Sunday, February 26, 2012

The Hard Sell

This is the point where two facts collide. You hear a lot of white noise about the so-called delayed retirement, the I'll-have-to-work-longer-because-my-plan-was-undone tales. Those headlines create anxiousness amongst even those who are prepared to retire as planned. This group second-guesses the plan they have in place even if it is viable. And then you also hear the unbelievable number of retiring Boomers that do take the leap, a number that doesn't seem real: 10,000 Boomers are reaching retirement age each day.

Who are these people? The unprepared and the prepared hurtling headlong into older adulthood. They both had expectations of retiring based on what can only be considered now as unrealistic math. They set goals and they weren't met as planned. A few got it right. Remember, there's no shame in that miscalculation. Folks have been doing it for decades. But your plan is all you really care about and if it hasn't met your expectations, which in many instances were a bit lofty, you resign to work longer. This is where the facts collide.

You know all too well that simply working longer will add to the amount of retirement income you will have but only if you significantly increase your contributions. Few resign themselves to do both.

But the other half of the equation, the Boomers who do retire, are often caught in the same anxiety ridden place. They question whether they made the right choice and more importantly, whether the money they have amassed will serve their purpose, remains hanging over every plan as an unknown.

That purpose is often clouded with not only the unpredictable cost of longevity but whether they might have enough to take care of their heirs - a serious consideration among a wide swath of retired adults and those about to retire. This last consideration is entertained by women more so than men, statistics have uncovered, which is often surprising. Why? This same group of women approaching retirement has often saved less, another unfortunate statistic concerning women and retirement.

Those that do retire should consider where they retire. And while there are many suggestions as to what to do and how to go about it, but a quick survey of your current surroundings will offer a great many answers to your dilemma.

For instance, seniors or those about to become seniors often fail to inventory the services they may need. Once retired, your daily life will require things you had previously not considered. More than just the availability of medical services, more than the infrastructure of city services such as public transportation and well-lit and well-patrolled neighborhoods, your current location needs to stimulate you or at least have accessible stimulation to keep you mentally sharp and involved. This is not how many American cities were designed. Far too many cities and their suburbs require a car. And while this may be seen by many older Americans as a freedom, not being able to drive can imprison some seniors if they find where they live too far away from these activities. Only vast sums of retirement income can change that one item and few seniors, who essentially are on a fixed income, want to reach for their wallet or purse to pay to go shopping.

To pre-Boomers or those who are still working, where you live is not often what you can afford. If you live in the city, chances are you rent. If you live in the suburbs, chances are you have a mortgage. If you have a mortgage, chances are you can't afford it. That's a lot of "ifs" but they are an approaching nightmare for those about to retire.

While many of believe that the cities we live in should adjust to us and our current and future retirement needs, it probably won't happen soon. So retirees look to communities that cater to their needs. This ghetto-izing of seniors, much like Florida and Arizona is not only unappealing to many Boomers, it is not as healthy as it first appears. Sure, these senior-only communities do provide like-minded companionship, concentrated services and accommodations that cater to gradual aging, but they are often culturally void of the stimulation that all walks of life can provide. Being isolated is not the answer.

So what is? Cities are struggling with their finances and as a result are cutting back on services that once were taken for granted. We might be living longer but in far too many instances, your health may compromise that statistic or impact the quality of that longer life. And the cost of where you live - assuming your mortgage is paid off before you retire - is not getting cheaper. Add inflation into the mix and you have eliminated all but the most obvious choice: you have fewer options.

Of course, you can stay put in a house that might be too big and too costly to maintain. This will gradually eat away at your fixed income and reduce your opportunities to engage with the outside world. Now one plans on spending their day at McDonalds sipping bad coffee with fellow seniors, no matter how well-lit, no matter how inexpensive the house brew and no matter if the loitering rules don't apply. But take away any portion of that spendable income and you limit the choices.

Where is the right place? While there is no firm answer, you do have options. For instance, if family is important to you, be sure your family shares this thinking as well. The dynamic of marriage - and I am speaking of your children's marriage - can create some confusion. Deciding that you can rely on your children and their spouses for the help you might need is something you need to discuss well in advance of retiring.

At some point, one of your kids or their spouses may find you in their care. Perhaps not in the day-to-day sense or even the long-term care situation, but in the need to check-in, help with errands or assume a financial role. This needs to be discussed in advance, a discussion that should be instigated by you. This is no easy discussion.

You do need to tell your children what you expect from retirement, even if you are unsure. Answer the hard questions (can you afford to stay in your house for instance) and when the time comes, unfold your finances for them to see. Let them know where you stand and what your plan is.

Boomers will be sold a retirement that is unlike any other before them. If you live longer as the statistics suggest you will, what do you expect of your surroundings? What role does your community play in the decision? What role will your kids have? Retirement is much more than simply amassing cash. It is amassing support. And believe it or not, that is old school thinking, a throwback to the time when retired family members depended on their kids for everything. But those kids, who may not be thinking along the same lines as you need to be involved now, rather than later.

Paul Petillo is the Managing Editor of and a fellow Boomer


Tracy said...

One retirement option many seniors have heard of, but may have reservations about is the reverse mortgage. There are lots of opinions about this program, but once you investigate and learn the truth about it, you will quickly see that the reverse mortgage can benefit many boomers age 62 and older. One of many resources to learn about reverse mortgages is This website has a lot of good information as well as a calculator to see if you qualify. While this program is not for everyone, it can be a great part of many senior's retirement strategies.

Unknown said...

Great post. I believe that aside from wise retirement planning, boomers must understand that their surroundings(including the people in it) also play a great part in their retirement.

Unknown said...

Nice Post! I learned long ago that the best way to have a nice financial future is to plan in the present. 20 years ago I followed this mantra and set up a checkbook ira to secure my financial future. Thank God I stuck to it!