How Not to Become a Statistic

Musings Warning-sign-30915_1280As Boomers age, they become less employable (not their fault) and more financially vulnerable (sometimes their fault). The concerning thing is the statistical evidence that these two factors converge to create a crisis for a good number of retiring Boomers.

Here are some sobering statistics that raise red flags, as reported by NextAvenue.org:

  • 36 percent of workers and current retirees have $1,000 or less in savings.
  • 47 percent of current retirees were forced into early retirement. 55 percent of them had to leave work because of health problems or disabilities. Only 20 percent were forced into retirement due to changes at their companies.
  • The number of workers older than 55 will grow to 25 percent of the workforce by 2022. However, many of the lower paying service sector jobs, such as grocery clerks, waiters/waitresses and substitute teachers, will be held by the post-retirement age worker instead of younger workers.
  • An incredible 80 percent of American workers cannot afford to retire at all.

A legitimate question is: How do you avoid becoming a statistic?

There are several things to monitor as you age, including your health, your financial situation, your living situation, and your life responsibilities (such as potentially caring for your elderly parents or financially assisting your adult children). Caring for yourself comes first -- and that means checking your own health statistics periodically (weight, blood pressure, etc.), and being vigilant about diet and exercise. On the financial side, you should be living within your means and working with a financial advisor to ensure you are following the best strategy when it comes to investing, saving and drawing upon retirement assets. The last thing you want to do is outlive your money.

Statistics regarding retirement in America are indeed concerning. You need to pursue a smart course of action so you do not  become a statistic.

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Working "On the Side"

OntheClock Piggy-bank-2889046_1920For those retiring Boomers who can put together a number of sources of income to pay the bills, working "on the side" may be an attractive option. It offers flexibility to do other things in retirement.

This creative way of thinking about part-time employment focuses on generating what I call "gravy income" -- income that is not absolutely essential but subsidizes other income. It's even better if working on the side offers the opportunity to pursue gigs, freelancing or contract work (whatever you want to call it) using skills from your past full-time working life. This can be both gratifying and stimulating. 

If that sounds like something for you, take a look at "The Retiree's Guide to Starting a Side Hustle," published by The Balance. Writer Sarah Szczypinski first discusses the steps to "side hustling," including how to coordinate it with Social Security, create an online presence and use your skills. She then provides descriptions of and links to various professional websites that act as entry points to potential work, some of which can be done entirely online. Opportunities include paid mentoring, consulting and all types of contract work. An additional consideration, she says, is to rent out a room or a second home with a service such as Airbnb which can substantially bolster a retiree's income.

Szczypinski writes, "The gig economy isn’t going away, and there’s a sea of opportunity (and income!) available for those who search. Take advantage of flexibility in retirement and dive in. A side hustle can lessen the financial burdens of aging."

Working only when you want on a flexible schedule and generating gravy income sounds like a pretty good post-full-time employment life, doesn't it?

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"Modern Elder": A New Way to Think About Aging

OnaWhim Screen Shot 2019-11-05 at 11.57.02 AMChip Conley came up with the term "modern elder" when he became known as the "elder" at a company where virtually all of the other employees were half his age. Conley has grown that simple phrase into a movement; he started the "Modern Elder Academy" in Mexico (a resort for midlife reflection) and wrote a book titled, Wisdom@Work: The Making of a Modern Elder. He also recently started distributing "a daily reminder of wisdom and its value" via Wisdom Well.

In an interview with Richard Eisenberg for NextAvenue.org, Conley says about his movement:

     "It’s pro-aging and speaks to the idea that maybe elders will make a comeback, but in a new form. It’s about creating a world with intergenerational collaboration, where older people in the workforce can be partners with younger people and both have something to bring to the table.

     "A growing number of people are using the term ‘middlescence.’ It generally happens in your fifties. It’s a time when you move from accumulating to editing. Less ego, more soul. Less interesting, more interested. Less achieving and attaining, more creating a legacy and attuning.

     "It’s what the Modern Elder Academy has been doing in many ways. It’s so clear there’s a need for this. There’s such a gap between the societal and personal narrative of aging."

I don't know if "modern elder" is the right phrase, but I consider the "mission statement" behind it as a new way to think about aging. I really like what Conley has to say in the above quote. He speaks eloquently about the need to break down ageism barriers in the workplace ("creating a world with intergenerational collaboration"). He also does a fine job of defining some of the primary aspirations of a maturing, well-grounded Boomer: "...move from accumulating to editing. ...more soul. ...more creating a legacy and attuning."

It is obvious to me why Conley was selected as a "2019 Influencer in Aging" by NextAvenue. It this kind of inspired, expansive thinking about aging that we need more of in our society.

Image: Chip Conley, Modern Elder Academy

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OK Boomers, What Do You Think of "OK Boomer"?

Musings Screen Shot 2019-11-08 at 11.56.09 AMAmong the popular movement-based phrases are "Black Lives Matter" and "#MeToo." Another one of late representing a different kind of "movement" is the phrase, "OK Boomer." As The New York Times reports:

“Ok boomer” has become Generation Z’s endlessly repeated retort to the problem of older people who just don’t get it, a rallying cry for millions of fed up kids. Teenagers use it to reply to cringey YouTube videos, Donald Trump tweets, and basically any person over 30 who says something condescending about young people — and the issues that matter to them.

OK, I get at least one of the motivations behind "OK Boomer." In the context of climate change, war, government corruption, inequality or any number of other burning issues, it seems legitimate for younger generations to scold Boomers for, well, mucking up the world we live in. It is difficult for the Boomer generation to deny its responsibility for some if not many of the world's ills. Furthermore, the notion of a younger generation ridiculing or disrespecting an older generation is something which has a certain familiarity, doesn't it? Isn't that the way we felt about our own parents as we were growing up, steeped in rebellion and protest? Now, it seems, we're getting some of the same treatment we dished out to elders during our youth.

On the other hand, when used in a pejorative sense to simply trash Boomers because they are older, "OK Boomer" may seem like a phrase that is dismissive, rude and age-bashing. It is particularly hurtful when a wildly popular sweatshirt adds something else to this phrase, as depicted in the article in The New York Times: "OK BOOMER Have a Terrible Day." So, it appears some who use the phrase in this way may deeply distrust and even dislike Boomers. Sadly, it is also indicative of the tribal warfare that has become normalized in our dealings with one another. This is a time in our history when groups of people are poised to reject others, simply because they're different, are of different generations or have different beliefs.

I'm not any more a fan of "OK Boomer" than I am of "Go back where you came from." What are your thoughts about "OK Boomer"?

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Retiring Begins by Answering the Right Questions

OnYourOwn Man-1348082_1920It goes without saying that retirement is a significant life change. Equally obvious is the fact that many Boomers deny the reality of retirement, working as long as they are able. But at some point, most of us realize that maintaining the same pace is an impossibility and, at the very least, we accept the need to transition to something different. That something may not look like traditional retirement at all, but chances are it doesn't look like our previous career-focused lifestyle either.

There are so many questions surrounding retirement -- the next phase, reinvention, second act, or however you define it -- that it can be bewildering just to know the right questions to ask. Writing for The Balance, senior financial planner Scott Spann seems to have identified five of the most important questions to answer:

  1. What do you look forward to doing the most in retirement?
  2. How long do you need your money to last?
  3. How much retirement savings will you actually need?
  4. How much should you be saving today?
  5. How much can you afford to spend yearly once retired?

As you can see, the first question is really qualitative while the next four are quantitative. Spann offers some wise commentary about how to answer each of these questions, so the article is worth reading here: https://www.thebalance.com/five-important-retirement-questions-you-need-to-answer-4025465?

None of the questions are necessarily easy to answer; in fact, all of them probably require a great deal of thought, some serious self-reflection, conversations with your significant other, and counsel with a financial adviser. But contemplating retirement without adequately answering these questions is fraught with risk. If you've had a successful life, you know by now that planning ahead is an essential part of building a secure future. It should be no different with retirement: First ask the right questions -- and then be sure you answer them to the best of your ability.

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When It Comes to Boomers, the Media is MIA

Media ID-10041088These days, the news media tends to be largely obsessed with politics and the world's ills. When it does cover human interest stories, however, the focus of attention often seems to be on the under-55 age group. Are we to assume from this coverage that there is nothing newsworthy about Boomers? Of course not -- but it is one more disturbing form of not-so-subtle ageism that sticks in one's craw.

In a recent post, I discussed the sad fact that the advertising industry actively practices ageism, as demonstrated in new research by AARP. Despite the size of the Boomer demographic in the U.S. -- about 74 million people -- and the reality that they hold the majority of America's wealth, advertisers choose to mostly ignore Boomers. In another post, I referenced the impact of global ageism, citing a quote from the World Health Organization (WHO), calling ageism "the most socially acceptable prejudice in the world."

What are we Boomers to think when the media, advertisers, employers and others marginalize us and discriminate against us for growing older? I have a theory about all of this, and it may sound a bit cynical. I believe American society is generally predisposed to accept and embrace youthfulness and shun growing older. We've been conditioned to it through the media. Magazine articles focus mostly on younger celebrities. Mainstream television shows and movies are youth-oriented, and older actors find it tough to get major roles. Advertising either emphasizes youth or peddles pharmaceuticals and adult diaper products to Boomer audiences in a condescending manner.

What is covered in the media is a reflection of society's values. If the media ignores Boomers, or worse, derides us, then one has to wonder whether we are valued in American society. We can only hope that such attitudes toward aging will change as more Americans age. Hopefully, they will realize that getting older is not "bad" -- it's an inevitable part of everyone's life.

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There are Creative Living Alternatives for Boomers

OnYourOwn Pensioners-3347948_1920As Boomers age, they may find themselves facing the necessity to change where they live. A good percentage of Boomers claim they want to "age in place," but that isn't always the best or most practical choice. Still, as I've written about in the past, Boomers interested in staying in their current home may be able to do so if they make intelligent modifications to remain safe and secure.

Some Boomers realize, though, that aging in place can be stressful. This is particularly true of individuals who, by circumstance or choice, are living by themselves. At the very least, these folks may need to consider downsizing, if not relocating into a more age-friendly residence. Apartments or condominiums rather than private homes may be attractive options.

Not surprisingly, more and more creative living alternatives are becoming available for Boomers. For some time now, Boomers have been able to take advantage of adult communities. More of them seem to open every day. Whether they're labeled "active adult" (55-plus) or retirement communities, these communities often provide a range of amenities and activities, sometimes including meal service, housekeeping and transportation. Some communities feature rentals while others require property purchase. At the high end, "continuing care" retirement communities may provide a full continuum of care when it is needed, from independent living through assisted living through on-site nursing facilities.

Two of the more novel living alternatives fall somewhere between living independently and being part of a social network:

Cooperative housing

This concept involves a property in which residents share certain responsibilities. A good example is Phoenix Commons in Oakland, California. Here's how Phoenix Commons describes their environment:

"Cohousing is an intentional community of private homes clustered around shared space. Each single family home has traditional amenities, including a private kitchen, while shared spaces may include a large kitchen and dining area, laundry and recreational spaces.

"Cohousing communities are built around separate homes in proximity, with a common house, or in a single structure with a lot of shared common space to complement individual condominium units. Householders in cohousing have independent lives but neighbors collaboratively plan and manage community activities and shared spaces, typically under the structure of a Homeowners’ Association.

"Cohousing groups seek to balance private and community needs while building mutually supportive relationships among their members. Social events, impromptu gatherings, shared meals and scheduled meetings provide ample opportunity for interactions. At Phoenix Commons important community decisions are made using participatory processes that help bring the group toward consensus."

Homesharing

Another creative lifestyle alternative is homesharing, which you might consider cohousing on a much smaller scale. A good example is Silvernest, a homesharing platform. Here's how Silvernest describes homesharing and their service:

"Homesharing is exactly what it sounds like: sharing a home. Silvernest enables homeowners to rent out a room or portion of their home to a qualified housemate (in other words, a renter) of their choosing. The many benefits of homesharing include extra income, companionship, the ability to stay in your home longer, the security of cohabiting, and even help around the house. Silvernest homeowners can offer reduced rent in exchange for home maintenance, cleaning and other around-the house help from their renter.

"Silvernest is a one-stop-shop online homesharing platform that pairs boomers, retirees, empty nesters and other older adults with compatible housemates for long-term rent arrangements. Through these creative living situations, homeowners earn extra income (about $10,000 a year), remain in their homes longer, and keep isolation at bay, while renters pay far less than market rent. Both enjoy companionship and the efficiencies that come with sharing a space."

Cooperative housing and homesharing may not be for everyone, but they are emerging creative ideas addressing the reality that Boomers may need living alternatives other than the traditional ones.

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Ageism Around the World

Musings Hands-216982_1280The World Health Organization (WHO) calls ageism "the most socially acceptable prejudice in the world," according to a recent article on NextAvenue.orgAgeism, says WHO, goes largely unchallenged, and because it is "implicit and subconscious," people may be prejudice against older people without even knowing it.

What do we, as aging Boomers, do to combat what could well be viewed as a worldwide epidemic? A study referenced in the NextAvenue.org article suggests that there are certain "interventions" that help to reduce ageism. Two interventions that are found to be most effective are (1) education about aging and (2) inter-generational programs.

Education

From my perspective, there is a crying need for educating American society about aging. Many Boomers probably remember a childhood in which we were counseled to "respect our elders." Today, this notion seems to have been forgotten. Elders, older Americans, seniors, or whatever you want to call them are derided in a variety of ways: They are ignored or, even worse, patronized by younger consumers. They are ridiculed on television programs, in movies and in product advertising. They are openly discriminated against in the workplace.

The irony of age discrimination is that aging is inevitable. Everyone who may now be prejudiced against older people will one day be older themselves. Ageism is so pervasive, however, that it is indeed "implicit and subconscious." In fact, if we're being honest with ourselves, even Boomers can be prejudiced against our elders. For example, I admit to being occasionally impatient and intolerant of "older people" who take a little longer to check out at the drug store, or who drive a lot slower on the road. That's probably an unhealthy symptom of our high-speed society.

We should be teaching about aging in America's elementary and secondary schools as well as in our colleges. We should be seeing and hearing public service announcements about the fact that wisdom comes from experience and age. We should find ways to celebrate our aging society instead of ridiculing it.

Inter-generational Programs

There are a growing number of creative, innovative programs designed to bring younger and older generations together. They seem to be largely centered around educational institutions. For example, my local OLLI (Osher Life Learning Institute), located on a college campus, has inter-generational seminars and get-togethers with its older members and college students. An organization that is strong in its focus on inter-generational programs is Encore.org.

Other logical ways to facilitate inter-generational programs are through tutoring, mentoring, and volunteering. Age should not be a barrier to participate in volunteer programs; one benefit of volunteering is that young and old alike can share common interests and a common goal through volunteering for a particular cause or organization. 

You can also make the case that one of the best places to encourage inter-generational respect is the workplace. Younger and older employees working together should be the norm, not the exception, and senior management (despite their age) should foster cooperation across demographic lines. Older workers should be valued, not vilified. They have a deep knowledge base and can be especially vital as mentors to younger workers -- if an organization respects them for their experience.

An encouraging result of the above-referenced study is that even small-scale interventions can be effective: "...the interventions were not highly expensive, large-scale, multi-year projects. They were relatively small and easy to implement."

Perhaps ageism around the world cannot be eliminated, but education and inter-generational programs are two ways to work toward significantly reducing it.

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There's Nothing "Normal" About Your Retirement Age

Musings Directory-1334441_1920According to the Social Security Administration, the"Normal Retirement Age" has a great deal of meaning:

Retirement before "Normal Retirement Age" (NRA) reduces benefits, and retirement after NRA increases benefits. NRA, also referred to as "Full Retirement Age," varies from age 65 to age 67 by year of birth.

This is a table of the Normal Retirement Ages from the year of birth 1937 through 1960 and later: https://www.ssa.gov/oact/progdata/nra.html As you can see, since birth year 1943, the NRA is considered to be at least 66 years of age. If you were born in 1960 or later, your NRA is 67.

Please visit https://www.ssa.gov for complete information about the monthly benefit you would receive at Normal Retirement Age, how waiting until age 70 will increase your monthly benefit, and details about continuing to work while collecting Social Security benefits. You can set up a personal Social Security account online and get the details customized for you. These specifics are not what this blog post is about.

What I really want to discuss here is the notion that there is nothing "normal" about a Boomer's retirement age. I know Boomers who are in their late 50s or early 60s who consider themselves "retired" because they have left the traditional workforce. However, when you dig a bit deeper, many of these retired Boomers are not fully retired at all. They still work, they just do so in a different and sometimes very creative way. Some of them work part-time, some do freelance gigs, some consult. Few of these retirees are sitting around twiddling their thumbs. I also know Boomers who continue to work full-time well past their "normal" retirement age and hope to do so for many more years -- as long as their employers see it that way too.

According to the Social Security Administration, "More than one in three 65 year olds today will live to age 90, and more than one in seven will live to age 95." Read that again and fully digest the implications. If you are 65, you have a better than 30 percent chance of living another 25 years. That makes it even more absurd to think of the "normal retirement age" as 66!

As I've discussed in previous blog posts, Boomers have dramatically redefined retirement to the point that the word itself is obsolete. It is hard to imagine more than a handful of Boomers who view "retirement" in the traditional sense. Our parents thought of retirement at age 65 as a time when you fulfilled your life's work and then stopped working, period. The assumption was that you had a fairly limited time left after the age of 65. Whatever years remained were presumably spent enjoying the fruits of your labor -- maybe collecting a pension as well as Social Security.

Many Boomers are blowing right past age 65 and not even giving it a second thought. Yes, we may have a bit less energy and feel kind of stiff getting out of bed in the morning... but that isn't enough to slow most of us down.

"Normal" retirement age??? I don't think so!

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Marketing the Old Age Myth

Media Elderly-152866_1280As a retired marketing professional, it is especially painful for me to see how today's marketers characterize older Americans. As I watch television or flip through magazines, I notice ads that incessantly pitch medications to the elderly, poke fun at aging or portray anyone with gray hair as a doddering, incompetent sedentary fool. Turns out that I am not making this up. A recent article in The New York Times reported on new AARP research that proves ageism is alive and well in American advertising.

To begin with, the research, which sampled more than 1,000 random images, indicated that Americans age 50 or older appeared in just 15 percent of the images, although that demographic makes up more than one third of the population. It gets worse. About one third of the workforce is 50 or older, but only 13 percent of the images showed older people working; they were most commonly shown at home, often with a partner or a medical professional. Young people, on the other hand, are often shown with co-workers. While over two thirds of Americans ages 55 to 73 own a smartphone, less than 5 percent of the images showed older Americans using technology, but over one third of the images showed younger folks using technology.

In the article, Martha Boudreau, chief communications and marketing officer of AARP, says, “Marketers reflect the culture and the conversation in our country. Stereotypes about the 55-plus demographic were really limiting people’s sense of what they could do with this half of their lives.”

The article goes on to discuss one interesting reason for ageism in advertising: The field itself is littered with "youngsters." In the U.S., over 80 percent of employees at ad and PR firms are younger than the age of 55. I ran my own direct marketing agency and also worked at a large ad agency -- and I can attest to that fact. Sure, one can always claim that marketing is a young person's business, but that's not a reasonable answer. The fact is the older demographic is growing more rapidly than any other segment in this country and globally. In addition, Boomers have accumulated and hold most of the wealth in the United States, so wouldn't you think marketers would be wise enough to create campaigns targeting us instead of maligning us?

I'm willing to bet that you've seen one or more ads that have looked upon people our age with thinly veiled scorn -- or you've noticed that the vast majority ads don't even acknowledge our existence.

Maybe it's time for all of us to take the advice of ex-TV anchor Howard Beale in the 1976 movie, Network, who said:

"You've got to say: 'I'm a human being, god-dammit! My life has value!'

"So, I want you to get up now. I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now and go to the window. Open it, and stick your head out, and yell: I'M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I'M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!

"I want you to get up right now. Sit up. Go to your windows. Open them and stick your head out and yell - 'I'm as mad as hell and I'm not gonna take this anymore!' Things have got to change. But first, you've gotta get mad!...You've got to say, I'M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I'M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE! "

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