A Few Things The Golden Girls Can Teach Us About Retirement

If I’ve learned anything from my favorite show, “The Golden Girls,” it’s that I am not going to be broke when I’m older.

Thinking about the future is scary. I’m terrified of getting older because I’m awful with money and I have no savings. If I’ve learned anything from my favorite show, “The Golden Girls,” it’s that I am not going to be broke when I’m older.

I’ve often thought I’d like to live like Dorothy, Rose, Blanche and Sophia in Miami when I retire. They are women who lived full lives well after society thought maybe they ought not to.

But because of “The Golden Girls,” retirement scares the shit out of me. Not that any of the ladies other than Sophia are actually retired — they still work, even if only part-time. The women are often strapped for cash. Maybe this was just a device the writers of the show used so they had more situations to work with (the girls looking for jobs, the girls struggling to pay for a new roof, the girls involved in get-rich-quick-schemes), but it’s a bit upsetting.

What would have happened if the girls hadn’t found each other? Would they have to go live with their children, who they rarely discuss and don’t seem to care much about? And if Blanche’s deceased husband was as wealthy as she claimed, why did she have to rent out her rooms?

Bottom line? I do not want to be living with strangers in my golden years. Ideally, I’ll have a yacht and multiple homes in retirement, but barring that, I’d be satisfied with simply having my own place. I don’t want to be old and broke and have roommates. I already did that in my twenties, and I’m over it. The Girls have scared me straight. I’m ready to stop hiding my head in the warm Miami sand and start actively preparing for retirement. These are the retirement takeaways I’ve gotten from the show:

Have a safety net: This is a biggie. Blanche, in particular, has problems saving. Every time she has a little extra money, she wants to spend it on a hot tub or a boob job. How about putting it in the bank, sister? How about saving it for a rainy day? Not Blanche. Rose invested in a Christmas Club, which I totally did not understand until Wikipedia explained that it’s really just another savings account.

I am 33 years old and do not have a savings account. It’s time to get one of these. Since I’m not hugely motivated to save, I have to trick myself into doing it. I am going to start a savings account (sometimes you can get cash to open a new account) at a different bank from my current checking account, to make it harder to access the money, and will start diverting funds into it. I’m a big fan of tools like LearnVest’s dashboard that lets you track your savings (among other things). I still feel young and scrappy enough that if I need to earn some extra money quickly by getting another job, I can do it. Having said that, though, it also seems important to…

Never stop scheming up side hustles: The Girls tried to breed minks. They tried to run a catering business. Sophia rents out the other girls’ rooms while they’re at Big Daddy’s funeral, Sophia tries to open a pizza-and-knish stand at the beach, Sophia invests in a boxer (a man, not a dog)…come to think of it, it’s usually Sophia doing the side hustles. Not only can they be income-generating, but activity keeps the mind active.

I’m always looking for side things to do for fast cash. I don’t actually do any of them, but I enjoy the research. I could sell stuff on eBay, be a mystery shopper, or take surveys online, but scrounging up these types of money-making activities probably loses some of its luster as one ages.

Cultivate inexpensive taste in activities: Rose’s beau, Miles Webber, is a good one to look to as a paragon of frugality. Miles uses coupons, eats fast food and buys day-old pastries. At one point, Miles took Rose on a date to an AA meeting. He called it “Theater of the Living,” with free refreshments afterwards.

While that particular idea is a little ethically dubious, I am trying to take a page out of his book and do more cheap stuff. I really like reading and writing, which is pretty much free. But I also REALLY like treating myself to nice dinners at fancy places, so I’m working on that one.

Diversify: Don’t keep all your eggs in one basket. When Rose lost Charlie’s pension, she was pretty much hosed. And since pensions are practically obsolete these days, and you likely won’t see much (if anything) in Social Security benefits, get yourself a retirement fund.

I have a Roth IRA that my dad, who has very good foresight, started for me, because he knew I would not do it myself. I also have a traditional IRA that I rolled over from a 401(k) from an old job. All of this money is floating around in different accounts, though, and I don’t really know where it all is, so I should probably get on that. Most people live in retirement on a mix of a retirement account, savings, and social security, so I clearly need to work on my savings portion.

Keep your friends close: The Girls regularly tell each other they couldn’t have made it through tough situations without each other. Life doesn’t stop throwing things at you just because you’re older. Dorothy’s gambling addiction came back into her life, Rose was addicted to painkillers, and through it all, they stand by each other. They’re also involved in the community, volunteering and fundraising for various causes, baby-sitting for neighbors, and leading Girl Scout troops and peewee football teams.

While this is emotionally great, it’s also nice on the wallet. It’s an extension of the safety net. With close friends and family, you can give each other cash-saving rides to the airport, lend each other money if needed, and share hotel and vacation bills.

Learn to fix things yourself: When The Girls need a new toilet installed, Rose does the plumbing herself, saving them quite a bit of cash. And when they wanted to convert their garage into a spare bedroom, they did most of the work themselves.

This is something I have to force myself to think about. I’m kind of lazy and want to throw things out when things breaks, or throw money at a problem for someone else to deal with it. But because of the internet, you really can do most things yourself. And in retirement, you should have the time. There are YouTube videos showing how to do almost anything. And if you get good enough at it, you can turn it into a side hustle (see above).

And finally…

Don’t marry a putz like Stan: Dorothy and Stan are divorced, but Stan remains a constant drain in Dorothy’s life, both emotionally and financially. He regularly shows up, usually down and out, needing The Girls to take care of him when he’s sick, lend him money, or just entertain him. Stan comes back in Season Three to tell Dorothy they are getting audited, and owe back taxes from when they were married because Stan didn’t manage things right the first time. Dorothy’s portion is $2,500. She doesn’t have “that kind of money” so she ends up pawning a ring Stan gave her that’s one of her only valuable possessions.

Think long and hard when hitching your wagon to someone else’s star. Financial ghosts can always come back to haunt you, and who needs that in retirement? You should be sitting on the lanai with your three best friends, your only worry being how to avoid another of Rose’s St. Olaf stories.

Kathryn Sanders is a TV-loving writer trying to get her finances together. Find her on Twitter at @general_sanders

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