When Normal Retirement Doesn’t Work by Bob Lowry
For many of us, a satisfying retirement follows a pattern that seems almost preordained. We work for several decades. We live a “normal” life, spending more than we should at times, but careful to set aside money for the future. We try to control our human urge for instant gratification and do our best to live within a budget. Eventually, we leave the world of work and begin to experience the freedom of this new phase of our life.
Social Security starts. Medicare eases many of our worries about health expenses. We travel some, spend more time with family, satisfy our creative urges, volunteer in a way that gives back some of our blessings, and often see growth in our spiritual life. In short, our retirement is what we hoped for.
Unfortunately, not everyone lives this picture. A post a month or so ago dealt with grandparents becoming parents. That topic generated some excellent comments. Most of us expect that the daily parenting part of our life is over as we approach retirement age. But, for too many, it is not. Dreams of a very different future are put on hold or ended.
What about having to retire due to an unexpected job loss or an Enron-type collapse that wipes out someone’s nest egg? How about folks that lived either paycheck to paycheck, just scraping by, or stitched together a series of part time jobs, just trying to stay afloat? The image of a normal retirement life isn’t part of their reality.
A reader asked if I could pass along some thoughts about retirement and those who must take a different path through this stage of life. That was an excellent suggestion and one that prompted the post about grandparents raising children.
I will readily admit that my retirement is comfortable. I am living pretty much the way I thought I would be at this stage of my life. A few early struggles over financial worries and time management are the worst I have experienced so far. So, for me to offer advice to others in very different situations makes me somewhat uncomfortable. I have some thoughts based on what I have read, researched, and seen, but not on personal experience. I may be way off the mark. I can offer some thoughts and then hope you will add your ideas and suggestions.
* For someone who has serious financial restraints, housing is likely to be a major problem. A typical home or condo may be out of reach. In many parts of the country affordable apartments are hard to find. What are alternatives? Roommates and shared housing are reasonable options. The tiny house movement is a possibility. Park Models at RV parks offer security and comfort at at reasonable prices. Certainly manufactured housing, either purchased or rented, can be an option. Staying with relatives may be a reasonable choice.
*Many skills and experiences lend themselves to participating in the barter and exchange economy. An estimated $12 billion in services are exchanged in the U.S. every year without cash. A family member of mine exchanges a 60 minute massage for hairstyling. Both ladies benefit and no money changes hands. Maybe you have training as a nurse or adult daycare worker. Is it possible to exchange that experience for room and board?
There are folks making enough money to make life more pleasant by selling household items or collectible on ebay. Buying things at a local flea market and then reselling them is common. Over 2 million people visit the web site every day, all looking to buy or sell.
* The quickest way to make money is spend less of what you do have. I hope I am not minimizing the real problem some of our fellow retirees face. Choosing between food or prescriptions is not a theoretical choice for too many. Living through a hot summer without air conditioning can be life threatening as we get older.
Even so, most of us can find something that we can live without. What we may think of as a necessity may be a luxury when times are tight. After all, when we were growing up there were three TV channels, no cell phones, and a meal out was a special treat. We didn’t feel deprived.
* Retirement is not a forever state, if you can’t afford it to be. There is absolutely no shame in going back to full or part time work. You will be thought of an a successful entrepreneur if you turn a hobby or skill into a business that generates any level of income. Don’t get discouraged if some form of ageism discrimination makes things more difficult.
* It is hard to make sense of a situation where health care is unaffordable by tens of millions of our citizens. The Epipen uproar is only the latest example of putting profits before saving lives. For the truly poor, Medicaid, guaranteed treatment at the emergency room, and other government programs are available. They are onerous and sap one’s dignity, but they will keep someone alive. It is the lower and middle class that gets shafted in this country, and I don’t have an answer. If someone is forced into early retirement, any employer-provided health care coverage is gone. Meals-on-Wheels may provide the only decent food someone receives all week.
The pre-Obamacare model didn’t work. The post-Obamacare model is failing. Health care that is based on maximizing profits and minimizing contact with people who really need a doctor is simply ridiculous from any perspective. Frankly, this is not a political issue. This is a moral and ethical embarrassment. A society has a responsibility to provide an essential service like health care to its citizens that can’t afford decent care. Build a few less jet fighters and keep men, women, and children alive and productive.
A “normal” retirement shouldn’t be our goal, regardless of our financial or health status. I will argue with anyone that retirement is a unique experience for each of us. At the same time, the reader raised the question of how our less-fortunate citizens can deal with the problems that confront them.
I hope a few of the things noted above are helpful. I strongly encourage you to add your thoughts to this important discussion.
By Bob Lowry