An honest look at the personal finance crisis | Elizabeth White

You know me. I am in your friendship circle
hidden in plain sight. My clothes are still impeccable — bought in the good years
when I was still making money. To look at me you would not know that my electricity was cut off
last week for nonpayment, or that I meet the eligibility
requirements for food stamps. But if you paid attention, you would see that sadness in my eyes — hear that hint of fear
in my otherwise self-assured voice. These days I’m buying
the $1.99 trial-size jug of Tide to make ends meet. I bet you didn’t know
laundry detergent came in that size. You invite me to the same
expensive restaurants the two of us have always enjoyed, but I order mineral water now
with a twist of lemon, not the 12-dollar glass of chardonnay. I am frugal in my menu choices. Meticulous, I count
every penny in my head. I demur dividing the table bill evenly
to cover desserts and designer coffees and second and third glasses
of wine I did not consume. I am tired of trying to fake appearances. A friend told me that I’m broke not poor,
and there is a difference. I live without cable, my gym membership and nail appointments. I’ve discovered I can do my own hair. There is no retirement savings, no nest egg. I exhausted that long ago. There is no expensive condo to draw equity and no husband to back me up. Months of slow pay and no pay
have decimated my credit. Bill collectors call constantly, reading verbatim from a script before expressing
polite sympathy for my plight and then demanding payment
arrangements I can’t possibly meet. Friends wonder privately
how someone so well educated could be in economic free fall. I’m still as talented as ever
and smart as a whip, but work is sketchy now, mostly on and off consulting gigs. At 55 I’ve learned how to fake cheeriness, but there are not many
opportunities for work anymore. I don’t remember exactly when it stopped, but I cannot deny now having entered the uncertain world
of formerly and used to be. I’m not sure anymore where I belong. What I do know is that dozens
of online job applications seem to just disappear into a black hole. I’m wondering what is to become of me. So far my health has held up, but my body aches — or is it my spirit? Homeless women used to be invisible to me but I appraise them now with curious eyes, wondering if their stories
started like mine. I wrote this piece a year ago. It’s a composite of my story
and other women I know. I wrote it because
I was tired of pretending I was all right when I wasn’t. I was tired of faking normal. I wasn’t seeing myself
in the popular press. Nobody I knew was traveling the world
or buying a condo in Costa Rica. Very few of my friends
had set aside the 15 to 20 percent experts tell us we need to maintain
our standard of living in retirement. My friends, many in their 50s and 60s, were looking at a downward mobility, a work-for-life proposition, just a job loss, medical diagnosis
or divorce away from insolvency. We may not have hit rock bottom, but many of us saw a sequence of events where rock bottom
was possible for the first time. And the truth is,
it really doesn’t take much. The median household in the US only has enough savings
to replace one month of income. Forty-seven percent of us cannot pull together 400 dollars
to deal with an emergency. That’s almost half of us. A major car repair
and we’re standing on the abyss. You wouldn’t know it to look around you — I’m not the only one in this situation. There are people in this room
who are in the same predicament, and if it’s not you, it is your parents or your sister
or maybe your best friend. We get good at faking normal. Shame keeps us silent and siloed. When I first decided I was going
to come out with my story, I did a website and a friend noticed
that there were no photos of me — it was all kind of cartoons like this. Even as I was coming out, I was still hiding. We live in a world
where success is defined by income. When you say that you have money problems, you’re announcing
pretty much that you’re a loser. When you’re a graduate
of Harvard Business School as I am, you’re some kind of double loser. We boomers hear a lot about
how we have underfunded our retirement; how it’s all our fault. Why on earth would we draw down
our 401(k) plan to cover the shortfall on our mother-in-law’s nursing home care, or to pay for our kid’s tuition,
or just to survive? We’re accused of being
poor planners and deadbeats — all that money we spent
on lattes and bottled water. To shame and blame
is so deliciously tempting. Many of us don’t even wait
for others to do it we’re so busy doing it to ourselves. I say let’s own our part: we all could have saved more. I know I could have saved more, and if you were to rifle through
my life over the last 30 years, you would see more than one
dumb thing I have done financially. I can’t change that now and neither can you, but let’s not mix up
individual, isolated behavior with the systemic factors that have caused a 7.7-trillion-dollar
retirement income gap. Millions of boomer-age Americans
did not land here because of too many trips to Starbucks. We spent the last three decades
dealing with flat and falling wages and disappearing pensions and through-the-roof cost on housing and health care and education. It used to not be like this. We all remember the three-legged
retirement income stool which had the savings
and pension and social security. Well, that stool has gone wobbly. Take savings — what savings? For many families, there’s just nothing left to save
after the bills have been paid. The pension leg of the stool
has also gone wobbly. We can remember
when many people had pensions. Today only 13 percent of American workers
are employed by companies that offer them. So what did we get instead? We got 401(k)-type plans and suddenly responsibility
for retirement planning got shifted from our companies to us. We got the reigns
but we also got the risk, and it turns out that millions of us
just aren’t that good at voluntarily investing over 40 years. Millions of us just aren’t that good
at managing market risk. And really the numbers tell the story. Half of all American households
have no retirement savings at all. That would be zero. No 401(k), no IRA, not a dime. Among 55-to-64-year-olds
who do have a retirement account, the median value of that account
is 104,000 dollars. Now, 104,000 dollars
does sound better than zero, but as an annuity,
it generates about 300 dollars. I don’t have to tell you
that you can’t live on that. With savings down, pensions becoming a relic of the past and 401(k) plans
failing millions of Americans, many near-retirees
are dependent on social security as their retirement plan. But here’s the problem. Social security was never supposed
to be the retirement plan. It’s not nearly enough. At best it replaces
something like 40 percent of your pre-retirement income. Things have changed a lot from when social security
was introduced back in 1935. Then, a 21-year-old male
had a 50 percent chance of living until he was 65. So he retired at 60, did a little fishing,
kissed his grandkids, got his gold watch — he’d be dead within five years
of receiving benefits. That’s not the pattern today. If you’re in your late
50s and in good health, you’re going to live easily
another 20 or 25 years. That’s a really long time
to make ends meet if you are broke. So what’s the play if you’ve landed here and you’re 50 or 55 or 60? What’s the play
if you don’t want to land here and you’re 22 or 32? Here’s what I’ve learned
from my own experience. The cavalry’s not coming. There is no big rescue, no prince charming, no big bailout in the works. To have a shot at something other
than being old and poor in America, we’re going to have to save
ourselves and each other. I’ve had to come out of the shadows, stand here openly, and I’m inviting you to do so as well. I’m not going to tell you
that it’s not easy. I ventured though to tell my story because I thought it would make it
a little easier for people to tell theirs. I think it’s only through
our strength in numbers that we can begin to change
the national “la-la” conversation that we are having
on this retirement crisis. With so many of us shell-shocked
and adrift about what has happened to us, we’re going to have to build up
from the grassroots, forming what I think
are resilience circles. These are small groups
of people coming together to talk about what has happened to them, to share resources and information and to begin to figure out a way forward. I believe from this base
that we can find our voices again and sound the alarm — start pushing our institutions
and policymakers to go hard on this retirement crisis
with the urgency it deserves. In the meantime — and there is an “in the meantime” — we’re going to have to adopt
a live-low-to-the-ground mindset, drastically cutting back on our expenses. And I don’t mean
just living within our means. A lot of people are already doing that. What is called for now is to, in a much deeper way, ask ourselves what it really means to live a life
that is not defined by things. I call it “smalling up.” Smalling up is figuring out
what you really need to feel contented and grounded. I have a friend who drives
really beat-up, raggedy cars, but he will scrimp and save
15,000 dollars at one point to buy a flute because music is
what really matters to him. He smalled up. I’ve had to also let go
of magical thinking — this idea that if I just
was patient enough and tightened my belt that things would go back to normal. If I just sent in one more CV or applied to one more job online or attended one more networking event that surely I’d get the kind of job
I was used to having. Surely things would return to normal. The truth is I’m not going back
and neither are you. The normal that we knew is over. In this new place that we are, we’re going to be asked to do things
that we don’t want to do. We’re going to be asked
to take assignments that we think are beneath
our station and our talent and our skill. I have had to get off my throne. Last year, a good friend of mine
asked me if I would help her with some organization work. I assumed she meant community organizing along the lines of what
President Obama did in Chicago. She meant organizing somebody’s closet. I said, “I’m not doing that.” She said, “Get off your throne.
Money is green.” It’s not easy being part
of the advance team that is ushering in this new era
of work and living. First is always hardest. First is before there are networks and pathways and role models … before there are policies
and ways to show us how to go forward. We’re in the middle of a seismic shift, and we’re going to have to find
bridgework to get us through. Bridgework is what we do in the meantime; bridgework is what we do while we’re trying
to figure out what is next. Bridgework is also
letting go of this notion that our worth and our value
depend on our income and our titles and our jobs. Bridgework can look crazy or cool
depending on how you were rolling when your personal financial crisis hit. I have friends with PhDs
who are working at the Container Store or driving Uber or Lyft, and then I have other friends
who are partnering with other boomers and doing really cool
entrepreneurial ventures. Bridgework doesn’t mean that we don’t want to build on our past careers, that we don’t want meaningful work. We do. Bridgework is what we do in the meantime while we’re figuring out what is next. I’ve also learned to think
strategy not failure when I’m sort of processing
all these things that I don’t want to do. And I say that that’s an approach that I would invite you
to consider as well. So if you need to move in
with your brother to make ends meet, call him. If you need to take in a boarder
to help you pay your mortgage or pay your rent, do it. If you need to get food stamps, get the darn food stamps. AARP says only a third of older adults
who are eligible actually get them. Do what you need to do
to go another round. Know that there are millions of us. Come out of the shadows. Cut back, small up; think strategy, not failure; get off your throne and find the bridgework
to get your through the lean times. As a country, we have achieved longevity, investing billions of dollars
in the diagnosis, treatment and management of disease. It’s not enough to just live a long time. We want to live well. We haven’t invested nearly as much
in the physical infrastructure to ensure that that happens. We need now a new way of thinking about what it means to be old in America. And we need guidance
and ideas about how to live a richly textured life on a much more modest income. So I am calling on change agents and social entrepreneurs, artists and elders and impact investors. I’m calling on developers
and disrupters of the status quo. We need you to help us imagine how to invest in the services
and products and infrastructure that will support our dignity, our independence and our well-being in these many, many decades
that we’re going to live. My journey has taken me
from a place of fear and shame to one of humility and understanding. I’m ready now to link shields with others, to fight this fight, and I’m inviting you to join me. Thank you. (Applause)

100 thoughts on “An honest look at the personal finance crisis | Elizabeth White

  • Live way below your means…
    Forget what society thinks. Live below your means, live simply. Be frugal..even when financially secure. Remain humble & you will survive. 🙏❤

  • America, land of debris, home of the slaves and trust me we are all slaves unless we are elite or owning this game if you work for someone else you are making them money they are not going to pay you enough to get anywhere in life because they would lose a slave

  • The statements Ms. White makes about her situation are the same as the ones I have made over the last ten years to friends and fellow silicon valley residents. Why some of us do not have the retirement funds we need (Much less the funds that would provide the life I worked for.) is simple, we got eaten alive in three market drops. I had achieved an M1 and M2 balance of 1 million dollars before age 40. In addition, our home in Fremont, CA had doubled in value. Today at seventy I have thirty thousand something dollar IRA and Soc. Ser. It is very difficult to get off a throne that has already been repossessed.
    I do not suggest we just pass the blame for our situation but we do need to set what happened in context.

    Ok, now get back to building or rebuilding the rest of your life,

  • Years of Carter, Bush, Clinton and Obama have caused this. Social security was a really bad idea from the beginning. People should save their own retirement money. But now we have Trump who is working hard to make America great again. Trump 2020!

  • You think it was bad for some of your generation well… then the millennials (myself included) are truly screwed – higher living cost, house prices out of control, stagnant wages, ridiculous student debt, traineeships that pay in "experience", retirement and pensions will be non existent for our generation etc etc.

  • And it doesn't have to be this way. The reason we have people not getting by in such a wealthy country as the US is political.

  • YES!!! Mrs. White! I absolutely love this! You have voiced so much of my current situation! Thank you for this! I have shared so others watch as well.

  • Definition of America in 1828; AMERICAN :noun A Native America ;Originally applied to the aboriginals COPPER-COLORS RACES ;Found here by the Europeans colonizing immigrants squatters!!! You see so-call Black People,The COPPER-COLORS RACES. We were already here when the Europeans colonizing immigrants squatters came over here off the boats to Ellis Island to America!! And the so-called black people , The COPPER-COLORS RACES are the ALLODIAL TITLE holders to the Land,And all the resource above and below the land,, it's all belongs to the aboriginals COPPER-COLORS RACES ,the so-called black people!!((Great Video: Ellis Island-History of IMMIGRATION to the United States/1890-1920/Award Winning documentary))((Great Video: Forgotten Ellis island))((Great Video: Victorian Crime and Punishment))((Great Video:The Children who Build Victorian Britain Part 1 of 4y)))((1800 Child Labor in United States))((Great Book to Read: WHITE CARGO))((Dr. Nailah Inanna El &Grand Sheik-Taj Tarik Bey Discuss Various Topics)))((Great Video:Taj Tarik Bey inalienable Rights abridges Last 150 years))((Great Video:GS Taj Tarik Bey Impositions injuries Due to Blind Faith)))((Great Video Black People invented Everything computers cell phone the internet!!!)))((The ACT of 1871:The ''United States'' ' is a Corporation-There are Two Constitutions-With no Constitution Authority to do so : Congress CREATES a separate Form of government for the District of Columbia a Ten Mile,,It used to Fool the People into thinking it govens the Republic!!!((UNITED STATES Isn't a Country It's a Corporation 1871))

  • As a "baby boomer"… this is largely our faults as we raised the current generation who lacks empathy and refuse to hire many, over 50. This degradation of society has "baby boomers" partially to blame as we were too busy buying stuff, like $8 dollar cups of "Star Yucks". We should have been more involved in our government and less involved in "keeping up with the Joneses". As unpopular as this my seem, we've (unwittingly), played a role in the current state of affairs. The children of today have been taught to only care about one thing… themselves. And by that, we literally have cut off our resources to be able to retire because many "parents" have raised– spoiled, entitled, unwilling to share space, knowledge or even LIME LIGHT. They even lack basic etiquette (and I had to attend "etiquette classes", which apparently no longer exists). I've wondered (from time to time) what might have become of this beautiful woman when I first saw this clip ( ). It's good to know that she's re-inventing herself and re-writing her OWN ticket!! So many of us were mislead into believing that degrees, "guarantee"! I would LOVE to work with this woman so if you see this comment, Elizabeth, I hope you'll respond. 🙂 P.S. been natural, again (was DEFINITELY rockin' my fro in the 70's– hahaha) since 2004! Yours is GORGEOUS, by the way!!! 🙂 With love and light.

  • Only strong healthy families will make it through the boomer retirement crisis. My mother grew up during the depression living with her extended family. Most boomers that stayed married, had kids who married and had kids will be able to survive. Those who enter old age alone and broke will have an extremely rough go of it.

  • What a brave lady. We need to relearn the wisdom of previous generations – google 'friendly societies' for examples of how communities came together to share responsibility for each other.


  • An individual's poor choices and lack of discipline and planning should not require changes in policy. If cannot makes ends meet with a certain job, changes careers or work two jobs. I have very frank conversations with my children and that no one cares if you make it or not. You have to get up every day, work hard and make good choices. If you cannot make in the United States you are doing something wrong. The information is out there in books and on the internet. Opportunities are everywhere you just have to look for them. Choosing a free lance career and expecting to be able to live in retirement without saving and investing is the definition of ignorance.

  • The US has a consumption crisis.. homes have gotten bigger by 2x while families are smaller by half. Closets have gotten bigger, three car garages, plus filling these big houses with stuff. Our economy is driven by consumerism. Look at national credit card debt vs national savings rates. It’s a crisis. We all need to small up

  • Wonderful speech. This helped me a few years ago:

  • Heartbreaking, honest and requires collective empathy. And definitely confirms my fear – that there is no financial certainty apart from the one that you create for yourself.

  • The sad reality is that many of us have never sat in the throne. We are relegated to making $10 an hour while people who have only been in the profession for less than 10 years and they are making $90,000 a year.

  • Young ppl. Dont waste your life sqaundering your money. Life goes by fast. Invest in things that bring you a return. Move away from consumerism. This lady should have saved for 5 years with the salary she had… Now she's crying

  • This is the argument I make for a living wage. People have this ridiculous idea that minimum wage jobs like McDonald's or Walmart are for kids or teens so they should be low because they are starting jobs. Not realizing there are a lot of adults who can't find sufficient work that earns them enough to meet their basic needs as adults. You can't properly adult with anything less than $15. And even then that's insufficient but it's enough to make your second job actually matter.

  • Most Americans are not that good at investing. Duh. What am I gonna do ?
    Gee. Maybe I should learn about money
    I mean. It is my money !!!!!!

  • The main issue is – with the modern financial system, you cannot have everyone saving at once. Someone or something must have a roughly equal amount of debt. If retirees did indeed have piles of savings, by necessity the younger generation, local and federal governments and corporations would have to be crazily indebted. I think what is really needed are families and communities that voluntarily look after their old.

  • What is not discussed is that yhe majority of Black Americans are in this position because of the damage done by slavery. Reparations are due.

  • I think accepting the failure of our government to take care of the elderly is a big step in the wrong direction.

  • It sounds like what is needed is a new type of senior living arrangement, where the employees get paid with health coverage and room & board in exchange for the promise of being able to stay and become a patient when their bodies slow down.

  • You are making money. You are promoting your book.
    There’s nothing wrong with that.
    But let’s be clear.

  • If u have time to give speeches u have time to apply for 5 other job openings.
    Feeling sorry for yourself is not the answer.
    Dave Ramsey 5 money rules.
    • have a plan
    • get out of debt
    • live below your means
    • save
    • invest

  • “We live in a world where success is defined by income”-👏🏿👏🏿👏🏿👏🏿👏🏿. So true.

  • Every time, I watch videos like this, I'm reminded why I am a big supporter of Andrew Yang. #yang2020 #yanggang #andrewyang #securethebag

  • Smalling up is my new goal in the next 5yrs. I do want to get one last new car for my 50th birthday but it will be my last new vehicle and hopefully last car note. I'm not planning on doing any significant driving after 65. I'll be that old person with the 20 year old car. And I'm planning on selling my house to downsize to a condo and pay off all credit card debt. But this time they are getting cut up. I will only keep 2 psbly 3. And I I'm trying to reduce the items I own by 60% like clothes I've never worn or books never read. These things just add stress.

  • I've watched a lot of YouTube videos interviewing homeless people. A common thread is that not only do they lack money, they lack a family support system. No friends or relatives etc that can help.

    Perhaps they had one and lost it do to bad life choices, substance abuse, etc. But in belt-tightening times, having a group of people who can work as a trusted team and conserve resources is vital. That's what helped people survive the Great Depression.

  • Turn to Jesus full-stop!!!! This speech mentions everyone and everything except the Living God, the Lord Jesus Christ who meets the needs of every person who loves and believes Him Matthew 6:32-34; Phil 4:19. He is real folks and He is here!

  • As a young person who sees posts online all the time blaming Boomers for the personal finance crisis that Millennials are facing, it's good to remember that Boomers are hurt by this, too. It's not an age difference that caused this problem; it's the people in charge who put policies in place and changed the infrastructure to benefit only the people at the top at the expense of everyone else.

  • We all need to pay attention and ask those whom we love if they are ok. Like really ok. And if you don't care just disappear. What makes it worse for someone in this situation is to have people around you that think they are good people but they never acknowledge your pain.

  • At age 26 My husband and I were caring for our younger siblings who lived with us. We both hadparents that died very young and unexpectedly. This ruined saving money in our twenties and thities. By 34 we had already put 2 siblings through college. by 38 our own children were starting college. Now Im 47 Im caring for our youngest son whose totally disabled. His care cost a fortune. WHEN was I supposed to save money

  • It takes courage to be so raw and honest. A lot of us are going through this and shame, embarrassment and self blame make us miserable and ill. It is rough. Reach out and talk to someone. Don’t be alone.


  • I truly identify with this lady….I am 83 years old ….a retired Architect, Project Manager, Entrepreneur and also into radio broadcasting. My current annual income just barely allows me to exist from month to month. I on just on a bare Social Security income…no medical insurance.
    I live in the past glory of what my life has been…from working on projects like assistant to the great Oscar Niemeyer …building the City of Brasilia…to 4 patents in personal electronics and mobile communications……but now I have nothing. I live from month to month…with distant memories and untold missed opportunities….and hope. Hope that my next dream will be successful….I live in hope! …..and broke!!!

  • OMG somebody call the whaaa-bulance.
    I don't feel sorry for her. These ppl who cry about not have money for retirement are the same people who told their "frugal" friends in their 20's that they're cheap and no fun and to live life to the fullest and not to worry about the money because you have a lifetime to make money. Now they are the product of their choices. She spent more time thinking about fashion and where the next social gathering will be than she ever thought about her financial future.
    I don't know about any of the other guys reading this, but when I find out that a girl I'm dating has so much consumer debt that she can't handle it on her own,… I can't even get it up. What a complete turn off.

  • Excellent! Yes it is a reality. I am a retired professional at 66 barely getting by. Love 2nd hand stores thrifting, don't drive a car and have no hope of ever travelling as I had hoped. I am in Canada and not alone.

  • She made really stupid financial decisions! All Blacks are not African and the sooner you realize this the better directed to your little African based store! You were making 200,000 a year but because of money, you choose to erase reality and race with that store and down, down, down. You are NOT poor just been smacked with reality! How do you like it? Keep steppin!

  • Heard of the butterfly effect, little things that contribute to a future big event. Companies going offshore for cheaper labour one by one and many other changes we don't easily observe until it hits us. 20s is for fun and 30s is different. Let's learn from people ahead of us and make them proud that they share their experiences.

  • If I had a nickel for every prideful, black woman I’ve met in my life…at least she finally recognized that it was her own proud attitude that held her back. Most don’t and will rage straight into poverty with their head held high.

  • A wonderful speech about nothing. Didn’t learn anything because nothing of substance was presented. What was presented was “times are bad, get any job you can.”
    As if that is not known already.

  • She went all in for her business. She knew the risk. She had no functioning Plan B set up and risked her entire retirement savings. And that in the U.S where you have no saftey net when you fall. Well, she fell. Harvard or no Harvard, lack of common sense was the common denominator. Thank God she still had her townhouse. Instead of enjoying her retirement, she'll be working for a very long time various side hustles.

  • This just baffles me! The Workforce already wants to pay you penny's if you don't have much experience/qualifications… you're telling me once I hit a certain age and gain experience/qualification they still want to cut you off at the knees? May GOD Help us all!

  • I am Ms. White. I have been medically disabled. I am educated. I am broke. I was divorced as a result. I am losing friends as a result. I am alone. I am 60. I have faith. I am not perfect. This is me.

  • honesty is sooo liberating. even if just for a moment. its a more blissful moment than drugs…
    wonderful comments here man 🙂

  • I had to be humble and grateful to have acceptance in order to find happiness realizing that im strong enough to make it all be myself but a partner makes it more affordable. Self

  • you understand business, you will learn how the tax corporation work. And if you understand- who started the tax business for their personal corporation; then you can be a business person if you agree to pay taxes to them. bitcoins is electronic; which there trying to make cash become (electronic) but your still not getting away from the taxes. – just switching owners of the taxes.

  • Love all the advice and wisdom this amazing lady shares with us. So cool, Im a modest income earner, self employed of the same age. I am learning to save as much as I can and have encouraged my chn to save from an early age. I buy second hand, recycle and repurpose.

  • No sympathy. Is she divorced too? Did she buy into feminism? Did she forget common sense and not follow MBA motto: don't spend what you don't have? Did she fail to cut costs instead of eat lattes, dinners, and so on? Did she disrespect every man she came in contact with? Too bad, so sad….

  • Well America is in debt spiral. Something very ugly is coming. How can the national debt ever be repaid. Its growing by a $trillion per year. A trillion dollars is a lot. example a trillion seconds = 31,000 years.

  • So basically at the end of the video we hear the hypothesis. She wants some unspecified new age mystical thinkers with wisdom, knowledge, and creativity beyond understanding, to deliver (for free, as they are also altruistic) a magical answer regarding how people can maintain their bougie lifestyle (" to live well " and how "live a richly textured life" ). This is as entitled as it gets.

    Reality: you made poor financial choices because you thought you could have it all.
    Real advice for the public: save every penny you can and live modestly.

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