Opinion: I retired during the pandemic. Now inflation makes me count the pennies

Editor’s Note: This is the first part of CNN’s opinion series, “America’s Future Start Now,” in which people share how their lives have been influenced by key issues, many of which are echoing in the mid-term election campaigns this fall. Experts from across the political spectrum will also present their ideas for addressing these issues. Linda Stewart retired in 2021 from the University of New Mexico. The views expressed in this comment are hers. Read more opinion on CNN.

A year after the pandemic halted, I retired from my 14-year job as a program coordinator and academic advisor at the University of New Mexico School of Engineering. I loved the work I was doing, but it was time to move on. I was in my early 60s and being old enough to retire suddenly made that option more attractive. Finances were going to be a bit tight for a while, but some outside projects would complement my income, so I was confident I’d be able to handle it.

But by the end of the second year of lockdown, inflation began to take its toll and money was getting uncomfortably tight. Soon I was in the red every month, just trying to keep up. The usual suspects were food and gas, which meant cutting down on some of the more expensive food items and cooking meals at home.

I stopped driving for something other than the essential. And with the continued drought here in the Southwest, the bills have skyrocketed. I reduced the watering of my garden and lowered the oven a few degrees in the winter and the air conditioning in the summer. I switched to washing clothes mainly in cold water and running the dishwasher only once a week.

Linda Stewart

I also look after my elderly mother, who lives alone, and we are both on fixed income. My freelance projects slowed during the lockdown, so did my income. The COLA (cost of living adjustment) for our social security benefits was very welcome, but it certainly did not cover the price increases elsewhere.

Everything medical was blown at the beginning of the year. Co-payments went from $ 35 to $ 45. Prescription prices went up from $ 10 for a 90-day supply of medication to $ 20 for a 90-day supply. Meanwhile, insurance benefits have dropped from covering 90% of surgery costs to 80%.

My mom now hesitates to go to a doctor until it’s really needed due to her higher fees, and I’ve switched all my medications to generic brands that my insurance fully covers. They only cover the name of my asthma medicine.

Medical bills for our pets were also affected. My mom and I both have larger pets, hence the higher costs of their medications and food meant drawing on savings. I ran out of my credit card paying for my dog’s surgery, which was $ 4,500. My mother’s elderly cat is now diabetic and it’s no secret how expensive insulin is. These were just some of the things we really needed to worry about, but there were, of course, others.

Many of the things the pandemic demands to entertain the world have also seen huge price hikes. From cable TV service to streaming to eating out, I was regularly inflating my budget just trying to keep my sanity. Eventually I cut off the cable TV and gratefully turned to reading to fill the void.

Linda is staying with her family on Christmas Eve 2021 in Corrales, New Mexico: (from left) Bob Herms, Eileen Herms, Brenda Stewart, Dale Stewart, Linda Stewart, and Kim Stewart.

Next on the list were the self-care items that were actually costing a package. Hands / pedis and the occasional massage came out. (They make great gifts if anyone needs to know what to get me for Christmas!) Since I keep my car in the garage, car washes were no longer needed. Also, I didn’t drive much.

With the (near) end of the pandemic, life is slowly returning to normal. Fortunately, the price of gas is falling again, but food is still high. I still feel overwhelmed by inflation, counting pennies and making sure I get the best value for money. I use coupons more and always look for sales. Sometimes it’s cheaper to cook for two, so every now and then I cook bigger meals at home and share them with my mom.

I also attended matinees instead of movies on weekend evenings. And I combine errands instead of making single trips to the grocery store, drugstore and restaurants to reduce the amount I drive and spend on gas. I also have potluck meals at home with the family instead of eating out.

I was very happy with the legislation passed by Congress, such as the Reduction of Inflation Act, because I know it will help our economy in the long run, particularly by lowering the cost of prescription drugs. But so far, I haven’t felt the benefits.

I was really grateful for the stimulus checks the government deployed at the start of the pandemic – it would be nice if we could get one more to make it through until inflation cools. Temporarily reducing our taxes would also offer much-needed relief. And raising the federal minimum wage would certainly help those on lower incomes and return more money to the economy.

I’d also like to see some oversight on companies that have engaged in price counterfeiting. Hopefully, it won’t be long before Congress is able to promote a long-term solution to help people like me who are still dealing with the effects of inflation.

There is a silver lining to my story, though. When you have a lot of time to sit and think, it’s amazing what comes to mind. I carefully examined what I thought was important in my life. What things in my home could I do without and what was essential for my well-being?

I’ve cleaned up a lot of clutter that was just a distraction and now I crave more time with loved ones. I want to go out hiking with dogs more often and see more of this beautiful state we live in. I want to share the simple joy of living with those around me. I want to laugh out loud. Great adventures await me.

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