The Late Show

Richard Quinn

I’VE BEEN INVOLVED in retirement planning for more than 50 years. Back in the day, my job was to calculate the pensions for 20 to 30 workers each month by hand, using multiplication and long division. Many of those new retirees were poorly prepared, but they did have a pension.

Here we are in the 21st century and I see little has changed. Lack of planning, lack of savings, widespread misinformation and reliance on inaccurate assumptions still plague Americans.

Want to make sure you’re prepared for retirement—and make the most of it once you quit the workforce? Here are 10 pointers inspired by 10 American and British television shows.

As Time Goes By. Few folks think about retirement when they’re age 25. Hey, there’s plenty of time, right? Anyone who is already retired knows that isn’t true. Where did the time go? Retirement savings must start with that very first job.

Keeping Up Appearances. As our income rises, the tendency isn’t to save more, but to spend more, so the Joneses know we’ve made it. Have at it, I say, provided it’s done after you’ve set aside money for your future—and provided you aren’t financing your spending with debt.

Last of the Summer Wine. Nope, once retired, you won’t be fishing or playing golf every day and, after a few years, you probably won’t want to. So what’s the plan? Maybe plan isn’t the right word. Few of us have a plan for how we’ll spend our time over the next 20-plus years. In fact, much of your time will end up being planned for you. Trust me, it happens.

Still, take the time to think about what you’d like to do, be it traveling, regularly having lunch with friends, volunteering, taking college courses or simply reading. My wife reads two to three books a week. Me, I’m reading a history of the world. It may take a while. Yeah, and I write a lot.

Waiting for God. What drives me nuts, and I find very sad, is the worker—most often it’s a man—who thinks of retirement income as his or hers alone, ignoring the possible needs of a surviving spouse or partner. Don’t do it.

Open All Night. This 1980s British TV series is about a likable grocer who delights in modest cons aimed at the local retirees. In the real world, people who aren’t so likable also delight in taking advantage of us seniors, especially the most vulnerable, which includes those retirees desperate for a quick financial fix.

Are You Being Served? Any store you enter will be more than willing to sell you something. But will you buy? Many retirees with adequate income and plenty of savings have a tendency to be too thrifty, especially in the early years of retirement. Since I’m among them, I understand the anxiety of not wanting to run out of money. But as the years go by, it’s okay to enjoy life a little more. No, don’t go crazy. But during those decades in the workforce, you were planning for the future—and now it’s here.

Press Your Luck. This is a show all about greed and taking risk. But when it comes to saving for—and spending during—retirement, pressing your luck is not a good idea. Sure, if you don’t take sufficient risk, you may end up with insufficient funds. But taking too much risk may mean no funds at all.

This Old House. Long before retirement, it’s critical to decide not only where to live, but also what place to live in. Waiting too long to move can create great stress—and, if the upkeep on your current place is steep, perhaps money woes as well.

Antiques Roadshow. There’s scant chance you’ll discover a masterpiece in your basement, so do your children a favor: clean it up. Your treasures are your kids’ storage nightmare.

The Chase. This game show is all about using what you know to your best advantage. But when it comes to retirement, knowledge is often sadly lacking. Why, oh why, don’t people pay attention, especially when it’s in their best interest?

My former employer is making major changes in our retiree health benefits. Communications have been going out for more than a year. Open enrollment just started and many people are now claiming they don’t know what’s going on. I have no doubt many will make poor decisions. My experience tells me that, when they were employed, these folks were equally oblivious to the details of their pension and 401(k). For goodness sake, read the stuff you get from your employer, the Social Security Administration, Medicare and others.

Do you notice anything unique about the above? I hope not, because it’s all been said many times before. So why is all this relevant? A recent article on MarketWatch caught my eye. Here’s a quote: Our data is showing that, because of the COVID recession, about 50% of workers over the age of 55 will be poor or near-poor adults when they reach 65.”

I wouldn’t buy that dire prediction, but it sure catches your attention. Don’t want to end up as a poor or near-poor retiree? Maybe you should spend less time watching TV—and a little more time focused on your finances.

Richard Quinn blogs at Before retiring in 2010, Dick was a compensation and benefits executive. His previous articles include For Your BenefitA Seat at the Slots and Want $870,000. Follow Dick on Twitter @QuinnsComments.

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