Every time one of my children says, “Back in your day,” I wince.
After watching an old black-and-white sitcom, my son actually asked me if there was color television back in my day. His sisters thought it was funny. Me? Not so much.
I will say this. Back in the day, retirement was a lot less complicated. It was pretty much black and white — simple. I try not to curse, but seriously, retirement planning these days will take you there. Figuring out all the various parts and rules of Medicare alone requires a bottle of aspirin and some choice words.
There are a lot of books on retirement planning. I attempt to find ones that will cut through the clutter of confusion and help reduce the headache-inducing work required to get to the next stage of your life. For this month’s Color of Money Book Club selection, I’ve chosen “The Charles Schwab Guide to Finances After Fifty: Answers to Your Most Important Money Questions” by Carrie Schwab-Pomerantz with Joanne Cuthbertson. Both authors are certified financial planners.
“For many of us, it isn’t until about age 45 or 50 that the impending reality of retirement hits home,” Schwab-Pomerantz writes. “So the first thing to realize is that you’re not alone.”
Indeed, you are not.
A Federal Reserve report found that many households are not prepared for retirement. “Thirty-one percent of non-retired respondents reported having no retirement savings or pension, including 19 percent of those ages 55 to 64,” the Fed said in releasing its latest data on the economic well-being of U.S. households.
“Almost half of respondents reported having given little or no thought to retirement savings, and of those who have, many either do not plan to retire, expect to keep working into retirement to pay for expenses, or do not know how they will pay for their retirement.”
Schwab-Pomerantz and Cuthbertson, who is publishing director at Schwab, have put together a comprehensive guide that will help you plan for retirement. The focus is on the 50-plus crowd, but there’s something for everyone. Schwab-Pomerantz starts out by listing her top 10 financial recommendations for every age. The tips are simple — track your spending, make a budget, reduce debt — but clearly need to be said given the results of the Federal Reserve survey.
The beauty of this book is how it’s written and organized. The question-and-answer format makes it easy to skip around. Part one of the book addresses people who are at least 10 years from retiring. One of the top questions I get from readers who want to plan is how much is enough in retirement.
I love Schwab-Pomerantz’s answer. She’s doesn’t scare people with projections that they’ll need $1 million, $2 million, maybe more. She acknowledges that such projections “can take your breath away” and are “downright discouraging.”
Instead, she walks people though the questions they have to ask themselves about the type of retirement they envision to arrive at an estimate of how much will be enough.
In the second part of the book, she addresses questions you are likely to ask as you get closer to retirement. Part three tackles life in retirement, such as how to manage the money you have in order to make it last. Then there are parts focusing on Social Security, Medicare and estate planning. Finally, she touches on the people and situations that can greatly affect and drain your retirement savings, such as taking care of adult children.
“In my opinion, the financial world has become unnecessarily and disturbingly complex, particularly when it comes to preparing for and living in retirement,” Schwab-Pomerantz writes in the introduction. “There are too many types of accounts, and too many products, policies, and regulations. Too many decisions, period.”
Can I put her comments in perspective?
Schwab-Pomerantz is president of Charles Schwab Foundation and senior vice president at Charles Schwab & Co. Her father founded the financial firm Charles Schwab. She writes a nationally syndicated personal finance column, “Ask Carrie.” If Schwab-Pomerantz is conceding that retirement planning is overly complicated and she’s an expert, we mere rookies shouldn’t feel bad that we hate it and in many cases avoid it.
But you can’t escape this stuff. So have you got a strategy?
If not, start by getting the book and looking over answers to retirement questions you may not even have known you should ask.
I’ll be hosting a live online discussion about “The Charles Schwab Guide to Finances After Fifty” at noon Eastern on Sept. 24 at washingtonpost.com/discussions. Schwab-Pomerantz will be joining me and taking your retirement questions. You can send questions in advance of the online chat to email@example.com. Please put “Retirement” in the subject line.
Readers may write to Michelle Singletary at The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Personal responses may not be possible, and comments or questions may be used in a future column, with the writer’s name, unless otherwise requested. To read more, go to http://wapo.st/michelle-singletary.