Profile > Fern Ziebell, 73, Renton. Nest egg: part-time wages as medical transcriptionist; Social Security; life-insurance payout of...

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Profile: Fern Ziebell, 73, Renton. Nest egg: part-time wages as medical transcriptionist; Social Security; life-insurance payout of $25,000, invested.

Fern Ziebell was widowed at age 51 with just $25,000 in life insurance — an amount she describes as “nothing when you look at the rest of your life.” One of her four daughters still was living at home.

She realized she needed two things: a fast education in personal finance and a plan to support herself for the rest of her life.

Ziebell, a medical transcriptionist at Virginia Mason Medical Center since 1969, supported her family with her income and invested the insurance money with help from a financial adviser. Among her stock picks, in 1986: Microsoft.

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She held the stock through several splits and ended up selling some at the peak of the market, using it to take her extended family on trips to Disney World, Hawaii and a short cruise. “It was the best money I ever spent. I was able to take advantage of the money while I was still alive.”

Ziebell now works two days a week, making $20 per hour, and plans to work indefinitely. “I love my job and I love the people. It helps pay for my prescriptions and for [Medicare] gap insurance.” Her wages, plus Social Security of about $1,000 per month, pay most of her bills.

She taps into her nest egg as needed, and pays $2,800 per year for long-term-care insurance because “I don’t want to be a burden to my children.”

Take-away tip: Shifting to part-time work instead of full retirement is a growing trend; more than 30 percent of women 55 and older work. Planners encourage women to delay tapping their nest egg if their wages and Social Security checks are enough to live on. Longevity comes into play: Current life expectancy for women is 79 years old and savings may need to stretch longer than that for many women who beat the average.