WARNING: WHAT YOU read next may be interpreted as a rant—because it is.
I’m tired of hearing about how Americans are unprepared for retirement or even minor financial emergencies. A few years back, it was the inability of 40% to 50% of us to come up with $400 for an emergency. The $400 figure has been used to prove everything from the extent of inequality to how Americans struggle to manage money.
Other studies set the hurdle at $1,000.
I BECAME INVOLVED with employer health benefits in 1962. Back then, my job was to screen medical claims before sending them to the claims’ administrator for processing.
In the decades that followed, I designed, negotiated and managed health plans for a company with 15,000 employees and 4,000 retirees. My job was twofold: to make sure the health benefits were working correctly and to manage costs. The first goal was relatively easy. The second was nearly impossible.
HAVE YOU EVER MADE a plan and then had it go awry? Like the car breaking down on the highway when you’re driving to Christmas dinner, as happened to me several years ago.
Stuff happens. That’s why I can’t understand why many people preparing for retirement seem to have unwavering confidence in their planned budget—one that’s often generated using software or a spreadsheet.
Hiring a financial advisor may help. But for that advice to bolster your chances of success,
FROM TIME TO TIME, I’ve been called judgmental. Me? Just to be sure, I looked up the definition. I’ll admit I do meet some—but not all—of the criteria.
I read or listen to something, and then I start thinking. Can that be true? What are they thinking? Why would they do that? Have they considered their financial priorities and the possible consequences?
My latest target is the TV show about people buying a recreational vehicle (RV).
I RECALL PAYDAY IN 1961, when I was at my first job. There was a paymaster who would deliver our paychecks. At break time, we would be off to the nearest bank to cash our checks. I deposited most of mine in a savings account, plus $2 in my Christmas Club account. But many of my fellow workers took the whole check in cash.
I always thought taking cash was a bit risky. I once got up the nerve to ask a few friends why they took cash.
THIS IS ABOUT a journey, about what can happen and what you can make happen. It’s about starting at the bottom and, over more than 50 years, achieving financial independence.
My financial views were heavily influenced by my parents, especially my father, but not in the way you might imagine. My father was a car salesman. For many years, he worked seven days a week, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. He was let go from his job at age 67.
IF THERE WAS ANYONE who should have been emotionally unprepared to retire, it was me. In the years immediately before, I was at the top of my career. I’d been promoted to vice president. I had virtual total control over my job. I was recognized by nearly every employee because of my extensive employee benefits communications and the fact that I’d negotiated benefits for decades. I was among the few who routinely met with the company’s chairman.
THERE ARE TWO THINGS that Americans loathe paying: taxes and health care costs. When those two come together, watch out.
That brings us to IRMAA, short for income-related monthly adjustment amount, the steeper Medicare premiums paid by retirees with high incomes. Those who pay IRMAA are often livid about the extra cost.
I looked up my Social Security records. Over my working career, I paid $98,062 in Medicare taxes and my employer paid $97,735,
MY WIFE AND I ARE blessed with 11 grandchildren and two step-grandchildren. They range in age from six to 18. Amazingly, as we get older, they’ve gotten older, too. We’re fortunate that all of our family is no more than an hour and a quarter’s drive away.
How I miss the days when they were delighted to play with Pa. We went to parks, to playgrounds, to see koi in a pond. We made sandcastles,
AFTER 78 YEARS, my plumbing has gone awry, and I’m not talking about the kitchen sink. My doctor said something about my prostate having its own zip code. I’m waiting to have surgery and, because of fear of COVID, I’ve been quarantined for the past month.
We were supposed to be in Florida. For several years, we had rented a house using VRBO. Luckily, I was able to cancel within a week of our reservation date with no hassle.
I’M IN THE HABIT of checking my investments every day. Since I consolidated them into one Fidelity Investments’ account, it’s easy to see the impact of market movements on everything I own. I don’t depend on my investments for income, but it still shakes me up when I see big drops, especially several days in a row.
If market gyrations affect me, what must they do to retirees who depend heavily on their investments for income?
SEEING YOUR IRA or 401(k) decline precipitously is bad enough. Locking in those losses is far worse. The good news: I’ve perused various Facebook retirement groups since the Russian invasion of Ukraine and have seen few signs of panic.
For instance, here’s some good advice from a prudent retiree: “Stay the course, but in the future make sure you have enough in a cash reserve for at least one year of planned withdrawals or RMDs,” meaning those pesky required minimum distributions that must be taken each year by those of us age 72 and older.
I’M FASCINATED by frugality. Being frugal is not the same as being cheap, though—based on what I read about some people who claim frugality—it sounds to me like they are indeed being cheap.
We’re told frugality adds to the quality of life, that it creates a less stressful, less materialistic existence. Being frugal is fine, but living frugally because it’s a necessity—especially in retirement—not so much. Is a minimalist lifestyle all that satisfying?
I think being frugal is a misnomer.
VIEW ANY NUMBER of YouTube videos on retirement planning, and you’ll find advice on how much you need to save each month, how to invest, how much to accumulate and how to generate retirement income. The same is true for the experts who write blogs.
All this information relates to the retiree. Rarely—actually never—have I seen a discussion about survivor benefits. Even the 4% rule uses an assumed 30-year retirement period, apparently ignoring the possibility that retirement income needs to last over two lifetimes that may extend beyond 30 years,
WOULD YOU BASE important financial or life choices on false or misleading information? Of course not. Yet, when deciding on key economic and social issues, that’s exactly what people often do.
I’m addicted to social media. I follow advocacy groups focused on Social Security, health care and taxes, as well as the politicians who are especially engaged in these issues.
Some tweets and memes reinforce what people want to believe or provide the easy answers they seek.