Musings

How Do You Define "Old"?

MusingsAs Boomers age, they are likely to redefine old age based on their own lives and perceptions. In a recent article for The New York Times, Steven Petrow asks the provocative question, "Am I 'Old'?" and discovers that the answer is entirely different based on who is being asked. Sergei Scherbov, a researcher on aging, answers the question with a broader definition, telling Petrow that "an old age threshold should not be fixed but depend on the characteristics of people.” He sees such factors as life expectancy, disability rates, cognitive function, and personal health as contributing to the definition of old age. Thankfully, says Scherbov, a 65-year old today is generally equivalent to a 55-year old from forty-five years ago.

It turns out that different generations define "old age" differently, too. According to Petrow, we Boomers generally regard 73 as the start of old age, while Gen Xers think it is more like 65 years of age. Meanwhile, Millennials believe 59 is "old."

Sadly, the negative perceptions of elders is a universal phenomenon: Well over half (almost two-thirds) of respondents to an international survey by the World Health Organization "did not respect older people," writes Petrow. In high-income countries such as the U.S., the lack of respect for older people was highest.

Ultimately, we all define old age in personal, subjective terms. Those of us who are spry, active and healthy at 65 or 70 probably perceive old age as far in the future, while Boomers afflicted with health issues or limited mobility may feel differently. Being engaged and vital, having a full and rich life, and feeling useful may all contribute to seeing aging in a positive light.

How do you define "old"? Maybe the best way to look at it is simply, "You're only as old as you think you are."


The Work Dilemma of the "Tweener"

MusingsI've noticed more and more reporting on the work dilemma of the "tweener" -- the 50s-something Boomer who finds himself or herself in that strange transitional role somewhere between full-time work and retirement. Many of these younger Boomers have come to the realization that they will need to work longer than they may have anticipated simply because they need to fund living longer. Others, even if financially secure, recognize that they need to work to feel fulfilled.

A recent article in The New York Times characterizes this time of life as one in which the Boomer needs to become a "modern elder," says Chip Conley who, after running his own company for twenty-four years, was asked to mentor executives in a technology company. It put him in the unusual position of an industry expert with very little in the way of technology experience or, as the article states, "he was often the oldest person in the room, learning from colleagues who were young enough to be his children."

In his new book, Wisdom at Work: The Making of a Modern Elder, Conley further details his own experience and explores the concept of the modern elder. He believes the modern elder 's role is "simultaneously sharing wisdom while embracing fresh ideas and ways of thinking." The article's author, Marci Alboher, was inspired by Conley to seek out other role models for the modern elder, and she says she found a lot of them, all in their 50s. She admits that she also learned, however, that "it helps to have a financial safety net" if you are going to consider a more non-traditional work role such as Conley discovered.

Boomers in their 50s are often faced with this kind of dilemma, either because they are summarily dismissed from the full-time job they had for decades, or they tire of it and want a new challenge. The fundamental problem in our society is people in their 50s, 60s and 70s are thrown on the scrapheap rather than offered employment opportunities that take advantage of their years of experience. Thankfully, some companies are enlightened and work with older employees to transition them out of a full-time job to a part-time or consultative role, but that is rare. Instead, Boomer employees are discriminated against because of age. They lose the jobs they have and then cannot get another position because they are overlooked in favor of younger employees. The sad fact is that a company that terminates a Boomer employee due to age is often losing the value of the employee's considerable knowledge base.

Perhaps the "modern elder" model will take hold, but in order for that to happen, employers have to acknowledge the value of contracting with Boomers, and Boomers have to be in a position to risk taking on non-traditional employment. Still, being a modern elder presents another novel option for Boomers who need to or want to work and are excluded from the job market.


Freeing Yourself with Creativity in Retirement

MusingsOne of the more intriguing avenues open to retirees is to find your creative self. I have personally witnessed creative transformations occur when Boomers retire. I know one business executive who turned his attention to working with wood and has created exceptional pieces as a result. I know another professional who took up jewelry making, and yet another who pursued a love of art and has become a successful water colorist. I myself have followed my muse and become a freelance writer.

Patricia Corrigan, writing for NextAvenue.org, reports on four retirees who were unafraid to pursue their passions: a doctor who became a sculptor, an aeronautics engineer who began to make chocolate, a retired CEO who took up photography, and a retired buyer at a manufacturing firm who knits scarves. Their stories are well worth reading.

Chocolate maker Doug Cale had this to say about his second act: “For me, life is all about engagement. Coming up with new ways to do things day in and day out, what I get out of this job is the creativity. And being creative is a form of relaxation for me.”

Like so many other things in life, and especially as we face retirement, a positive attitude is everything. The four people Corrigan writes about are no more or less unique than any of us -- they just had a passion and the courage to follow it. They freed themselves and found their own creativity in completely different ways.

Your second act should be a time when you pursue what you love. Perhaps it is something you remember from your childhood, something you always wanted to do but never had the time to do. Or maybe it is a new-found interest. Whether it is for fun or profit, creativity can bring a lot of joy and fulfillment to retirement. Try it!


Learning from Other Retirees About Retirement

MusingsOne of the best ways to meet the challenges of retirement is to learn how others handle it. My colleague Nancy Collamer, career and retirement coach and author of Second-Act Careers, recently chatted with a group of retired United Way executives and summarized what she learned in an excellent article for NextAvenue.org. I highly recommend you read the complete article here:  https://www.nextavenue.org/retirement-lessons/ 

Nancy's six key takeaways from the article are listed below:

  1. Embrace "productive" leisure activities.
  2. Set goals.
  3. Share your professional expertise (on a flexible basis).
  4. Keep learning.
  5. Cultivate your creativity.
  6. Pass it down.

I'm always struck by the good advice retirees willingly share. They are the first to recognize that the road to retirement has twists, turns, and bumps along the way, but most of them are unfailingly confident of their ability to overcome the challenges of retirement. One thing I have noticed about the people who are most successful in retirement is that they always seem to have a positive attitude, whatever life throws their way. That is a good lesson for all of us!


There's a Right Way to Retire from Your Job

MusingsMany Boomers don't have the luxury of retiring from their job. Others are forced out because of age discrimination. Still others decide that it really is time to retire.

There's a right way to retire from your job. In the best of all scenarios, leaving a job will be on your timeframe and will cause no ill will between you and your employer. A truly enlightened employer might even work with you on a phased retirement or a creative arrangement, such as rehiring you as a part-time contractor after you leave your full-time position.

Writing for The Balance, retirement book author and financial writer Melissa Phipps offers ten valuable tips for retiring from your job, among them, "Be sure you really want to retire," "Check out alternative careers," and "Consider phasing in retirement." Phipps points out that some early retirees make the decision to retire because they face an undesirable job situation. This may not be the best reason to retire; instead, you may want to try to work with your employer to improve your job or change it within the same organization. Or, if that doesn't work, maybe it's time to consider pursuing an alternative career instead of retiring.

Before you decide to retire, advises Phipps, make sure you are financially secure and that you have health insurance. It also makes sense to consult with a financial adviser. In addition, anticipate the fact that, even if you retire now, you may want to (or have to) return to the workforce. That means you should get references when you retire and be sure to leave your position on a positive note. Another interesting idea is to "test drive" retirement: If you have the type of job that allows you to take some time off, experiment with the kinds of things you would like to do in retirement and see if it's a lifestyle you would enjoy.


What the CVS-Aetna Merger Could Mean for Retirees

MusingsThe federal government's approval of the CVS-Aetna merger has vast implications for health care in the U.S. It could also have a direct impact on retirees, the most immediate being that Aetna must sell its Medicare Part D prescription drug plans to WellCare Health Plans. CVS already has the largest market share of Medicare Part D prescription drug plans through SilverScript, which is operated by CVS Caremark.

So what does this really mean for retirees? In the short term, if you have a Medicare Part D plan through SilverScript, nothing changes, but if you have a Medicare Part D plan through Aetna, it will be transferred to WellCare Health. Longer term, the merger of the nation's leading retail pharmacy with one of the nation's largest health insurers is a major development in the health insurance industry. According to Washington Post journalist Brian Fung, “The tie-up will allow CVS -- whose retail pharmacy business serves 5 million customers a day -- to turn more of its brick-and-mortar locations into front-line clinics for basic medical services and patient monitoring. By deepening its knowledge of and relationships with patients, CVS has said the combination could help Americans stick with medication regimens and stay out of the hospital."

The advocacy group Consumers Union, a division of Consumer Reports, is skeptical about the merger. A statement issued by its senior policy counsel, George, Slover, reads in part, "This type of consolidation in a market already dominated by a few, powerful players, presents the very real possibility of reduced competition that harms consumer choice and quality. We are concerned that the limited conditions the Department of Justice put on this deal simply are not enough to ensure that CVS-Aetna doesn’t use its outsized resources in ways that stifle true competition and reduce choice at all levels up and down the chain – ultimately leaving consumers with fewer options and higher costs.”

The merger sheds light on the connection between prescription drug providers and insurance companies. OptumRx, for example, is owned by UnitedHealth Group, and Anthem, a Blue Cross operator with a presence in a number of states, plans to open its own pharmacy. Industry watchers are also keeping an eye on the e-commerce giant, Amazon, which has acquired prescription drug provider PillPack.

The CVS-Aetna merger is expected to be finalized before the end of 2018.


The Transition to Retirement

MusingsThanks to Boomers, the definition of "retirement" has changed dramatically and completely. Many Boomers fully expect to keep working well beyond the traditional retirement age, and others look at retirement as not any kind of termination point, but rather as another phase of life. An article appearing on the excellent website, NextAvenue.org, puts retirement into perspective by discussing 7 tips for transitioning into retirement. The article is sponsored by Acts Retirement-Life Communities.

One of the key points made in the article is that it takes time -- probably more time than you realize -- to move into retirement: "It could take months or it could take a few years for you to finally feel comfortable in your new skin. It’s completely natural and understandable for this transition to take a long time. After all, you were involved in the world of work for decades and those habits won’t melt away instantly." Another good point is to view retirement as the beginning of something new, fresh and exciting: "People live much longer than they used to. That means retirement is longer, too. Make the most it by finding a new purpose, setting new goals and generally broadening your horizons in every way you can imagine possible."

I can attest to the accuracy of this advice. I "rewired" in my mid-fifties by leaving a professional career and needed time to transition away from commuting and working in a traditional business setting. My wife and I relocated to a smaller city with a more temperate climate. We decided to start a small service business together and run it for a period of time, which turned out to be about seven years. (We wrote a book about our experience, Let's Make Money, Honey: The Couple's Guide to Starting a Service Business) We always intended to operate it as a transitional business until we were ready to stop working full-time. I then became a part-time independent writer and sometime marketing consultant, in combination with nonprofit volunteering. This transition has been a good one for me. I am very happy working when I want and managing my own schedule. My wife stays busy with nonprofit volunteering and as her mother's primary caretaker.

Obviously, your way of handling this transition may be different from mine, but I do agree it generally takes longer than you think to feel comfortable with this new phase of life. I am fortunate in that I can write both for fun (this blog, for example) and for income, and I know not every Boomer has this luxury. Read the 7 tips in the article -- it will help you gain some insight into transitioning to retirement.


Does Money Make You Happy in Retirement?

MusingsAll the talk Boomers hear about having enough money for retirement raises an intriguing question: Does money make you happy in retirement?

Financial advisor Wes Moss, writing for The Balance, studied happy and unhappy retirees and came up with some interesting answers to that question. He found, for example, that retirees who own a BMW, long regarded as a luxury car associated with wealth, are actually pretty unhappy. Similarly, retirees who trade in stocks on their own, which you might associate with having enough money to put some at risk, are generally unhappy.

This led Moss to create something he calls the "Rich Ratio," which is basically "the amount of money you have in relation to the amount of money you need." In his interesting article, Moss offers two examples to demonstrate "how someone with less money saved can actually have a higher Rich Ratio and is probably living happier." His point is that money for money's sake doesn't buy you happiness; money has to have a purpose. Happy retirees, writes Moss, understand that money is not the end goal, it is simply a means for living a happy life.

This is a sensible way to put one's monetary needs into perspective. Wise retirees who have lived a relatively comfortable life during full employment years, not worrying about money, may have a more challenging time maintaining their lifestyle in retirement. Typically, income is reduced during retirement years, so even with substantial savings, it is advisable to reduce expenses as much as possible and preserve a certain amount of capital. This may mean that one's lifestyle expectations need to be adjusted in retirement. Retirees with realistic expectations may find that they don't need as much money as they think to be happy -- and that the key to happiness is not money.

Food for thought.


What if You Haven't Saved Enough for Retirement?

MusingsIf you are in your fifties or even sixties and you haven't saved enough for retirement, you are in good company. More than 25 percent of Americans 55 years of age and older have saved less than $25,000, according to the Retirement Confidence Survey by EBRI (Employee Benefit Research Institute).

Writing for CNN Money, Walter Updegrave offers "3 ways to recover from a late start on retirement planning." The three ways are not a silver bullet, by any means, but they make a lot of sense: Very simply, (1) start saving right now, (2) stay employed longer, and (3) "be flexible and resourceful." Updegrave goes into detail about each of the three ways, offering sound advice. It is an article every under-funded Boomer should read.

Obviously, the later you started saving, the more you'll have to make up. Examining sources of income (including anticipated Social Security payments), understanding how to leverage your assets (such as your home), and reducing expenses will all be important in helping you cope.

Updegrave's conclusion is fair warning, but still hopeful. He writes: "I'm not saying it will be easy or that you can put yourself in the same position for retirement you would have been in had you saved throughout your career. But if you combine several of the steps I've outlined here — and keep an eye out for even more ways to generate more post-career income or lower your future expenses — you can still improve your chances of achieving a secure retirement."

 


Why 5 Years Before Retirement is a Key Time

MusingsEvery Boomer's definition of "retirement" is a little different, but we can all agree that it is a time when you need to be more prudent about your finances. That's why many financial experts and advisers believe the best time to start planning for retirement is five years beforehand. Writing for The New York Times, Peter Finch has assembled the advice of financial gurus into a helpful article he calls "Countdown to Retirement: A Five-Year Plan." 

Finch says that the five year mark "is a good time to take a look at your overall asset allocation... a balanced allocation of 50 percent stocks and 50 percent bonds is reasonable for someone expecting to live another 30 years or more." At three years, Finch recommends that we "put aside some time this year to contemplate what retirement will actually mean for you." With two years left before retirement, you should "lay the groundwork" for "some potentially big tax-saving opportunities" that could come your way when you retire. In the last year before retirement, it makes sense to evaluate whether you will continue to work and think about "ways to reduce spending." Also "take another look at your investment portfolio," writes Finch, to see if the savings you have will adequately fund your retirement. If so, "many advisers recommend pulling back on your stock holdings and adding cash and other short-term investments as your final day at work nears."

The nice aspect of Finch's article is that it offers advice from a number of sources and is organized year by year. Check it out here: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/06/business/retirement-five-year-plan.html