The times they are a-changin’
Contrary to the popular “me-generation” stereotype, baby boomers were once experts at getting by on less.
Haight-Ashbury, after all, was filled with rent-sharing communes. Hitchhiking cross-country saved gas before there was ever an energy crisis. And at a whopping $6, a ticket to Woodstock was an entertainment steal.
It’s doubtful these kinds of frugal lifestyle choices appeal to boomers today. But the notion of economizing will increasingly play a central role in this iconic generation’s lives. Simply put: They are starting to turn 65. And most of this demographic bubble will have less money in retirement than when they were working.
Does that mean you can’t play golf? Might you skip a coveted cruise because you could live to 100? Should you consider returning to the commune?
Emphatically: No. Retirement realities mean matching means to dreams. Whether you’re closer in age to former President George W. Bush (July 6, 1946) or Amazon.com’s CEO Jeff Bezos (Jan. 12, 1964), the planning principles are the same. In the spirit of a generation that traveled to the beat of a different drum, here’s a self-help guide to a fulfilling retirement.
People get ready
Back then, Bob Dylan told boomers the answer was “blowin’ in the wind.”
Fortunately, when it comes to retirement planning, you don’t have to pull the answer out of thin air. The solution is simple: Start early. Not the retirement — the saving for it. “You need to start saving for your retirement very early — earlier than when many pay attention to it, says Sally Hurme, a senior project manager at AARP.
The good news is that Americans are saving more these days. The national savings rate is about 6 percent, compared to 1 percent in 2005, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis. The bad news? Boomers’ parents were saving over 10 percent in the ’70s. Some experts suggest today’s retirees-to-be should sock away 15 percent.
Sound tough? Here are two ways to motivate yourself. One, take advantage of any employer-sponsored plan, like a 401(k), which usually has a match of free money. Two, plan a specific post-retirement adventure you want to have; it will make you more likely to save up for it.
We can work it out
Pink Floyd may have thought money was a gas. But you need to carefully consider where to stash it in order to fuel a fulfilling retirement.
Harold Evensky, a South Florida financial planner and co-author of “The New Wealth Management,” says you might consider setting up two accounts as you save: one for basic monthly expenses, and the other for less-basic needs, like a Tuscan summer.
Plan on shouldering much of the retirement burden yourself. Social Security is still around, but it hasn’t given a cost-of-living increase in two years. And unlike their parents, boomers live in a world where pensions are becoming as dated as lava lamps and vinyl LPs.
Picking your portfolio will depend a lot on your age, affluence and risk tolerance. But Evensky and other planners worry the crash of 2008 made boomers too skittish about stocks, which are now rebounding. Meanwhile, the housing bust taught Jan Bergemann, a Florida retiree, the importance of diversity. “Most of my generation came here to Florida with quite some assets, but we invested (them) in homes that are now not worth anything,” he says.
Can’t buy me love
Maybe money can’t buy love. So why not use it to pay down pre-retirement debt?
Having adequate savings is half the retirement equation. Not owing it all to creditors is the other.
By the time you’re within a decade of retirement, you should have taken care of business like credit card bills and other loans, says Benjamin Tobias, a Certified Financial Planner in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
“That’s the key to the whole thing: Be responsible for your own actions,” he says. Other planners advocate having your home paid off before you call retirement a career. If you’re worried you don’t have enough put away, keep working. No, you don’t have to put in eight days a week, but the less you’re paying creditors and the less you’re drawing down your nest egg, the more you’ll have for you. “I’ve always run scared,” says Stanley Krugman, a Miami-area dentist who, at 76, is still seeing patients.
Let’s go, let’s go, let’s go
The Mamas and the Papas once exhorted their fellow boomers to “go where you wanna go, do what you wanna do.”
It’s still good advice, 46 years later. Maybe your retirement dreams are heavy on affordable wish-fulfillment, like the skydiving George H.W. Bush. If it’s pricier pastimes like playing golf every day, use public courses at off-peak hours. If it’s traveling the world, you now have the latitude to explore during less-expensive shoulder seasons. Meanwhile, senior discounts are offered on everything from movies to subway passes.
And don’t forget fun that’s free. Volunteering may not pay, but neither does it cost. Bea Burridge volunteers at the Retirement Home for Horses, a sort-of rest home for elderly and abused equines in central Florida. So does her father, who’s 95.
The bottom line: To paraphrase the Rolling Stones, you can’t always get what you want. But if you sync financial realities and retirement dreams, you just might find you get what you need.