RETIREMENT SAVINGS and decent health insurance are major goals for most Americans. Politicians attempt to help. Yet the resulting laws and regulations are confusing to the point of being counterproductive.
Can the average worker figure all this out? Nope. It’s too complex and unnecessarily so. Lucky Americans may get help from an employer, but many folks are on their own. Consider seven examples:
1. You can contribute up to $19,500 to a 401(k) in 2021 if you’re under age 50.
IT’S SOCIETY’S responsibility to provide for those in need. “Need” is the key word here. It bothers me that so many resources are directed to those of us who made it to old age.
Although there are many low-income seniors, the generalization that we’re all income-challenged is a fallacy. According to the Congressional Research Service, “The poverty rate for individuals aged 65 and older historically was higher than the rates for adults aged 18-64 and children under the age of 18,
I JUST REVIEWED my Social Security earnings record. It brings back memories. For instance, it shows I earned $105 in 1959 when I was age 16 and working after school in the city library for 75 cents an hour. I’ve paid Social Security taxes every year since, though in 2020 they were based on earnings of just $2,333 and I was counted as self-employed. That darn blogging money.
Here’s something to put matters in perspective: Over 64 years,
I REGULARLY READ blogs written by those who retired early to a life of ultra-frugality. Do you consider yourself careful with money? Even so, I doubt you’d enjoy the frugal lifestyle of many followers of the FIRE (financial independence/retire early) movement.
I certainly wouldn’t. If I go on another cruise, I won’t be booking an inside cabin. I can’t imagine my wife buying clothes from a thrift store and wearing them for the next 10 years.
LEAVE IT TO ME to become entangled in Twitter “discussions.”
I’m often driven to comment on those Tweets that contend that the opportunity to get ahead in America no longer exists, and that it’s impossible for many to save money or pay off their debts.
Recently, my confrontations resulted in a 30-something—who wanted more than $50,000 in student loans forgiven—informing me that, “I am not interested in an old (@#X?) man’s point of view.” What was so offensive about my point of view?
ON THE JOURNEY to retirement, should you focus on setting a retirement spending budget or on making sure you have adequate retirement income?
I think the answer is obvious: There’s no point deciding on a budget until you know how much money you’ll have available to spend. And yet I hear about people who devote endless hours to detailing precisely how much they’ll spend in retirement on everything from housing to travel to health care to dining out.
FULL DISCLOSURE: I am the antithesis of the DIY guy. I was completely banned from home repairs many years ago after I set out to replace an electrical outlet—but switched off the wrong circuit breaker before doing so.
We’ve undertaken two major renovations in the past 12 years. The first was an addition to our vacation home. The second is ongoing—a new kitchen at the same house.
We spent months on the plans. In the case of the addition,
SAVE 30% OF INCOME? No way.
That’s been my reaction whenever I’ve read about people saving 30% or more. I look back and think about making monthly mortgage payments, raising four children, paying for college and trying to save something to supplement my pension. For my wife and me, a 30% savings rate simply wasn’t possible. Nevertheless, people do it.
To find out more, I asked folks on a Facebook retirement planning group, “How do you save 30%?” The responses boiled down to nine key factors.
MY FATHER WAS A CAR salesman who, for many years, worked totally on commission, with no paid vacation. In 1953, when I was 10 years old, we went to Cape Cod for a week. A friend gave him a tip on a great place to stay. In his enthusiasm, my father booked for a week and paid in advance.
The place turned out to be worse than a Second World War army barracks. My mother refused to stay.
SHOULD LEAVING money to our children be a formal part of our financial strategy—or should we focus on our own wants and needs, and let the chips fall where they may?
My wife and I have four children ages 45 to 50. They’re all married and, between them, have 13 children ages five to 17. They’re also all college graduates, with almost the entire cost paid by my wife and me. Three have master’s degrees.
THERE ARE ADVANTAGES to being old. We seniors can leverage the widespread perception that we’re all poor, incapable of decision-making and inept at using technology.
I have fun with this.
We recently went car shopping. As we left the house, my wife turned and said, “You’re going dressed like that?”
“What’s wrong with the way I look?” I’m in my well-worn jeans, flannel shirt, suspenders and battered baseball cap.
“You look like a pauper.”
THERE ARE TWO GREAT debates in retirement planning: whether the famous 4% rule is valid—and how much income folks need, relative to their final salary, to retire in comfort.
I find both subjects frustrating, in part because there’s so little consensus. I also find much of the advice way too complicated for the average American.
I participate in NewRetirement’s Facebook group and occasionally give my views on both topics. I recently expressed the opinion that the goal in retirement should be to replace 100% of the base income you earned immediately before retirement.
I STARTED WORK in 1961 as a mailroom boy earning $1.49 an hour. There was a fellow named Tony who worked there, too. He started a few years before me. Today, Tony is 87 years old and he still works in the same mailroom. He collects his pay, his pension and his Social Security. I don’t know what motivates Tony, but apparently retirement holds no attraction. Tony is atypical.
When my work situation changed after 49 years in a way that took the fun out of the job,
I AM THE FIRST to admit that I’m no star when it comes to math. I was so enthralled with calculus in college that I took it twice. To make matters worse, math keeps changing. Just ask a 10-year-old to show you how to multiply.
I am not alone. At the high school from which I graduated in 1961, the current math proficiency rate is 2% The national average is 46%. The lowest ranked state is at 22%.
I GREW UP IN a small apartment. Truth be told, I was never enthusiastic about maintaining a house, but I did so for 45 years. Eight years after I retired in 2010, the house and its stairs became too much for my wife and me.
We considered moving to a smaller one-story house and briefly flirted with a continuing care community. We even looked at one community and found it too expensive, especially having to hand over a partially refundable $900,000 upfront fee,