he could make more money if he needed it.

As his health and fear worsened, Dad just refused to spend any money. No geriatric care manager ( see previous post Is In Home Care The Answer?.) No in home care. No meals in the retirement community dining room.

In hindsight, I could have helped my father deal with his fear by dragging it out into the daylight and brainstorming ways for Dad to take action. Helping him find a job? Well maybe not a job, but some way to actively make even just small amounts of money.

Taking action, it turns out, is the key to licking Bag-Lady syndrome. (more in next post)

About CK Wilde

CK Wilde has been writing about topics close to her heart--family caregiving and multigenerational families--since 2007. She grew up in a multigenerational household and understands the positive and negative aspects of close family living. CK believes that caring for her father during the last two years of his life and raising two terrific young men have been her most important accomplishments.