Retirement: First you need a plan

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I’m part of a Facebook private group with a number of older — mostly single — women who together are trying to figure out how to live well in retirement on a modest amount of money.

They are looking at a variety of retirement planning options, including shared housing. Several of them also are involved in an online small business startup that so far is providing only a small amount of return, but could do better in the future, especially if this group can figure out how to get more start-up capital.

Many of these women live in expensive parts of the country, and one of the insights that has received a lot of discussion is the notion that someone doesn’t have to live where one-bedroom apartments cost more than $2,000 a month. They could live in an attractive, safe locale and pay less than half that for an apartment or small home — but they’d have to move. For some, that’s out of the question.

The other eye-opening notion getting a lot of discussion has been the math of partnership. Whether it is marriage, friendship or simple convenience, two Social Security checks go farther than one. But as one owner of multiple cats admitted, “Not many people could live with me.”

I thought about this group when I was reading a report from Wells Fargo about a middle-class retirement savings dilemma. More than 59 percent of middle-income people told Wells Fargo that they couldn’t afford to save because they had to pay monthly bills. Some 40 percent say both saving and paying bills is absolutely impossible, and 34 percent of these respondents say they plan to work until age 80 because they have no retirement options.

How do middle-class people get to a point where they can be hopeful that they’ll have enough money to hang up their work boots and still live well? Wells Fargo points out that while less than 30 percent of middle-class people have a written plan for future retirement, 70 percent of those who do say they are confident they will be able to retire and live comfortably. Also, among those who have a plan, 91 percent say they have “willpower” to save.

As I look at my online friends and their creative efforts to improve their elder years, I am admiring, but I also think that for most of us a plan and the willpower to follow through is the real key to a successful retirement.