Gracious Living on Social Security by Valerie Kent

About the Author:

At eighty-eight, Valerie Kent is the survivor of a long lifetime spent adjusting to dramatically evolving worlds. She moved from Britain to the United States in 1933. Valerie began at the age of forty-six the drawn-out process of education - seven universities - that would generate, initially, a career as a drug and alcohol counselor for troubled women, then a decade as a celebrated college teacher and - ultimately - a final, exultant marriage. This is her story.

To learn more about Valerie and her book, visit

About the Book:

Gracious Living is an easy-to-read decade-long journey that offers tips and suggestions on how senior citizens can stretch their dollar and get the most for their money. Eleven chapters cover every important aspect of living together, from the wedding preparations to where to live. Key considerations follow each chapter for quick reference: considerations like where and when to buy clothing, choosing a place to live and juggling your finances. Artist Jeff Nitzberg adds his unique touch with original drawings introducing each chapter.


We all aspire to the many extras which supposedly make our lives more enjoyable. For some, the list is headed up by second cars, designer clothing, even dining out regularly in expensive restaurants. Where cash is scarce, it demands real discipline to examine spending patterns and determine just what we truly need, then prioritize whatever we merely want. Because money is one of the central issues in any marriage, retiring on a fixed income is likely to increase rather than reduce unavoidable tension over it. Careful planning and thoughtful shopping can help. This can reduce costs (even if our economy worsens) and thereby free up funds for luxuries further down everybody’s wish list. The discipline to follow through with a mutually-agreed-on plan, once made, is tough, but rewarding.

All this requires an investment of time: time, our most available resource. It is hard to change old habits, and an exertion of will is sometimes required to pay attention to details you never bothered about before. Joint planning, joint responsibility and joint action are vital now that you will be spending much more time together. Having that “we” approach is more important than ever to insure graceful living.

Our working years could certainly have benefited from this prescription for a happy life together, but the pressures and urgencies of raising a family and establishing a career often leave couples living quite separate lives. Each partner has had his or her own areas of responsibility, and in practice true collaboration is often lacking. Being forced to strengthen the bond of “we” during a financial squeeze may significantly improve living together in retirement by forcing the reconsideration of older, sloppier patterns.

One of the most difficult tasks is settling on those more urgent, less avoidable priorities. Dealing with the money forces decisions as to whose preference will prevail and facilitates true compromise. Inevitably somebody’s preference gets bumped off the budget. Thos fulfilled golden years are impossible without new level of mutual respect and open communication.

The author was gracious enough to do an interview with me. This is what she had to say:

Could you please tell us a little about your book?

This book came out of an awareness that two middle-class people, who later in life found themselves largely dependent on Social Security income, could build a gracious, productive life. The essence of the book is a series of strategies to accomplish this.

Did something specific happen to prompt you to write this book?

Yes. Close friends kept remarking about our wide-ranging and gratifying lifestyle and wondering how we brought it off in a modest income.

Who or what is the inspiration behind this book?

Ultimately, a very happy remarriage late in life made everything else possible.

Who is your biggest supporter?

Each of us would certainly identify the other.

Your biggest critic?

See answer 4.

What cause are you most passionate about?

It has always seemed important, especially after a bitter mid-life divorce, that women be well qualified and well recognized for what they do.

In the last year have you learned or improved on any skills?

Certainly writing this book was very useful. This was a chance to apply the principles of English and Journal Writing taught over the years to adult students at Eckerd College.

Do you have any rituals you follow when finishing a piece of work?

It’s always wonderful to celebrate with a bottle of good wine and a gourmet meal.

Who has influenced you throughout your career as a writer?

A course taken soon after arriving in St. Petersburg, Florida, with the well-known poet and essayist Peter Meinke, has exerted an influence to the present moment.

What is the most important thing in your life right now?

A recent medical setback makes getting well soon primary.

What are you currently working on?

A course to be taught at the adult center, Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Eckerd College, with Rick is scheduled to begin in October. The lesson plan is under development.

Do you have any advice for writers or readers?

It is important to keep journals and notebooks and train yourself to focus on details.

Is there an author that inspired you to write?

An important early influence was Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own.

What are some of your long term goals?

It would be wonderful to recover complete vigor and return soon to teaching and writing.

What do you feel has been your greatest achievement as an author?

It was very important to epitomize the way in which the lessons of a lifetime can help through good times and bad. Gracious Living on Social Security bristles with our secrets.

What do you feel is your biggest strength?

Vitality, sensuality, and an open and curious mind.

Biggest weakness?

Sometimes headstrong.

What do you feel sets this book apart from others in the same genre?

It is very conversational and at the same time very specific, so that the reader can easily pick up hundreds of valuable clues useful for upgrading his or her life.

You know the scenario – you’re stuck on an island. What book would you bring with you and why?

Recently impressed greatly by Jane Fonda’s My Life So Far, which is richly textured with a mature understanding of life’s ups and downs.

If you could go back and change one thing, what would it be?

Go to college sooner – not at 48, I was lucky to enroll as a non-traditional student at Ohio State.

Are you a different person now than you were 5 years ago? In what ways?

In general, since remarrying over a decade ago, life has stabilized and become a lot more productive.

What is the most important lesson you have learned from life so far?

Stick with your principles and be prepared to work hard professionally and personally to build a life.

Is there anything you regret doing/not doing?

A difficult early marriage prevented important self-realization until later than it should have.

What is your favorite pastime?

Reading about and talking about politics.

Is there anything else you would like to share with us?

“To thine own self be true….”
Discover your dream and follow it.

For a fuller treatment of Gracious Living on Social Security as well as the life of Valerie Kent, check out the Tree Farm Books website,

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Cheryl said...

Thanks for hosting Valerie Kent today. I've read this book and it has advice for adults of all ages, not just retirees.