IF YOU’RE A BABY BOOMER entering the tunnel of possible retirement, there’s one hard truth to acknowledge: Bad stuff happens.
You’d think boomers would be OK. We hold 60 percent of the wealth in the United States, according to a report by the management firm McKinsey and Co. But we have also accumulated unprecedented levels of debt and will actually need the Social Security we are accused of squandering.
Many of us believe the solution to retirement insecurity is to work into our 70s and beyond. But even if you are healthy or have the income to delay collecting Social Security until its highest payout at age 70, you may not be able to afford the life you imagine. Boomers inevitably respond in surveys that they want to travel in retirement, yet at least 40 percent of us have no retirement savings at all. And most have amassed far less than the 8 to 11 times annual earnings recommended by financial managers as a benchmark for retirement readiness.
1. Make a budget.
Do you know what you’re spending now? Many of us don’t, financial advisers say. (Boomers averaged $3,100 on eating out in 2016, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.) “I encourage everyone, no matter what age you are, to put your current budget in front of you and then, to the right of it, put a blank sheet of paper and play the game of, ‘If I retire tomorrow, would I have this expense?’” says Diane Halverson, director of education and retirement services at Marsh & McLennan Agency in Boston. And don’t forget to budget for the taxes you’ll have to pay on retirement income.
2. Trim your debt.
Try to clear loans such as credit cards and cars, and get your mortgage down, McPherson says. For some, this means a major lifestyle change. Janet Lombardi was in her 50s when she discovered her husband had not only ruined them financially but had been stealing from his law firm to pay for it. He went to jail. She went to Debtors Anonymous, moved in with her sister, and then wrote a tell-all how-to book about her recovery, Bankruptcy: A Love Story. Ten years later, she’s out of debt, remarried, and living in Rockville Centre, New York. She still tracks every penny she spends and uses her debit card instead of a credit card. “You don’t crawl from the wreckage without pain,” she says.
3. For most, collect Social Security as late as possible.
“Roughly speaking, for each year you wait, you get an extra 7 or 8 percent,” McPherson says. Some people, however, may do better taking Social Security earlier, says Christina Kemprecos, a certified trust and financial adviser in Chatham. If you are still working at 62 and have a lot of debt, it might be wise to take reduced Social Security payments to pay it off, she says.
4. Keep working.
You don’t have to keep up full-time work or be entrepreneur of the year. The goal is to take as little from retirement savings as possible. Even a part-time job for $15,000 a year means $45,000 less money taken out of your retirement fund over a three-year period. And, older workers actually contribute to a healthy economy because they have more to spend — and do, Rutledge says.
5. “Put yourself first.”
If you do give children money or a place to live, have an agreement and an exit strategy. “I don’t care who you are or how much you’ve saved for retirement, you need to put yourself first,” Kemprecos says. “That goes right to probably the number one problem I have with my female clients, is they give too much money away to their kids.” Some people have not saved anything for themselves because they cannot say no to their children, Halverson says. If you are facing divorce, negotiating for retirement funds is more important than keeping the house, McPherson says.
6. Manage up.
If you have elderly parents, ask for written permission to speak to their financial adviser, if they have one, McPherson says, and suggest they have health care proxies, wills, and power of attorney in place for emergencies. Help them to get educated about financial scams. And don’t treat inheritance as a retirement income stream but as an unexpected bonus.
7. Have an emergency fund.
This may seem overwhelming when you’re trying to pay the mortgage, but it’s an important strategy to avoid racking up credit cards when the water heater blows. The usual recommendation is three to six months or more of income. But Halverson suggests starting small with, say, $1,000, which would cover new tires, for example. And consider using a Roth IRA account instead of a more accessible savings account, she says. You’ll be less like to drain it if you have to pay the fee for withdrawals.
8. Learn about Medicare.
Get advice about three months before signing up for Medicare and then check each year to make sure that your prescription plan and your supplemental plan, if you have one, are best suited to what you need, Benson says. Ask your doctor about switching from more expensive brand-name drugs to generics. And take care of yourself. Forty-one percent of women ages 65 to 74 are obese and more than 60 percent of men and women in that age group have hypertension. Small issues now may lead to expensive health problems later.
9. Take charge and get help.
No hiding your head in the sand. Take action if you’re in financial trouble. Lombardi bought a few hours of a financial adviser’s time at a church auction and then discovered Debtors Anonymous, where she got advice and support for free. “You can’t leave it up to someone else,” she says. “You can’t leave it up to your spouse, you can’t leave it up to your parents, you can’t leave it up to a financial adviser, you can’t leave it up to your employer. You can’t make an assumption that somebody is looking out for your finances. You need to do it.”