January 21, 2019

Retirement: Am I Passing The Test?


I have this image that my retirement experience is quite different from the one my parents lived. Of course that includes the value judgment that mine has probably been better. To prove the point I built a list of some of the major events in their retirement journey so I could compare it to mine.

Surprise, surprise. In several important criteria Mom & Dad's time after work beat mine, hands down. I would never have thought that true until I wrote this. It has been quite an eye-opener. Using my original list, here is a comparison that lead to this conclusion that my beliefs were more myth than reality.

Financial Expectations: My parents assumed that the pensions and investments they had accumulated would be there for them when needed. They planned on Medicare and a strong supplemental policy, earned by Mom's 35 years as a teacher in Massachusetts, would take care of their medical expenses. They assumed Social Security would remain solvent and send them each a check every month.

Every assumption they made, every promise society made to them, was fulfilled. Substantial medical bills were taken care of. Their investments continued to grow most years. Their pensions remained fully funded; the organizations did not look for ways to cut benefits or go back on their word.

In my case, I self-funded my retirement savings. They suffered a hit a few times but always have come back. My wife and I never had a group medical policy; we had been in the individual market, which is expensive and has major restrictions on care. My Medicare coverage, and Betty's that begins next month, will help tremendously, but we expect it to be less generous for us in the coming years.
  • In this comparison my parents are the clear winners.

Enjoy Freedom and Free Time.  For the first 10 years after retiring, Mom & Dad enjoyed travel. They made several trips to Europe, took cruises, visited friends back East, and went for month-long driving trips. For several years their passports got quite a workout. 


Dad took up painting. He was an electrical engineer by training and had never exhibited any artistic leanings. Frankly, we were amazed at his interest and ability in this creative endeavor.  Mom taught for 35 years. When she retired her teaching didn't stop. For another decade she volunteered as a classroom assistant at a school near their home. That kept her active, involved, and excited to work with the youngsters.

My wife and I have traveled since retirement though not as much as my parents. Our financial situation wasn't nearly as solid as my parents, primarily because I retired at 52, they at 65. Those extra 13 years gave their nest egg quite a boost over mine. Also, I had flown so much in my job, I wanted to stay home. We have been to Europe three times, on a few cruise, spent time in Florida with friends, and covered most of the Western US on various trips. We owned an RV for almost five years and had a blast on several extensive trips.  

Creatively, it took me awhile to find my stride. For the first few years after work I was into not much more than serious puttering. Then, I became active in volunteer work.  I wrote a travel book. I became heavily involved in ham radio. Obviously, blogging has been a major part of my creative life for the past eight years. My wife has developed her photographic editing skills to the point where we may start selling her work on line. She has become Super Grandmother to 3 incredible children.

  • In this comparison I am going to declare a tie.

Health and Preventive Care. This is one critical area in which Mom & Dad  did not do well. My Mom never exercised beyond what she did in a normal day. There was no gym, or walking or stretching program to keep her limber. Growing up our menus were heavy on meat, pasta, and cheese. She almost never drank plain water, but got her liquids primarily from coffee and milk. Her rapid physical decline in the last few years of her life was accelerated by the poor shape she was in.

Dad was been a little bit better. He took daily walks. A quintuple heart bypass operation gave him a second chance to be more aware of diet and exercise. He lived until 91 and was able to do more physically than most men his age.

My wife and I have watched  what happened to my parents and vowed to approach our older age differently. We both lost weight and do our best to stick to an exercise regime. Meat appears on our menu only once a week.

My wife has cut her medications in half and moved from diabetic back to pre-diabetic status. We drink lots of water and virtually no soft drinks. Maybe because of our poor health insurance, we have been doing all we can to prevent costly problems.
  • In this comparison we are much better off in retirement than my parents.


Marriage Mom & Dad were married for 63 years. For the last twenty of those years they haven't been apart for even one day. They are deeply devoted to each other and very much in love. It is hard to imagine one without immediately thinking of the other. I'm not sure in their own minds if there is was an  "I" or "me" anymore, it is just "us" and "we."  It is inspiring to experience this type of bond.

I must quickly write that Betty and I have been married for 42 years. I feel we are a stronger couple now than at any time earlier in the marriage. Being together full time for the past seventeen years has strengthened our love and understanding of each other. Are there still arguments and rough patches? Sure...we are two individuals who have different opinions about almost everything. But, neither of us can imagine a life without the other.
  • In this comparison my parents beat us on longevity and have given us the perfect model to work from.


Foresight. Because this post is getting long, I'll quickly summarize one last area. My parents moved into a continuing care community while they were still in decent health. Their primary reason for doing so was so I wouldn't have to worry about the quality of their care and their living arrangements when they could no longer take care of themselves.

We are not quite there yet so that is something we haven't given much thought to yet, but their self-sacrifice and concern for us will be repeated by us when the time comes so our kids don't need to worry either. 
  • In this comparison my parents gain the edge for their foresight and planning.


As I noted in the opening, I assumed my retirement has been more complete and more satisfying than my parents. After all, I had a 13 year head start on them. But, that belief has been pure self-deception. By almost all measures, Mom & Dad Lowry had the type of satisfying retirement that I write about.

It is good to be humbled every now and then. 


22 comments:

  1. Yeah, we Baby Boomers are pretty presumptuous to think that we invented joyful and fulfilling retirements. Our parents had them already but they were more muted. I think one of the sticking points now is that for the last decade or so fear and worry have become epidemic. As you say, that is something the Greatest Generation didn't have to cope with at the level we do.

    Depression is at an all time high in our country now even among high schoolers and I'm sure retirees are also in the elevated group. I know I have my share especially during these dreary winter months. (ha).

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    1. I just joined a new primary care group specifically for age 65 and above and on medicare and the very first question on the paperwork I filled out was a question on whether I had experienced depression or a loss of interest...

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    2. That is, actually, the first question in almost every exam I have attended in the last three years, including my grandchildren'. I think suicide awareness is way up, which is a good thing.

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  2. My mom worked for the state government as a RN. I work for the same state government as an assistant district attorney. Her pension benefits were better than mine
    will be because she was under the "old" plan. I earn more per year than she ever earned but she will still win on the pension benefit category, by a large amount. She also, at the time of her retirement, worked for the state 10 years longer than I will have worked for the state, when I retire. She was also able to work until 65, and her insurance benefits, while working, were better. My insurance benefits, if I retire at 62, keep rising and are really up in the air (COBRA). I really do not know what to do about my insurance. I really do not want to keep working until 65. She ate lousy, but walked a lot. I have heart issues inherited from my dad's side of the family. It will be interesting to see how all of this plays out. I actually think she will win as far as having a better retirement....lol

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    1. I will put one point down in your mom's column.

      You have identified one of the primary reasons earlier generations can score better on the retirement success test: they had a very different relationship with their employer and his/her's responsibilities to workers. Dependable pensions and good health care were givens. Now, we are operating in a very different world.

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  3. My parents also had it better and with only one person working through their entire marriage. They lived in a small home but had a beautiful yard and built-in pool which they enjoyed to the end. They lived simply but had more than enough funds to last them with some left over, not a lot, but some. He retired at 65 with only a very small pension, social security from one person's working career, and a good amount of savings. They lived in the same home all of their married life, paid it off many years before he retired, and they did not worry or have any fear of how they would care for themselves either financially or physically. The knew they had the resources to downsize even further if they needed to. They had love and commitment to each other, and that speaks louder than any nest egg. My husband and I will do okay, but we also have an entirely self-funded retirement and we worry whether what we have will last. I'm not sure if we worry because that's what we're indoctrinated to do or whether that's normal.

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    1. My parents benefited greatly from my mom's pension and life-long health care provided by the state of Massachusetts after her multi-decade teaching career. Dad managed their resources well but did not retire with any type of pension, only Social Security.

      They lived as they chose: frugally but happy, with all their end-of-life concerns arranged for so their kids had no worries.

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  4. My scoring is about the same as yours. My dad had a generous corporate pension that included lifetime medical insurance -- so Social Security was "mad money"! He put four kids through private colleges, helped to fund seven grandkids' education, and then proactively entered a continuing care community (@7K/mo) when he was healthy, which definitely took the pressure off us. He traveled a lot after retiring and took up woodworking as a hobby. But he always took his health for granted, and his final years were lost to dementia. I'm much healthier than he was at the same age but less financially secure. I guess I'll find out eventually if that balance works in my favor or not!

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    1. Those are the two big unknowns: finances and health. We have some control over one and have to depend mostly on our genes for the other.

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  5. I am the first person in my immediate family to earn a college degree. Both my parents lacked education and worked low-wage jobs. They quit working when they physically couldn't work anymore (which was actually quite young). Retirement? What's that? I feel like I won just for arriving at the finish line!

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    1. Retirement is a rather recent phenomenon that was unheard of when we were a agrarian/rural society. Social safety net? Unheard of, except for family.

      Both my parents were Great Depression kids, but had very different experiences. Mom came from a solidly upper-middle-class family while dad's father died when he was 17, forcing him into the breadwinner role in the late 1930's and eventually into the Navy to get his college education.

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  6. Doing what I do keeps me from ever considering retirement. I never stayed in one place long enough to retire from anything but, all that moving was due to my husband's career. So he has a decent pension, though not near what it should have been before his company let everyone down. But, we've managed. His father worked for the same company and got a much better retirement that helped him reach his mid-90's. My mother in law passed away much too young due to poor medical care. Certainly no comparison's in our lives!
    b

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    1. This exercise for me was eye-opening. And, knowing the type of estate my parents left their 3 sons was particularly amazing, considering how many times my father was unemployed or lost money trying to start his own business. Their dedication to each other and to making a solid life together was evident.

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  7. That is an interesting exercise to compare your own retirement to that of your parents. My parents divorced when I was about 17 so there are 2 different paths but each of them has done pretty much what they wanted to do in retirement (it seems to me anyway).

    My father had no pension, only savings, and he never used any tax advantaged retirement savings program. He thought it was just best to save what you could (in his case as much as possible) and pay your taxes when they are due, of course his social security benefits were paid as promised. While in no way perfect, social security and medical care is on sound footing here in Canada.

    Born in 1925 and a blue-collar worker dad was SUPER frugal, more than he should have been. He didn't really loosen the purse strings until the last 10 years when it was clear his money would last much longer than he would. He passed away with high 6 figures sitting in the bank in a regular savings account.

    Dad remarried and was with his 2nd wife for almost 50 years before he passed away at 92, his wife died only a few months before he did. Both of them were health and exercise conscious doing everything right health-wise that they could -- no smoking or drinking and exercise every day. Dad and his wife travelled a lot with his RV for about 20 years after retirement and they enjoyed it immensely. He never went beyond mainland Canada/USA and never wanted to.

    My mother is completely different. Never remarried, my mother is a spendthrift and I was worried about her as she was entering her late 50s but fate intervened. Her company was bought out and they had a generous voluntary severance package which, if she added it to the company pension plan rather than take the cash up front, they would double. She didn't look a gift horse in the mouth, took the pension buyout and retired with a very good pension.

    Mom traveled a bit but mostly to events that were related to her hobby. Mom's idea was that retirement was the time to sit, rest, eat what you want, and that's what she has done. Her physical shape is now terrible in that she is quite overweight and is pretty much wheelchair bound but it wasn't any specific heath problem that put her there -- it was just being inactive. That said she is coming up on 89, her blood pressure is good, she is not diabetic, and generally is in good health taking only water pills to reduce the swelling in her legs (from lack of use). It's not a life that many would choose but she's happy, living independently in her own condo, devouring books, playing cards with her friends, and still doing what she wants. It's hard to argue that she should have done anything different.

    As for us, I am still married to the same woman after 36 years and our relationship is a stronger now than it's ever been. I have no pension plan but we have a good amount saved. Travel is something we are actively doing, being out of country for 4 months of the year with winters in Mexico and a month overseas someplace. I haven't started social security yet, waiting until 70 for the increased monthly amount, and as I said above, I expect to receive the full amount and medical is pretty much looked after here.

    A better or worse retirement than my parents? That depends on what you want. Perhaps it's a tie as each generation has been able to have the retirement they wanted -- at least so far.



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    1. Thanks for detailing the different paths your parents followed. Each made the choices that satisfied them so it is hard to argue with how things turned out. Your dad's situation with underspending is probably one of the reasons you are so good at reminding us fearful types to enjoy what we have worked so hard to accumulate.

      Along those lines, the final distribution of my parents' estate assets occured last week. So, now I have a final figure in my various investment and IRA accounts, the amount that I must manage properly to take Betty and me through the rest of our lives. Using the current rate of return, averaged over the last several years, allows me to use a drawdown calculator to see what withdrawal rate allows us to live well and not deplete the principal. Obviously, that percentage will be adjusted as needed, but you should know I thought of you when I started this exercise. My initial projections are we will be able to step up our travel without harming our plans for leaving a nice inheritance for our kids.

      Thanks, David!

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    2. Glad I was helpful as you planned out your future spending. As for me, it may have been my father's non-spending that made me approach it that way but I think it was more that I couldn't believe that I had saved so hard and sacrificed so much over multiple decades only to be told I couldn't spend it -- something just didn't seem right. Doing lots of research and paying attention to what actuaries are saying, rather than the financial industry types, allowed me to develop a savings spending plan that works for us.

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  8. In all fairness to your mom and dad, while the exerciseknowledge was there, we've made huge strides inour nowledge about health and aging since your parents were our age and younger, especially in food as medicine. My parents died young. However, my father was in a field where it was high stress (international sales) and one day he pulled the plug-when I was still in my twenties. My parents owned their own business for a few years, and enjoyed that, but then retired to a sleepy southern Town (Beaufort, SC) where my father became the nosiest guy around and mom did genealogy and bridge and they travled once in awhile. They ate healthy managed their money well (albeit a small amount because of that walking out pre-retirement) and still did not live long. It is to my eternal chagrin that not a iota of their financial sense rubbed off on me. We were looking through paperwrok the other day-my parents had a single budget sheet for each year of their lives and they keptt them all.

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    1. My dad was very much into budgets and knowing where their money was. But, even in later years when it was obvious they had plenty of reserves, he was very reluctant to spend much, which frustrated my mom to no end.

      Yes, they followed the health lead of their generation: cassaroles, meat, and cheese were the staples. My mom had been taught that drinking water at the dinner table was uncouth, something that influenced her fluid intake for the rest of her life.

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  9. Interesting analysis. Hard to compare in such different time periods, but you make good comparisons. My parents never really retired, so I can't duplicate what you've done. They loved their work and died in the saddle, so to speak. But for me, even though I loved work, I do love and fully enjoy my retired life.

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    1. I loved my career, until I didn't. Then, the greatest blessing to me was being forced into retirement. I see my life as having a few very distinct phases, with a line between each part. The line between career and no-career is very solid and very permanent.

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  10. Hi Bob! What a SMART comparison ;-) While it is difficult to honestly tell how another person/couple is going through retirement and whether it makes them happy/content is always tricky. But using your parents as examples which you know pretty well, you have done a great job of it, giving all of us a lot to think about. My mom only made it to 73 and then with lots of health issues, and Dad only to 80 so you clearly have better genes than I do. But as you say, we now know A LOT more about how and why to take care of ourselves so hopefully that will add years and mobility with it--the danger of course is that we obsess about our health (and our parents didn't even know it was important.) And because my husband and I are also self-employed and have been our entire lives, we have had to put together our own retirement savings plan. So far I think we are doing pretty good but then we also don't consider ourselves fully retired. Still, all important things to think about. Thanks again. ~Kathy

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  11. Both of my parents worked into their early seventies, not because they wanted to but because they had to. My mom was a stay at home parent and reentered the paid workforce on a part time basis once we were teenagers. All of their real estate investments and equity were wiped out during the inflationary spiral of 1981, and they spent the rest of their lives working to repay their debts and make enough to live on. In the area of health, both of them were physically active, they grew their own fruits and vegetables, and my mom cooked nutritious meals (although, because they followed the national food guide of the time, they ate a lot more red meat, fat, and baked goods than we now think is optimal). However, both of my parents were heavy smokers, although my mom quit in her fifties. Both died of smoking related diseases, my dad at 78, and my mom at 85. Both also were negatively affected by the disparity in medical care available between big cities and northern rural areas in Canada. If they had received earlier diagnoses and better follow up for their diseases, they might have lived longer. Still, they did some travelling, were very involved in their community, and had active, enjoyable retirements. Having learned from their example, I am trying not to make the same mistakes, and also trying to learn from the good examples they provided. But, I’m sure that in hindsight, my children will look back at my life and see different mistakes and lessons.

    Jude

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