There are so many reports about how financially unprepared people are for retirement.
— Not saving for retirement tops Americans’ greatest regrets
But behind those stories are real people who struggle to save but ended up stumbling into retirement sooner than they had planned. In many ways, retirement planning commercials with their beaming seniors walking on a beach financially set for retirement portray a life that so many won’t experience.
“Every time I see an advertisement regarding retirement portfolios on TV, I cringe,” wrote Suzanne from New Jersey. “Those retirees look happy. It seems they have been planning and getting all their ducks in a row forever. I applaud all who have done so, but wonder how many of us are like those people?”
Suzanne’s story might not be unlike yours:
“I am 63 and my husband of 43 years is 65,” she wrote. “We have three kids, and nine grandchildren. We were, what I consider, mostly uneducated regarding money through most of our lives, but we were able to get by. We always lived paycheck to paycheck, but we even managed to save a few bucks here and there. We were not college educated, but we could still find decent paying jobs. My husband was a steelworker for 30 years, and I trained as an LPN and eventually was making a good salary. We paid our mortgage and could get away to the Poconos or Jersey Shore for a week’s vacation every year. Our kids eventually got older, got married and had kids of their own. Then, in 2008, my husband lost three-fourths of his 401(k) in the meltdown. I lost about as much in mine. In 2009, they closed the steel mill. In 2012, we had to short sale our home because we were unable to make the payments. My husband had been laid off at the age of 62, and there weren’t very many jobs available to him at his age. We ended up filing for bankruptcy because we couldn’t pay our bills.”
Suzanne said her husband eventually found a part-time job and started collecting Social Security.
“I’m still working, but happen to work in the healthcare field serving the Medicaid population. And with the possible destruction of Medicaid as we know it, I am worried that I will lose my job and my health coverage along with it,” she wrote. “Not so good for someone my age with two pre-existing conditions.”
“What remained of my husband’s 401(k) did not last very long after his layoff,” she wrote. “Mine is nowhere near what we will need to retire. It’s a nightmare scenario for us. That’s why I cringe whenever I see those commercials.”
Even as we continue to encourage people to save for retirement, none of us should smugly think that those who don’t have enough are living large at the expense of their senior years.
All hope is not lost if your retirement savings are slim.
Retirement rants and raves
I’m interested in your experiences or concerns about retirement.
Did you retire early and if so, how did you do it?
Is retirement everything you hoped for?
Are you scared you’ll run out of money?
Sharing your story might help others. So send your comments to email@example.com. Please include your name, city and state. In the subject line put “Retirement Rants and Raves.”
Kathleen McDonald of Peterborough, N.H., had a lot to say about the GOP’s efforts to make changes to the Affordable Care Act.
“I’m in my late 50s with two pre-existing conditions that are well managed by generic medications I could not afford without ACA,” McDonald wrote. “I have two jobs, but neither offers health insurance, and so far I can’t find one that does. Eventually, people like me will be a vastly more expensive burden to public institutions such as Medicaid and state or county nursing homes — that is, after we have exhausted all our own resources and those (if we’re lucky) of family. The stupidly simplistic rhetoric coming from the White House, ‘They could just get a job [if they lose Medicaid coverage].’ and the houses of Congress, ‘Maybe they shouldn’t buy that new iPhone’ demonstrate either complete ignorance of who’s using ACA and why or a determination to do and say anything it takes to divert spending on ACA to the millionaire class. It’s probably both.”
Kathy Hogan Van Mullekom of Virginia wrote, “My husband and I prepared for retirement early and carefully, getting long-term care insurance, kept our federal [health insurance] and dental insurance because we don’t trust the government and Medicare. We made those a priority instead of jewelry, restaurants and shopping. It irritates us to hear 50-to-64 year olds complain they can’t retire because of medical insurance. My husband worked until he was 66, I still work part time at 68 because I enjoy it. Too many people just want someone else to see to their needs. We support strong free community health clinics instead of Medicaid. People need to put their big boy/girl panties on.”
I believe that wealth happens intentionally and for me that means reading as much as I can about all things financial, especially retirement.
In this section of the newsletter, I’ll feature postings from various retirement blogs.
“Many people who have saved for retirement have never considered how they want to spend their time in retirement,” wrote Jean Potuchekm of Maine.
Potuchekm recommended “A Satisfying Retirement” blog by Bob Lowry.
Here’s one of his postings that had me a little envious of retirement living, “Retirement vacations: Worth the time and money?”
Potuchekm, who retired at 67, has her own blog, “Stepping Into the Future: A Retirement Journal.”
Here’s a recent journal entry you might find interesting: How busy am I?
“Retirement has provided me with an opportunity to pursue many interests and activities that I never would have found the time for when I was working,” she writes. “And it is also true that, as I explained to a recently retired acquaintance, I sometimes get carried away with my enthusiasms. But do those enthusiasms and activities constitute a schedule of commitments similar to a paid job? The answer is an emphatic ‘No.’”
In an email to me, Potuchekm said, “retirement is everything I had hoped for and more. I don’t worry about running out of money, although I might have to live more frugally at some point. I am a careful budgeter and a lifelong saver. Even more importantly, I was lucky enough to spend the last 25 years of my career working for an employer with a very generous retirement plan: they contributed 10 percent of my salary to a 403(b), apart from anything I contributed (and I typically contributed another 10 percent). I also have enough in savings that I am able to delay taking Social Security until I am 70.”
If you have a favorite retirement blog or you see a posting you found helpful let me know. Send your suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your name, city and state and in the subject line put “Retirement blog.”
Newsletter comments policy
Please note it is my personal policy to identify readers who respond to questions I ask in my newsletters. I find it encourages thoughtful and civil conversation. I want my newsletters to be a safe place to express your opinion. On sensitive matters or upon request, I’m happy to include just your first name and/or last initial. But I prefer not to post anonymous comments (I do make exceptions when I’m asking questions that might reveal sensitive information or cause conflict.)
Have a question about your finances? Michelle Singletary has a weekly live chat every Thursday at noon where she discusses financial dilemmas with readers. You can also write to Michelle directly by sending an email to email@example.com. 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 Color of Money columns, go here.