What if the retirement advice you’re getting isn’t quite right?

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By Michelle Singletary | The Washington Post

There’s no shortage of retirement advice from financial professionals to regular folk who’ve retired and are now sharing their perspective on retired life.

But here’s the thing to keep in mind as you consider retirement recommendations. What seems perfectly logical on paper doesn’t necessarily play out in person.

That’s the point Paul B. Brown of the New York Times makes in a recent post: Three Things I Should Have Said About Retirement Planning

“I had co-authored a couple of books on the subject — one when I was in my 30s and another in my 40s — but now that I am north of 60 and retirement is a far less abstract concept, I look back on what I wrote in a different light,” Brown wrote.

He’s got more perspective, he says. He’s more empathetic.

— Typical advice: You can work longer to save more. Brown’s take now: “I wrote it was just a no-brainer to work until age 70, if you can. While my math was right, what I now realize is just how hard it is to keep working as you age.”

— Typical advice: Once you eliminate the expenses for raising your children, you can save more for retirement. Brown’s take now: “I used to believe that people edging closer to retirement usually had the ability to save more, since child-rearing expenses were no longer a factor. So, I blithely wrote, you could take all that money you had been putting toward college, for example, and invest it for retirement. Well, our ‘baby’ graduated five years ago, and now all that tuition money is going to home repair.”

— Typical advice: Spend on the big things now before you retire and transition to a fixed income. Brown’s take now: “Our oldest got married 3,000 miles away in Sonoma Valley, Calif., a couple of years ago, and not only did we fly in various family members who would have otherwise been unable to attend, but we rented a huge house for a week and hosted anyone and everyone who wanted to come by. I wouldn’t have had it any other way.”

I loved that Brown revisited his advice acknowledging that life can get in the way of the best of plans. So as you prepare for retirement, factor in a lot of “what ifs.”

What if you can’t or don’t want to work until you’re 70? I don’t want to be tied down to a job until my 70s. I’d like to spend my 60s, traveling and doing financial ministry work at my church and in prisons.

My husband and I are in our preretirement planning phase and have realized that our children are still going to need some financial assistance beyond the undergraduate college expenses we’ve saved. Starting this fall, we are covering graduate school for our oldest. Yes, that’s money we could put toward our retirement, but we want to make sure she and her siblings – should they also decide to go to graduate school – don’t start their young adult life off with debt.

When it comes to advice, I tend to put more weight on the wisdom from people who’ve “been there and done that” and have come out okay. So with that perspective, read this from NerdWallet’s Liz Weston: Retirement Advice From Retired Financial Experts

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 colorofmoney@washpost.com. Please include your name, city and state. In the subject line put “Retirement Rants and Raves.”

I heard from a lot of you who were forced to retire.

Catherine C. from Gaithersburg, Md., wrote, “I retired early at age 58 due to my mother’s failing health — stroke and Parkinson’s disease. I was the only one of her four children who lived near her and could help. She had been widowed at age 50 and went back to work as a legal secretary after having been a homemaker for 20-plus years. I had planned to go back to work once my mother was stabilized in a continuing care facility. However, her health was precarious and it fell to me to take her to medical appointments, fill her pill dispensers (morning, afternoon and evening), keep her apartment stocked with the foods she liked and wash and iron her clothes. I did this for 16 years. She died 1 week shy of her 97th birthday. I do not regret one moment of this. She was a spectacular mother who put four kids through college and encouraged each of us to follow our dreams.”

Catherine and her husband saved well enough that retiring early didn’t impact their retirement.

“We consider ourselves fortunate,” she wrote. “We learned a lot from our parents. My mother was Michelle Singletary before there was a Michelle Singletary! She believed in living below your means. We have followed in her steps — in our home for 30 years, older cars on the driveway, no bling, no designer clothes. We do splurge on trips to see friends around the country and the occasional dinner out. We are in pretty good health, but we know that could change in a second. My husband retired four years ago at 63. His company was going through a reorganization and he took a buyout. We are enjoying retirement, but we keep a close watch on our pennies. It’s wonderful to get up in the morning and have the day unfurling before us. We both do volunteer work, which keeps us busy and connected to our community. We have a dog and walk her several times a day. Have found some amazing parks that way. We are reconnecting with old friends from college and other volunteer work we have done in the past. At some point, we will downsize to a smaller place in a lower cost area ,but we’re not there yet.”

Chuck Butler of Fenton, Mo., was forced to retire. He’s 62.

“The company that I helped start in 1999 was bought out and the deal closed this year,” Butler wrote. “I was told I was to retire the day the deal closed. I was no more ready to retire than the man on the moon, but I had prepared, savings and investments wise for this day for years, and I do not have a fear of running out of money before I’m 95. I doubt I live that long, as I was diagnosed with Stage 4 metastatic renal cell cancer 10 years ago. I have battled cancer for 10 years, all the while working. I was given a fair severance that included some payment for continued insurance through COBRA. But that runs out in a year. The main problem I have is that at 62, my COBRA insurance will run out before I hit 65, and be eligible for Medicare. I have about a year of private insurance that I’ll have to pay for my wife, and me and youngest son that is in college. And THAT is something I did not plan for. So, I would warn all people that are getting ready to retire early, to check out the cost of insurance before they make that move. It’s an eye opener.”

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