October 29, 2013

Offering Retirement Advice and Paying the Price!


A little over two years ago the following post ran after my wife and I were profiled in Money Magazine and on CNN.Com. I know there are lots of new readers who didn't see this when it was first published. I thought you'd enjoy it today.



Crew setting up for photo shoot in our backyard
In one of my braver moments I decided to look at the comments left on the CNNMoney.com web site about my retirement advice  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 in the article, but our situation was pretty clearly spelled out:  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 either 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.


More from the Money Magazine photo shoot


50 comments:

  1. Down to earth, reasonable responses. Good for you.
    Ed Zinkiewicz

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  2. I read that Money article when it first came out, and I remember discussing with my husband the early retirement decision you and Betty made. It was a timely article for us, and believe me, very inspiring to us in our transition to earlier-than-expected retirement. I imagine many more people appreciate what you shared--and continue to share--than you realize, even if they do not always let you know.

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    1. Thanks for the comment, and I am sure you are right. Before I agreed to the project I knew there would be some who disagreed with me and found fault with what we had decided to do. I also know that those with the loudest voices and the strongest opinions would likely speak up. But, I was comfortable with what we did and hoped some folks would find some encouragement. Thanks for letting me know you and your husband did exactly that.

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  3. Bob,

    I find the comment sections (especially when anonymous), featured below online newspapers, blogs, and on various forums to be an easy, but largely inappropriate way for people to relieve stress. Psychological research has demonstrated over and over that if people can "attack" others (verbally or physically) it is often a method of relieving their own stress and frustration with their circumstance.

    I think I heard recently that the Popular Mechanics online magazine eliminated their comment sections following their articles because of the vitriol that flowed toward the authors and other commentators. The anger often spilled over into disputes unrelated to the subject of the article.

    We are a sad species sometimes.

    Rick in Oregon

    (posting as anonymous because I don't have any of the other accounts!) :)

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    1. Rick,

      Under the "Reply as" you can choose name/URL. Put in Rick in the name space, leave the URL blank (that is for a web address) and hit publish.

      As you know I have to check a comment before it gets posted because of some of the problems you mention. Most of the times It is a spam comment that gets deleted and not a angry or mean-spirited one, but on occasion someone goes overboard and the comment never sees the light of day.

      The day I can no longer post the vast majority of comments on this blog is the day I shut it down.

      Delete
  4. Hi,

    I'm a new follower to your blog, that is a great article with helpful tips. Some people are just complainers. Every tip you gave may not apply to them but gives good food for thought. Find what you have control over and change it. People need to take some action and change things in their life that they can. I've done research, read books, blogs and taught myself a lot about retirement and investing for the future.

    Thanks for your time to put it out there and help others that will listen,

    Tina

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    1. Welcome to the blog family, Tinabeane. I'm glad you found this article helpful.

      I clicked over to your blog...what a great list of links for those of us who love RV travel. I will be spending a lot of time following them all.

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  5. Retirement is always a compromise between maxing out your retirement income and reducing unnecessary spending. I think that your column was thoughtful and fair.

    I was able to early retire on much less than I made when I was employed. But it is still a work in progress and probably always will be.

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    1. It is very much a work in progress for me, too.

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    2. Diane from Long Beach, CAFri Nov 01, 02:09:00 AM MST

      Bob - I have found your blogs to be very valuable information, as well as the published comments, which help me to see other perspectives. I am a newbie retiree (12/31/12), and my husband and I are enjoying our first road trip in Sedona. Keep up the good work!

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    3. Sedona is one of the prettiest places in the country. Enjoy the red rocks.

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  6. Bob, you may have heard of Houzz, which is a web-site that offers advice about building projects and decorating ideas. Articles are submitted from both professionals and novices. A while back a family was featured that had constructed a play house for their little girl in their back yard. It was amazing! And expensive. The comments started out positive "oh how wonderful," "wish I had one," etc. and then they took an ugly turn - "seriously," "that poor child", "no sense of the real world," (I am paraphrasing, but you get the idea). People love to be critical. Those parents were made out to be villains because they gave their child a precious gift. That is the world we live in and no one gets a pass. Sad.

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    1. Instant and anonymous communication is part of the problem, though there have been thoughtless and cruel people around forever. Now, they are just more visible. Sad is right.

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  7. Several years ago my husband was faced with the possibility of a lay-off. A relative emailed me expressing her concern. I reassured her that it wouldn't be dismal because with our short term savings ( emergency fund) and his severance pay we could easily live for several years until he could find another job or apply for early social security. This was unbelievable to her. Why? Because they had two new cars with payments as high as their mortgage and no savings. You're right. It's all about the choices we make now affecting the choices we have later.

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    1. I'm afraid too often in present day society people look where to place the blame rather than take a close look inward.

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  8. Some blogs and other publications are doing away with comments. I used to be a political blogger in the four years before the 2008 election. I never got used to being told I was mentally ill--asked what kind I had, lacked a moral center, wasn't entitled to an opinion for various reasons and so much more.
    It didn't make me a better stronger person but I'm a person who won't debate anymore--even if I have the stronger argument. I was told my writing reminded people of a family sitting around the dining room table discussing issues and indeed my family and our friends did. But we knew we had to live with each other, then see each other. Comments today are more than sad. My niece, who wears very revealing clothes, wrote an article this week for her college newspaper saying that maybe PDA's aren't the most wonderful thing. She was crucified. somehow not liking public displays of affection equals not being a feminist! I wanted to jump in but I'm her aunt and that would have been mortifying!

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    1. A political blogger: now that takes a thick skin!

      I would guess comments tend to reflect what people hear and see from their leaders. If those in power are less than civil toward each other and hold those with different views in contempt, then that lack of civility becomes more the norm.

      I hope I never have to disable comments for this blog. So far, so good.

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  9. I've had similar experience when writing for U.S. News and esp. when items get picked up on yahoo! People love to disagree, call you names, and especially make nasty comments trying to prove that they are smarter than you are. I don't have quite as thick a skin as you do, which is why I use a nom de Internet, but I guess, as you say, it's just people letting off steam. Meanwhile, I agree with your sensible advice, even though a lot of people don't want to hear it, esp. about the finances. Great post!

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    1. I guess letting off steam with a vitriolic comment is cheaper than seeing a doctor and better than punching someone in the face. Maybe we should just accept we are performing a public service!

      There are certain subjects that can bring out the worst in some people. Financial planning and advice is one. As Pia notes above, political writing is another.

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  10. Bob - I always learn something when I read your posts. In my opinion, your blog is a great resource for both people planning to retire as well as those already retired. It gives a healthy, down-to-earth perspective in a way that is easy to read and understand. In my case, I'm still sitting on the fence regarding exactly when I will retire, but I am very encouraged by things I've read on your blog and in your book. My wife and I have always lived frugally and saved aggressively, and I don't anticipate major financial problems when we "pull the plug" on our full-time jobs. I always tell young people around me that most of us can save if we make it a priority. If your priority is a huge house, 2 fancy new cars, etc. then you will probably not be able to save anything. On the other hand, if your priority is to eventually retire comfortably then you will save at least a little bit from every paycheck. There have been times when I have demonstrated to co-workers how they could save a little money in the company's 401(k) plan and still take home the same paycheck as they were without saving due to the pre-tax advantage.

    Thanks for keeping your blog relevant to all your readers!

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    1. The power of compounding and the power of discipline: with these anything becomes doable. Thanks, Don, for the nice thoughts. I bet you and your wife with achieve exactly what you hope for.

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  11. I had to reread the paragraph about people never being able to enjoy a satisfying retirement if they don't have a big nest egg. You are so right in that people with a low income are not able to do what people with a larger income can. Those people have to learn to live with the choices they made earlier in their life.

    However, I think both you and I will agree that satisfaction does not begin at the bank. Satisfaction happens between our ears. I see people each winter that live in our RV resort year around on a limited income. They are living a very frugal life. However, they have found a way to live in a very small space and share all of that fancy stuff with others. They have what I see as a satisfying life.

    It is just a thought!

    Barbara

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    1. I am not sure the message that money doesn't equal happiness will ever sink in for some folks. I have been well off, I have been poor, and I have been comfortable. I will take where I am now over any of the alternatives because I have found peace of mind and satisfaction.

      Your thoughts are right on.

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    2. Barb -- I wanted to reply to a recent post of yours but it looks like I have to have a google email or account. Is that right?

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    3. I'll answer for Barb. Yes, you need a Google+ account or email address to leave a comment on Barbara's blog. Both are free and not difficult to sign up for.

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  12. Isn't it a shame that some people can be so mean. I am finding that quite often people take my good news and turn it upside-down, as though the fact of my retiring is an attack on their lack of planning. At least, this is what I am encountering in my office as I enter my last days of working. One of these days I am going to reply with what my mother always used to say: "if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all." Honestly, they couldn't make me happier to be moving on if they tried!

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    1. You only have a handful of Fridays to go, right? In the game they are trying to get you to play, you win.

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  13. Great post----being reminded of financial reality by a real person, one with a history of common sense who recognizes that one size of anything, including finances or retirement, does NOT fit all, helps me as I learn (VERY late in life!)) how to manage money more effectively. I appreciate that the financial information is part of a rounded blog, with many interesting topics & great comments (I do agree...lots of good folks read & respond to your writings!)

    As for Internet meanness, & meanness in general, I think you are right; along with everything else, EVERYTHING (good or bad) is instantly available to anyone who has a TV or a computer....& that includes lots of us. There seems to be a mob mentality, whether in person or on a computer that takes over.....almost a "let's see how much more offensive I can be than the other person was" attitude, similar to a riot, or a drunken party that gets out of hand. Before world-wide news, the drunken party or riot stayed wherever it occurred, but with the Internet everyone knows what happened, giving some folks ideas & others something to "do better/worse than."

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    1. I used to read comments left on interesting posts from national media sources, like the New York Times, or U.S. News, or CNN. I stopped when the lack of common decency and intelligent discourse disappeared completely. Reading the thoughts of people with such a complete lack of control or basic understanding of the issue at hand became depressing.

      I enjoy spirited debate when facts are at the center and emotion is left at home.

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  14. Bob, in this world there are those who can, and those who cannot. Some will do what it takes to enjoy a satisfying retirement, while others will shoot arrows at them. The vast majority of those with the quiver will not do what it takes to get to a good retirement point, and feel the need to tear down those who do, or tell others it is an impossible task. Like yourself I know that is not the case, and chalk it up to jealousy at best.

    We need more people out there telling others that it can be done, and here are the steps needed to get there. Keep on keepin' on, as you and Betty are doing, and never let these types of bitter individuals cause you one lost second of sleep.

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    1. In my daily life I am mostly surrounded by people who are supportive, helpful, and loving. We disagree on some issues like politics but that never is allowed to harm our relationship. Wouldn't it be nice if society in general behaved the same way.

      Thanks, Chuck.

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  15. In a perverse way, the negative comments you received resulted in some thoughtful, useful responses. I've never liked anonymous comments, dating back to days writing for newspapers. People who want to spout off should have enough backbone to stand up and be accountable for what they say. Unfortunately, the internet allows individuals to hide behind fake names, which makes it possible for everyone to be anonymous if they choose. I've found comments on sports articles to be so obnoxious that I no longer bother scrolling down to them. As a society, we need to deal with this somehow. I wish I could propose what the answer should be.

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    1. s that a case of making lemonade out of lemons? You are quite correct. Sometimes a comment that is an attempt to provoke a negative, emotional response results in a learning experience for others. I certainly have found myself writing a very carefully worded response that attempts to turn something into a teachable moment or a chance for me to explore my own thoughts. In that case, someone taking a very different position from the majority can be helpful. But, when it becomes an attempt to hurt, it serves no purpose.

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  16. Bob,

    Just reading the responses here is heartening. There are still many thoughtful, polite, intelligent people willing to share their insights, wisdom and experience with others. Thanks for spending the time managing this blog. It is always a breath of fresh air.

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    1. Are you the Rick who was posting as Anonymous? If so, I'm glad you found the name/URL link!

      I agree: the folks who spend time here are very special and absolute joys to interact with. I learn so much.

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    2. Yes, Bob. I am that Rick.
      Thanks for helping me learn the protocol.

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  17. Hi Bob,

    I believe that retirement is all about choices. If we really want to experience tremendously gratifying retirement then we need make the right ones and a satisfying retirement can be really ours.

    - Anne

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    1. Making the right choice is the key, and then being open enough to adjust to change is important too.

      Thanks, Anne.

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  18. Ken and I continue to appreciate your generosity in sharing details as we make our move into retirement.Your posts have been IMMENSELY helpful. You are kind enough to share real life details,real life emotions, real life foibles and fun--we take it ALL IN... ..and we take it as one family's journey, so we tailor the message to our own situation..and we have learned a LOT! You are like a supportive relative who has our best interests at heart..and I can't imagine people leaving nasty comments,although the internet is a great way for miserable people to vent,I guess. DELETE 'EM!!

    By the way, our happiness has never been tied to the amount of money we've had..we've been up down over and under also, over the years.Actually, my MOST HAPPY time in life was when Ken was a student,ANdrew was little, I had a STRICT grocery budget, all our entertainment had to be the FREE STUFF around town, and we lived in a cozy mobile home in Iowa!! We are now looking forward to FREEDOM,PEACE OF MIND and TIME IN NATURE as our rewards for years of hard work.. our saving are important for security, but we have learned how to budget from our early years as a young family.. thanks, as always, for sharing,Bob!!

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    1. "Like a supportive relative"...I had never thought of this blog that way, but I like that image. Relatives can offer advice and suggestions based on their experiences that you are free to accept, reject, or adapt to your own situation.

      Maybe I'll start referring to myself as Uncle Bob!

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  19. A school secretary had a sign posted over her desk: do not let your lack of planning create a crisis for me. I think of that often and it rings true with the gist of this blog. Some would say, you're so lucky to be able to retire. Well, it isn't all luck, is it? If luck is where opportunity meets preparation, than we're lucky to be able to retire. Years of work and planning brought me and others to this position. I enjoy your blog as well as the opportunity to comment and read others comments. Thank, Bob.

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    1. You are quite correct: luck had little to do with my ability to retire when I did. Lots of planning and living well below our means were conscious decisions made early in our married life. Of course, I didn't know my business would fail when it did, but the previous 30 years allowed us to make the choice to use that reality as our opportunity to retire.

      All the people I know who are happily retired followed the same basic path. As Anne noted in a comment above, it is really a matter of choices.

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  20. Well, Uncle Bob, my husband's long anticipated retirement will begin tomorrow when he walks in the door after his exit visit. I believe I stumbled across this blog from that article in the Money magazine and have been reading steadily ever since.

    He is not an early retiree so he will receive his full SS, plus the extra 8% for waiting an extra year. Fingers crossed all goes as we've planned.

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    1. Congrats on the start of your new life. It is an exciting time with unlimited opportunities. Thanks for being a long term reader!

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  21. That should read exit interview, not exit visit.

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  22. I remember the article because it inspired me to plan and save even more. I'm on track for 63-1/2.

    Thanks Bob.

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    1. You have a great memory, Gail. Stay focused and you will make it.

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  23. You hit all my favorite points on the 'why don't they write an article about poor people like me?'.
    If you want to get even more depressed about the latest generations to reach adulthodd, take a look at any money related post on Lifehacker. Half of the comments say the same thing: 'well it would be nice if I could budget like that, but it's expensive to live HERE.'
    Total denial.
    The whiniest commentors are always victims twice: they get paid too little, and everyone else charges them too much.

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    1. Denial, as the saying goes, is not a river in Egypt. It is a human tendency to avoid the hard choices. The current mess with the ACA rollout is a good example of putting off a necessary decision until a slapdash law is rushed through with all its weaknesses and problems.

      It drives me nuts to hear people blame everyone else for their shortcomings. Do schools not teach personal responsibility anymore?

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