Nina Smith

HIV and Surviving Retirement

Filed By Nina Smith | November 19, 2007 7:10 PM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: HIV/AIDS, retirement

“You live and learn. At any rate, you live.” – Douglas Adams

A few weeks ago, Ann Marsh at the Los Angeles Times profiled a gay man in the Money Makeover column entitled: AIDS survivor now needs a retirement plan. She writes:

Michael Sausser, 45, never planned for retirement. Doctors diagnosed him with AIDS almost 20 years ago. His first symptoms of the full-blown disease – AIDS-related dementia – indicated the end was near. A doctor gave him two months.

But two decades later he’s still here. The dementia comes and goes. Survival hasn’t been easy, and Sausser has taken as many as 35 drugs a day to stay alive. The disease has also ravaged his finances.

I’ve written about this topic in the past: HIV-positive gays outliving their retirement. I noted a colleague that told me ten years ago in a very matter-of-fact way that he was HIV-positive. Although the Grim Reaper wasn’t hanging out on his stoop, I remember him saying that he didn’t expect to live past fifty. We both recently turned forty and have remained friends. He’s been living a healthy life for over a decade and I suspect he could live another two decades. He believes this too because at some point in his late thirties, he quit the circuit parties, saved money and bought a condo in Los Angeles. He started living and planning like someone with a future… a future where he didn’t want to be poor.

Michael Sausser is not quite so fortunate. He’s made some investment mistakes: expensive home improvements, outrageous fees for real estate investing seminars, and two timeshare properties that he “plans” to flip. The advisor in the article provides practical advice and suggests that he downsize his house in LA and move to a lower costing condo in Palm Springs that Sausser is considering.

The advisor also suggested that he downsize the number of pets. As you can image that didn’t go over too well. We’ve heard from pet-owners before over at Queercents and understand this isn’t an option for most animal lovers.

Most of Sausser’s expenses come from his medical bills which he can’t control, but there are ways he could earn more income and his partner should be pulling his fair share when it comes to the expenses: “It would help if Rodarte [his partner] could bring in more income because Rodarte works sporadically and Sausser covers a portion of his partner’s expenses.”

Hello?! Get that house boy a full time job – ASAP!

Unfortunately, Sausser’s overall situation doesn’t sound all that unique and it’s sad that so many HIV-positive men are finding themselves in financial crisis. But most never thought they would live this long. After all, how often do you hear anything about viatical settlements these days?

Joe Kapp and Nicholas Burkholder explored the “surviving retirement” challenge in their money column at The Advocate by providing some similar solutions. They write:

HIV-positive men are stressing out over golden years they never thought they’d see. But even if you never planned for retirement, getting on track is not that difficult.

The basic actions are the same for anyone who hasn’t seriously thought about his or her financial future:

  • Benchmark your current financial position.
  • Maximize contributions to retirement plans.
  • Reduce your future expenses (by, say, downsizing to a smaller home).
  • Eliminate credit-card debt.
  • And consider a postretirement job.

Of course, easier said than done. Perhaps I can locate Sausser to see if he’ll give us an update in a couple of months.

For additional advice check out The Financial Facts of Living with HIV from GayFinance.

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Nina blogs about money over at Queercents.


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