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You Can’t Always Get What You Want

Some Boomers imagine working forever, but life surprises them with early retirement

We’ve all heard about Ed McMahon’s woes by now. I’ve tried every which way to understand what went wrong with his thinking, but it’s hard.

I get that he’s generous and gave away tons of his money to others in need. I know he has previous wives to support and a current one whose clothing design business he invested in heavily before it went belly up. And word was he might lose his McMahonsion to foreclosure, since he owed nearly $700,000 in back payments.

What I don’t get is how an 85-year-old man can say his financial woes are due to the fact that he broke his neck and couldn’t work in recent months. Tell me the truth: do you honestly see yourself working for a living in your mid-eighties? I’m not saying it’s a bad idea—-heck, it might be a great idea, if you’re doing something you love.

But how on earth could you count on being physically and mentally capable of working at that advanced an age? Wouldn’t you want to, say, have a paid-off house by then, just in case?

U.S. News & World Report, in an article aptly titled “Getting Ready for a Surprise Retirement,” says:

The vast majority of baby boomers want or plan to work in some capacity as long as they can. Eighty-four percent of people between the ages of 51 and 70 expect to work after they formally retire, and nearly two thirds say they can’t see themselves ever retiring completely, according to a survey by management consulting firm McKinsey Global Institute. The McKinsey analysis also indicated that 60 percent of boomers will need to work in order to maintain something like their current lifestyle.

But what if the world doesn’t turn out to be perfect? What if something happens that makes it so you can’t continue to work?

An Urban Institute analysis offers a sobering look at what can go awry with your retirement plans. It looked at people who were 51 to 61 years old in 1992. A decade later, over three quarters of them had lost their jobs, become widowed or divorced, developed new health problems, or were confronted with frail parents or in-laws. Any of those circumstances can take a bite out of retirement plans, if not force workers to scrap them altogether. A third of the participants had a health condition that limited their work, and 19 percent went through a layoff or business closing, the study found. And laid-off employees who managed to get a new job were less likely to get health insurance and earned about 25 percent less per hour, says Richard Johnson, a coauthor of the study.

Look, I love the stories of the geezers who walk to work every morning, put in twelve hours six days per week because they want to, and then die happily during a coffee break. It makes me happy to think of people well past the age we’ve come to think of as “retirement age,” still useful and fulfilled, doing exactly what they love and what they planned to do.

I’m just sayin’, you might wanna have Plan B in place.

And if you’re positive you’ll be working until you’re 85, I’ve got a McMahonsion to sell you.


Posted by Katy on 06/17/08}
in LifestylePersonal FinanceRetirement

  1. Katy,
    I certainly don’t want to till I am 84, and I don’t want Rob to either. I mean work is fine, but life is not work. People in America become defined by what they do instead of who they are. The Europeans have a much better attitude. In England practically the whole country goes on vacation during the month of August. Seriously, try getting anything seriously accomplished!! Not happening.
    So what we have is a cultural proplem, not just people who mismanage their affairs or have a sudden illness or even some kind of family disaster. There is obviously a lot of that. Unfortunately many people are overwhelmed by the unexpected circumstances. Formerly, familuies and churches would come together to help one another through those things, pool their resources, etc. Now however, we are more individualistic, and even siblings don’t help carry the burden of parents.
    But beyond that, we have a culture that doesn’t understand the meaning of enjoying a good book and good conversation and developing relationships and spending time absorbing and enjoying the world around them. Maybe it’s because we only hear about the things that go wrong in the world because the media is beating us down with the drudgery of this world instead of lifting us up with the beauties of it. Maybe it’s because we surrendered to the materialistic view and now we have to work 7 days a week instead of resting and enjoying our families on the weekends. Mostly it’s because our worldview is upside down.

    Posted by Sandi Thompson  on  06/24/08  at  09:10 AM

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Are You a Late Boomer?

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