June 24, 2011

Is Retirement Dead? I Don't Think So.

A few days ago a report had plenty of exposure on the Internet. With the provocative headline that retirement as we have known it is dead, this "expose" was bound to get read. According to a fellow named Michael Pento, senior economist at EuroPacific Capital, retirement is on life support.

He contends that investments haven't grown. Private and public pension plans are underfunded or simply being abandoned. Real estate has lost almost an entire decade of growth, making the American Dream of owning your own home a fond memory for many. All these developments mean the traditional "retire at 65 and relax" lifestyle is gone.

How about a bit of calm amid this inflammatory premise?

This isn't us
Satisfying Retirement blog has been one of the leading voices over the past year in helping redefine what retirement in America looks like. When was the last time you saw a post here that praised the 36 holes of golf, Lazy Boy recliner type of retirement lifestyle our parents enjoyed in places like Sun City?  

Never! That hasn't been what retirement living has looked like for quite awhile. (Even Sun City doesn't look like that anymore!)

There  have been two massive economic upheavals in the last 12 years, separated by a recession and a silly season when people suddenly believed everything always goes up.....until it doesn't.

No one believes the old model for retirement works for everyone. No one thinks their company loves them and will treat them well until they die. No one believes that Social Security isn't going to undergo modifications. No one believes the health care mess will politely resolve itself, prices will start to drop, and everyone will get great care without any hassles.

Retirement today doesn't mean we have lost the ability to be rational, logical, or are blind to reality. Just the opposite: a satisfying retirement requires each of us to take personal responsibility for our future happiness.

Whether that means strengthening family and spousal relationships, taking charge of our own health maintenance, living beneath our means and still being satisfied, or finding a new passion to fill our time with happiness, we are quite capable of a positive next phase of our life. If it means taking on part time work or another full time job, we can handle it. If it means starting our own business....what a kick!

Are there serious problems? Of course. Is it possible our lifestyle will be downsized from what it was? Probably. Are we facing some serious financial and health challenges? Absolutely. But, retirement isn't on life support.

Retirement is no longer seen as a time to sit and wait to die. With several decades of life left after we stop working at our primary job, almost 25% of our life is yet to be lived. One quarter of the time allocated to us on this glorious planet is waiting to be explored, impacted, changed for the better, and enjoyed to the fullest.

Is the old model of retirement dead? Maybe. But, I say good riddance. The satisfying retirement lifestyle we are living is so much more stimulating and engaging that it might just be the best phase of your life!


  1. Yeah, I don't think retirement is dead either--I think that headlines sell stories. All these "studies" and articles about retirement being dead are overboard. Yes, many people are doing retirement differently, some as a consequence of the economy, some simply because they are young and healthy and want to have a different model for retirement (as you say for the last possibly quarter of their life!)

    Even though retirement is evolving, there still are plenty of people doing it the old fashioned way, without working. Both my dad and my husband's parents have been retired for over a decade without doing any work for pay, even after the hit to their retirement portfolios. And they are spending their time doing the traditional leisure activities (and LOTS of travel). They are all healthy, so are very active, but still their retirements are in no way "dead." And I don't think they are the only ones despite the headlines to the contrary.

    Good post Bob!

  2. Thank you for a voice of reason in all this.

    I have no desire to sit around and do nothing.

    But I was done with the corporate world. Maybe they need to rename retirement. Call it "post-corporate" or something. I am in my post-corporate stage of life. I kind of like that. I may start using that instead of saying I am retired. After all, I did get laid off from corporate which is what caused me to retire in the first place.

    So yes, I am post-corporate!

  3. Syd,

    It is very hard to find any financial story in the news or on the web that doesn't talk about how awful things are going to be for retirees, with all of us living on gruel and in tents.

    Like they used to say in TV news, "if it bleeds it leads." Sensationalism sells. Things are rough, but like your Dad and in-laws prove, with planning and decent expectations the future remains quite bright for most.

  4. Hi Roberta,

    Post-corporate, pro-life. A good slogan for all of us!

  5. I feel the energy in this post Bob. One quote I love from Karen Walrond at Chris Guillebeau's conference I attended in Portland was: "We don't age because time passes, we age when we stop looking for the wonderful in life."

  6. Sonia,

    Karen is exactly right. Thanks for sharing that quote.

  7. "...a satisfying retirement requires each of us to take personal responsibility for our future happiness." I would say a satisfying life (retired or not) requires the same for our present and future happiness.

    As for the sitting around watching for hummingbirds in the garden sort of retirement, I could use a little of that. So far retirement has been much busier than I envisioned!

    Certainly retirement doesn't mean waiting to die. There is much too much living to do!

  8. Galen,

    Well said. Personal responsibility is a trait all of us need during all stages of our life. To wait for someone else to solve or problems and then blame them when they don't is one of the most obvious societal flaws we face.

  9. Excellent post. The media knows that Fear sells, so that's where the focus of talk radio, et al is. No question that we have problems, but I look back on "the good old days" of my parents and grandparents and thank heavens that I am living when and where I am today.

  10. Good Morning, Steve,

    A new movie, Midnight in Paris, is based on the premise that all of us believe an earlier time was better-more humane, more interesting, more enlightened. The main character goes back to Paris in the 1920's. This is his perfect time. There he meets people who think 1890 was better. Once there, those people think 1860 was the best time to be alive. And so it goes.

    We are alive now and it is our "job" to make the most of it whether retired or not. I am very happy to be alive in 2011, thank you.

  11. Life in general is what we make of it. Retirement may not be what we imagined at 30 or thirty, but I refuse to beliee that Ill be eating cat food, if you know what I mean.

    That said, I think the breaking point for many seniors is medical care and prescriptions and I thank god every single day for my plan and its cost.

  12. Sorry, posted to soon---also, as I work on my fixed income living book to be publushed some day, it seems that in order to survive we need to live on a boat or in an rv to make it-what about the rest of us less than adventurous souls.....

  13. Hi Barb,

    Medical care is my big unknown. My individual plan has more loopholes than swiss cheese. I am hoping to make it to 65 and Medicare so at least something is covered. My wife has lots of medical issues and has 8 years to go to Medicare. Her policy is even worse than mine.

    Even so, I don't like cat food and don't expect to ever try it (or it's human equivalent).

  14. More for Barb,

    My wife would never agree to extended periods in an RV, though we would like to try it for a month or so at some point. Like everything else in life (and retirement) moderation is the key.

    I expect we will downsize once again to a condo, just because I no longer want most of the maintenance worries. But, the way the housing market continues to flounder that may be a decade off.

  15. Hi, Bob... Two sides to every story. Yes, you're absolutely right -- retirement today isn't the retirement of yesteryear. And as your own blog has so well emphasized during this last year, a satisfying retirement can be (to a large extent) independent of one’s finances.

    However... because of the current, rather serious economic downturn, a large number of would-be retirees are too darn frightened to retire. They're holding onto their jobs / careers longer than they otherwise would. This decision is inhibiting them from launching their own satisfying retirement. In turn, it's failing to free up jobs which would otherwise be filled by recent college graduates. All in all, the economists are correct -- we really do have a serious economic problem. Both for our senior citizens and for our young, college graduates. Bill

  16. Bill,

    I'm afraid you are absolutely right, too. For too many of our citizens the promises of a happy retirement are proving to be an illusion. Working much longer than planned and skimping on essentials like medicines or food is reality. Fear is a daily companion.

    What I object to is the media's trumpeting of the downside without allowing for the possibility that a satisfying retirement is not only possible, but likely for many. Yes, it may look a lot different from what we expected, and certainly different from our parents' retirement. But, different doesn't have to mean disastrous.

  17. I don't know what to make of 'retirement' anymore. I have no set-in-stone images in my mind anymore. I never envisioned myself playing golf because, quite simply, I don't play golf. But I do vision myself sailing and RVing.

    I don't think I can ever "retire retire" at all. My new plan is to work and bring in some form of income to the very end of my life. While continuing to sail and RV. In other words, my new retirement plan is to do both: retire and work. To me, the key is to bring in money as an only way to deflect the rising costs of just staying alive. Investments today just can't keep me in clover. I can't imagine my life on a fixed income. (I don't even included social security into my planning). To do so would indeed bring me to a can of dog food and poverty. By balancing my life with added income, my new retirement lifestyle is palpable.

    That's my story and I'm sticking to it. My new streams of income today are from recently becoming a landlord (rental sales are going to go through the roof in the future as more and more people lose their homes) and through writing gigs. I can write and be a landlord till I'm in my 90's. My husband is younger than me, so he still has a conventional job. He calculates he can earn a living through manual labor for at least another 10 to 12 years. I retired at 50 and I'm NOT going back to a 9 to 5 career.

    So, in a sense, to me, the retirement that my dad enjoyed is long gone. He spent his day playing tennis, bocce and traveling for long periods of time to Europe. I don't see that future on my personal horizon. I will never be able to save as much money as he had ($8mill and counting), my home will never be a valuable as his ($2mill and counting) and I will never own a yacht like he had (37 ft Silverton). Nope, ain't gonna be. He was fortunate to have made his income during the industrial age of America. Not going to happen here, in either my or my children's lifespan) any time soon.

    So, to me, yes, retirement is dead and I don't think most of the journalists reporting on this subject are off base. Truth hurts.

    Just my two cents. Which now, with inflation, is really 11 cents.

  18. Hi Morrison,

    The retirement you describe is going to be the way it looks for a lot of folks, and I am one of them. I hope to begin making a little from this blog at some point. My first free e-book has shown enough appeal my intention is to produce a 2nd edition and sell it as a download through Amazon. With minimal costs, it will only take a few thousand downloads to cover vacations for several years.

    Retirement is not dead. You are not working a 9-5 job. To most people you are retired. It is just defining retirement the way your Dad did (or others in his generation)no longer fits.

    I don't know very many people of my age (early 60s') who want the old style retirement. My peers want to set their own schedule, work a bit or generate income as needed, travel as the spirit and budget allows, and enjoy a lifestyle that is stimulating and productive. Would they like the huge nest egg? Sure. Without it are they trapped in a no-win situation? No.

    Retirement is dead if it is defined like it was in the 1950's. Retirement is definitely not dead as it is being experienced so far in the 21st century. It won't be as easy, but most of us thrive on challenges and finding our own way.

    By the way, my wife and I were landlords. We owned 4 rental houses for several years. We actually enjoyed the experience and made money.

    And, yes, two cents ain't what it used to be!

  19. I have never met anyone in the "old style of retirement." My grandfather retired at 60 and headed many committees until he died at 84.Both grandmothers kept busy on boards of various charities until they were in their late 70's. My father retired in his late 50's and wrote poetry and developed St Mary's Food bank and St Vincent de Paul. Both families were small business owners. Playing golf and traveling around just to travel were not in their vocabulary. They had done that while still fully employed.

    My husband's father retired at 65 and did the church books until he died at 84. His mother and father grew an acre garden that fed many widows in their old neighborhood. He had been a plumber all his life.

    I even met some of my grandfather's six brothers- they were painters, woodworkers, farmers and craftsmen. Almost all retired from the Navy after WWII. Although most of their counter part officers died in the 1950's - they learned to relax and become artists.

    My husband has been retired for a bit more than a year. He gets up every morning and works the land- tends the wood shop and just does all kinds of things. I retired at the same time and substitute teach, sew, volunteer at a school and fly to see kids and my mom.

    This idea that people sit around in old folks areas (like sun city) is not generational- it was a sixties thing. Leaving taxes behind in the northern states and moving to states where their entire estate would not be taken away at death by taxes.Also- Del Webb liked to sell homes!!!

    Retirement dead? It is dead in his account possibly because so few of us are interested in high end mutual funds anymore- we are smarter and are going back to the way our grandparents lived ...debt and mutual fund free!

    PS- as far as the 20's being a perfect time. That might have been because 16.5 million were killed in WWI and between 50-100 MILLION were killed in the pandemic of 1918- 1920. You see that much death and suddenly you figure out it is your life that you need to live.

  20. Hi JBO,

    I'm getting a few books from the library about the 1920's and the Depression period to better understand what society was thinking and then how people reacted when they realized the house of cards had tumbled. I'm interested in whether I see many similarities to our mindset in the period just before the 2008 recession began.

    Your summary and examples are excellent. I have nothing to add that needs to be said. Thank you for such a thoughtful comment


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