September 18, 2011

Looking at Some Comments left on CNNMoney.com

In one of my braver moments I decided to look at the comments left on the CNNMoney.com web site about the retirement article that is also available in October's Money Magazine. As I expected, many of the comments were negative, some downright hostile. There is something about the Internet that can bring out less than the best in people. In this case, instead of seeing if there is anything to be learned from the experiences of others, many of those who left their thoughts decided to use rudeness and draw incorrect conclusions.

The good news is, I didn't take any of it personally. Human nature is such that we all like to tear down someone else who does something we can't or haven't. It also gave me some quotes that I can use to try and set the record straight. So, here are a few of the quotes and my responses:

"What are they doing for health care? Obviously none of these people has health insurance or ever goes to the doctor."

 I can't  speak for all the other couples, but our situation was pretty clearly spelled out in the article:  We spend 33% of our total yearly income on health care. Betty and I have been on the individual market virtually our entire married life. Except for 4 years early on, we have never been covered by health insurance through work. We do skip or delay some treatments that aren't essential because of the cost. When safe to do so we usually split pills in half to keep prescriptions costs under control.

We both have regular physicals, see the dermatologist yearly, get new glasses every two years, and see a dentist twice a year. Betty gets new hearing aids as required. We have very high deductible health insurance that keeps premiums under control but that means we pay for most everything out of pocket. Betty has several health challenges that she manages the best she can by knowing as much about her problems and treatments as any doctor she deals with.

Are there people who pay a lot more? Sure there are. The article didn't say everyone in America can be exactly like us. It gave a snapshot of our situation so others could decide if they are better or worse off in certain areas.  But to assume we never go to the doctor and still leave a satisfying retirement is kind of silly.

"You can't use the phrase 'low cost retirement' and Scarsdale, NY in the same sentence."

There was a woman profiled who actually did live in Scarsdale and is living well in retirement on not much money.  Scottsdale isn't exactly low-rent but we are making it work. Of course, some places are more expensive than others but we choose to live here for all the reasons listed in the article. If someone is living in an expensive community then logic dictates that will be part of the financial calculation to develop a plan for retirement. Could we live on less money somewhere else? Probably. But family, church, and friends are too important. It is part of the cost of retirement we are willing to bear.

"How do you save money like that with the average American living paycheck to paycheck?" 

The implication in the question is that you can't. I would respond that the median income for Americans is over $46,000 a year (more than we live on in high-rent Scottsdale). That average American family is carrying a $15,000 credit card debt, at least one car loan, a hefty first mortgage, and very likely a home equity loan. They are living paycheck to paycheck because they are overextended, over their heads in debt, and unwilling to delay gratification.

If your income situation is much more modest, then saving is a real problem. I am not minimizing the mess the economy has made of millions of lives. But, in that situation you are not likely to be anticipating retirement anytime soon which of course,  was the focus of the article. 

"Don't they (the magazine) do articles on folks with a nest egg of $50,000 or less?  

If someone has less than $50,000 in a nest egg and is even thinking about retirement, they are in deep denial. The terrifying fact is the average American at age 50 does have just $50,000 set aside for retirement. That person has no legitimate hope of retiring, unless they want to attempt to survive on a typical monthly social security check of less than $1,200 (before deductions for Medicare).

What worries me the most about the tone of some of the "comments" left on the web site is the obvious lack of grasp of reality and what needs to be done to achieve one's goals. There is an undercurrent of looking to blame others for a lack of planning, of sacrifice, and of common sense.

The sad, horrible fact is that way too many of our fellow citizens will never be able to experience a truly satisfying retirement. For many, that reality is not due to any failure on their part. They are being passed over and trod underfoot by the way our world operates now. Their future is bleak. It should bother us tremendously.

But, the other side of that coin is that many millions could experience a tremendously gratifying retirement experience. But, they are not willing to take personal responsibility for the choices they make today that directly impact their future tomorrow.

Retirement is all about choices. Make the right ones and a satisfying retirement can be yours.

39 comments:

  1. Let's see: I am retired on a nest egg of less than $50,000. I get a $1500 check from Social Security, work a little part time job and my mortgage is paid off on a new home I bought (less maintenance and upkeep). Before I retired I bought a brand new car which will last me 10 years, I am 65 years old and have no debt.

    I must be in denial or dreaming.

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  2. Bob, I love the way you can calmly give explanations to ranters. You are definitely right about the Internet being a place for frustrated and angry people to blow off steam.

    Yeah it is really sad that most people don't think about retirement until it becomes almost a panic situation. I know personally as a 35 year old bachelor it was pretty far from my mind but something told me to start putting away money for a "rainy day" so with my nest egg, social security, and yes a traditional pension plan I can now live a satisfying retirement.
    But the $50K savings dilemna is not unique to our generation; it has been repeating itself for many years. That is sadly one of the reasons that seniors are one of the largest groups below the poverty level and according to an article in my blog list there are now more people below the poverty level than there has been in many years.
    Will we ever get back to something resembling the prosperous Clinton years? Probably not so people just have to get attuned to this new reality level.

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  3. Anonymous,

    I'm not sure if you are reacting the the person who asked the question, or are relating your situation. But, if you are 65 with less than $50K nest egg I contend you are at great risk. The average person from age 65 to death spends over $200,000 on health care costs that are not covered by Medicare or other insurance.

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  4. RJ,

    You can do three things when someone throws a hissy fit in a comments section: delete it, ignore it, or use it to make a point. I figure the point-making option is the most productive reaction.

    As a society we are "taught" our unalienable right to whatever we want, when we want it. Unfortunately, the reality is quite different. Eventually, the bill comes due.

    What disturbs me the most is the plight of the poorest part of our society. The fact that some people cheered during a debate last week when it was asked if poor, sick people without medical insurance should be allowed to die, I felt disgust and actual fear that I had just glimpsed our future: me versus you.

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  5. You are better than me! I take negative comments very personally. I've no longer accepted anonymous commenters. There is no room for negativity in my life. Period.

    Glad you were able to turn those comments around!

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  6. A little off topic, perhaps, but I commend your charitable reaction to the hurtful negative comments. As you say, the internet seems to bring out the worst in some people. Every businessman I know has some hateful ranter creating a cyber-bully attack on google or the like. In my practice, people have threatened ( and done so) to write horrible internet posts if I tried to collect on money owed for services. So my point is....kudos to you for taking it in stride. Also, everybody should read internet reviews with a big bucket of salt!!!

    Dr Keith

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  7. I didn't read the comments at CNN and don't plan to do so, given that they apparently are not constructive.

    A take a gander at some of the other blogs, but find your blog and Syd's exceptional so I am a "regular" for the two of you. Your sharing is thoughtful and very much appreciated.

    I believe, as I know you do too, that to materially increase the odds of financial success one needs to spend less than they make. We all have choices, it's just that many don't realize they have choices or find it too painful to really consider all the choices.

    Happiness is sometimes described as wanting what you have rather than having what you want.

    Enjoy.

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  8. It IS a stretch to expect the bulk of those who retired between '05 and '08 to be over the shock and bitterness of their losses. It takes a passel of cognitive reframing to turn a sows ear into a silk purse, and the comments reflect that, I think. Sometimes, I'm there; sometimes, I regress. The stages of grief are never discreet or straightforward and, make no mistake, it is real grief that's being dealt with...especially when health and family are out of reach.

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  9. Sharon & Dr. Keith,

    I have no problem with comments that disagree with me. In fact, I think it adds to the overall quality of the discussion and I know I can be wrong just as often as I am right.

    But, I won't post something that personally attacks me or another reader. There is no need for that.

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  10. Rick,

    "Happiness is sometimes described as wanting what you have rather than having what you want." I've never read that before but I like it.

    I deeply appreciate your supportive comment. Syd is a favorite of mine, too, for her straight forward approach to financial advice.

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  11. Nance,

    You make a very valid point. The last several years have been murder on people's plans. For some, maybe the Internet is the only place where grief can be expressed. I don't take it personally and try to put a spin on the comment that allows a point to be made.

    Your insight is most welcome in this situation.

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  12. Bob, I am convinced that for whatever reason, negative people comment more and agreeable do just that-agree and move on. I've noticed this at CNN, US News and other ites, I htink it is what is it. I agree that I should have fifty grand......and I am working on it slowly but surely (although I am not sixty five). I want to pick up the paper copy and Ill be curious as to the letters that appear in that in the next month or so.

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  13. Barb,

    People emotionally involved in a subject, whether quite positively or negatively are the one who tend to drive comments in national publications. Talk radio does the same things. Those who shout the loudest tend to get more air time.

    I'll re-check the comments on the web site in a few weeks, and in next month's article. I will guess that they are in about the same ratio as they have been so far.

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  14. "What worries me the most about the tone of some of the "comments" left on the web site is the obvious lack of grasp of reality and what needs to be done to achieve one's goals. There is an undercurrent of looking to blame others for a lack of planning, of sacrifice, and of common sense."

    Your words, astutely written, and worth repeating. Thanks.

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  15. Hi Banjo Steve,

    It has been awhile since I've seen a comment from you! Glad you are here. Personal responsibility is a cornerstone of a happy life, isn't it. Blaming others gets you nowhere.

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  16. Bob, I found the article and your post very illuminating. It certainly confirmed one thing I already knew. You have a lot of common sense and integrity. The point I most reacted to was about taking personal responsibility. Many people do overextend. Instant gratification, a sense of entitlement, live for today, whatever. It has been a gradual change, but I see it all the time now in so many areas--finance, education, work, health. Somehow we got the idea that we are entitled to a perfect life, and if something is less than perfect, then someone else is responsible for they better make it right.

    Interestingly, many of the people with the most disconnect are those who scream for less government taxes but want all the things that only government (and taxes) can provide. Oh, gosh, don't even get me started.

    At any rate, it's interesting that what I read as a positive and encouraging article in Money provoked such negative responses. It is clear that everyone profiled in the article had to make some tough decisions, and took responsibility for choosing one thing and letting go of another. (The Tao Te Ching says, "The sage chooses this and lets go of that." See, you are a sage!)

    Thanks for a great profile in Money and a great follow up post on your blog.

    PS--Sorry I haven't been keeping up recently. I just became a grandparent!! Everyone is doing great. This is fun!

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  17. Galen,

    First, and most important, congratulations on becoming a grandparent. It it a live-changing occurrence for all the right reasons.Glad mom and baby are doing well.

    The article, of course, didn't discuss the sacrifices and hard work involved in having a positive outcome. The negative comments assumed we were either gaming the system, were born rich, had rich parents, or were cheating somehow. I can't speak for the other people in the article, but for us none of that is even remotely true. I worked myself into a frazzle but was lucky the economy threw me out the door when it did. I could have easily lost my family and my health if I had continued for another 7-10 years.

    You are absolutely right: why are the people first in line for government help after a disaster or educational aid or medical care, the same people who scream that government shouldn't be involved in this?

    It is simply a case of do what I say, not what I do.

    Glad to have you back!

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  18. I am sorry that this exposure has brought out the "trolls."

    I enjoyed the article that lead me to find your blog. I have enjoyed reading some of your articles and have already added you to my RSS feed.

    My wife and I are still not in our 40s and while our retirement fund does not look as well as it should, we do have the capability of saving.

    I think most of the negative comments, like most things in life, are out of jealousy. Something my parents taught me very early on was to always be happy for others and to work for what we wanted, but not long for what others have.

    I think you are doing a great thing by sharing your experiences here and the information is very valuable. Your tone is very friendly and never dismissive of those that don't have what you are able to enjoy.

    Don't let the negativity affect you, and continue creating wonderful content.

    Thank you.

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  19. Logtar,

    "Like water off a duck's back" is the effect on me from the negative comments. I'm sure jealousy plays a part in it. I'm happy I have this forum to use those comments as a teachable moment for others. My wife and I haven't done anything very extraordinary. We just started early and stuck with the plan.

    I probably should wander back over the comment section of the web site and see what other interesting thoughts have been left!

    Thanks to you for being an reader and subscriber. That's why I'm doing this. It certainly isn't for the money. So far I've sold enough of my new e-book to afford a lunch for two at Olive Garden.

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  20. Isn't it interesting that people still haven't grasped the fact that if they live beyond their means (never saving or investing a penny) THEY WILL NEVER RETIRE!

    I personally thought the article was very good news!

    b

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  21. b(as in Barb),

    Morrison has an example on her blog today about a friend of hers who has managed to craft a pleasant retirement even though she has a very small savings account. It is an inspiring story, but not the norm.

    Maybe it is just my readers, but I have not had to censor or delete any comments left here about this post. I bet if this exchange was occurred at the CNN site, I'd be pretty much hung out to dry. Bless my civil readers.

    Glad you liked it, Barb. BTW, the weather is finally turning nicer. Is Tucson still your winter home?

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  22. I didn't read any of the comments-but as was previously stated-jealousy is usually the reason for negative comments.
    I do have a question about average health care costs being $200,000-does that include nursing home care? I don't think most retirees even have that much money. Aren't the costs different according to where you live?

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  23. One word - jealousy! I'm sure many are very envious of your situation, who wouldn't be? Living in beautiful Arizona and had the foresight to plan and be able to retire early. Those public websites like CNN and Yahoo bring out a lot of strange comments.

    I'm 55, a Canadian, and looking at retiring by the time I'm 60. I've been with the same American company for 12 years and know there's a target on my back due to my high salary and benefit cost to the company, so it could happen sooner than later.

    I've planned carefully, lived within my means, put 2 kids through college, I've got zero debts - no mortage on the family home or winter home, and our cars are paid for.

    I've put away a nice amount for retirement we and we plan to spend winters at our condo in Florida. I love reading your blog, it inspires me to be like you!

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  24. Hi homeinboca (as in Boca, Florida?),

    Thank you for the compliment but it sounds as though you are up for some major pats on the back, too. The "target on your back" reference is probably true, but you are aware of it and have the situation under control.

    Isn't being debt-free wonderful? Good job, HIB. Thanks for contributing your story today.

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  25. Donna,

    That $200,000 figure is what an average person over the age of 65 is projected to spend on health care for the rest of his life. From what I understand it includes the monthly costs for Medicare and Part D and the 20% Medicare doesn't cover. That means the figures doesn't take into account a supplemental plan that could cut those costs. There are some proceedures and expenses Medicare doesn't cover, like hearing aids, so that is included in the total.

    It includes all the drug costs not covered by any form of insurance and over-the-counter stuff. It includes nursing home care under the assumption that the typical American will spend 3 years in a nursing home at a cost of about $50,000 a year (and that is low for many parts of the country).

    The figure can be quite overstated if: you have supplemental insurance, you live in a retirement community that provides nursing home care as part of your contract, and you manage to avoid a long term slide at the end of your life.

    The $200,000 figure works out to $8,000 a year for someone who lives until 90. I would imagine the majority of that money is needed in the last decade of life.

    It is a lot of money, no matter how you dissect it, but yes, the amount would be affected by where you live.

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  26. Hi Bob,
    I'm in Phoenix moving my mom into a continuing care community. Dad planned well for their elder years- the ones that start in your 80's.I am so happy mom can be in a nice community with a bit of space for her "stuff".
    We are living comfortably in retirement - slowly getting to the satisfying part. We recently started being serious about how to go about putting away money from pensions for travel.I took to heart that $200,000 per person number for health care. We made that as a soft target a while ago.
    As for living nicely on less...a friend's parents live in Chicago on a policeman's pension and have been for twenty years . It is all a part of living below your means and enjoying what you have.
    You continue to give me great ideas Bob. Keep up the good work. Letting those comments roll off your back is the vest thing you should do.

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  27. the smart man learns from his mistakes. the wise man learns from others mistakes. if you fish on the bottom and catch ugly fish and don't like it, then don't go fishing. people are jealous and petty. it's to late for many of them( ant and the grasshopper) and all that. so they attack others and cry. where people think they'll live to be 90 i don't know? most hit the late 70"s or 80"s and get sick and pray for the end. if your over 60 then live every day like it's your last. in other words party down dude!

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  28. Janette,

    Welcome back to Phoenix. I'm happy to learn your Mom's move is going well. My parents moved into Friendship Village in Tempe 6 years ago and the timing was perfect. Mom started going downhill just two years later. Dad continues to do well.

    I'm also glad to see you are getting into the satisfying part of retirement. You have planned well and can now enjoy this stage of your life. Betty and I head for Hawaii on Monday...part of that satisfying lifestyle!

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  29. Fred,

    "If you get ugly fish, stop fishing." I like it. If something doesn't work for you, do something else.

    Oh, and party like it's 1999, or 2011.

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  30. Just read your 18-Sept email on feedback from the most recent Money magazine article that you and your wife appeared in. Do not focus on the negative responses in any way; I believe the current party in power, with their constant support of class warfare, helps to cause anyone having one nickel more than these people to be an object for their scorn.

    I for one enjoyed hearing your story and will continue to read your emails and follow your web site. Keep up the good work - you are an inspiration for those of us close to pulling the trigger and retire early ourselves. Thank you to both you and your wife.

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  31. Chuck,

    Thanks for your supportive comments. Please let me know if you have any specific questions or concerns as you get closer to being retired.

    I'll pass on your kind wishes to my wife.

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  32. Hi Bob,

    Yes, in Boca Raton FL. We plan to spend 4-5 months a year there when retired. We need to buy supplemental insurance for the time we are there because our Medicare only has limited coverage when traveling.

    Our social medical system may not be perfect, but it only costs a small amount to get this supplemental coverage, even up to age 80. It must be a challenge to budget 33% for medical expenses. This is such a high personal cost.

    We just put my 84 yr old dad in a public hospital residence where he will reside permanently. We only needed to transfer his pensions to pay for his care.

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  33. Welcome back HIBoca,

    I don't know if there many drawbacks to the Canadian health system, but I'm sure your costs are much more reasonable than ours. When I turn 65 in a few years I'm looking at at least a $5,000 a year savings just for me. My wife has 8 years to go before Medicare so I'll bet that savings will get eaten up by her expenses!

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  34. Bob,
    You are a brave man. I would never have the nerve to expose myself like that. Mostly because I have what I have due to a pension. I never had to create a wealth strategy. I'd be a sitting duck for criticism.
    What they miss is that you are not necessarily a wealth adviser, rather you are suggesting ways to modify your lifestyle to improve its quality and reduce its costs. Everybody benefits from your experience and advice.

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  35. Ralph,

    I almost said no to the article for that very reason. How much did I want people to know? Overall, the article used very few figures and details. My wife and I modified our lifestyle in certain ways to stay on our plan. If others find that info help, great. But, as you can tell, many found our choices suspect or flawed.

    The article left out a lot of the specific steps we started taking early in our marriage which might have given some of the critics more insight, but I doubt it.

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  36. I just stumbled onto your blog and really enjoy the intelligent discussions,the accepting nature and great insight.My hubby and I always felt "odd" because our values(paid off house,small house etc)were not that of our families and some friends.Well 30 yrs later we can sit back and see lots of our values becoming trending.Imagine that!

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  37. Hi Pam,

    Isn't it nice to be ahead of a trend instead of missing it completely! My grandparents lived much more closely to my way of life: debt is a tool that can be abused, instant gratification demonstrates a lack of self-control, and needs and wants are very different.

    I'm pleased you found Satisfying Retirement. I hope you'll be a regular visitor.

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  38. Well Bob, you made me curious and I had to read the comments - and the article. Great article by the way. I admire you for doing it as it does lay you open for negative comments but it also is such a great learning tool for others who may be able to retire early but only need a map. Good job!

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  39. Ryshia Kennie,

    I made you look! Great. Yes, I knew when I agreed to the profile I would get some slings and arrows. But, as you note, I saw it as a teaching moment. I'm not a trained investment person nor blessed with great good luck. If I could do it, others might find something in my journey they could use.

    If so, the negatives were worth it.

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