I started saving for retirement — 30 years late
This is embarrassing for a financial writer to admit:
I didn’t save for retirement until relatively recently. Like around the time Barack Obama was gearing up for a second administration.
I’m not the only baby boomer who procrastinated about retirement savings. When we boomers started working, here’s what was on our radar:
· Civil rights.
· Andy Warhol.
· Kent State.
· Women’s rights.
Retirement? We didn’t have time to think about something thousands of years in the future.
It slipped their minds
I asked three baby boomers: “Did you know when you were in your 20s that you should be setting some money aside for retirement?” They replied:
· “We didn’t think about retirement.”
· “I’m not a good example.”
· “I didn’t know.”
So, like three people I happen to know rather well, all born between 1946 and 1964, I didn’t save specifically for retirement from any of my many, many jobs. Instead, I owned individual stocks, and starting in the ’90s, I bought index funds because my dad suggested them as good investments.
I spent most of my working life writing about arts, general features and some news. Then a job writing and reporting on retirement opened up, and I found myself drowning in alarming retirement statistics and surveys and studies:
· “No one has enough to retire on!”
· “Baby boomers are at dire risk for retiring with inadequate assets!”
· “Millennials are starting to save — but they are risk-adverse!”
‘Here’s more bad news!’
Pensions were disappearing, and people like me were going to have to fund our own retirements. For average earners, Social Security would replace, at best, 40% of our incomes. We mistrusted the financial services industry.
My job was to turn this information into readable stories for financial advisers or company executives who needed info on trends and statistics for their retirement plan committee and their employees.
I was simultaneously a frightened plan participant — the word for an employee who contributes to a workplace retirement plan — and a reporter. I tend to be skeptical, but I found myself believing all the frightening studies (“Lower earnings for women could mean a lifetime loss of over $300,000!).
Check balance, panic, repeat
I had daily bouts of panic, and I immediately boosted my automatic enrollment from the standard 3% to 6% so I could get the entire company match. Over the years I kept increasing the amount of my contribution until I settled at 12% of my salary.
Every baby boomer I talked to about retirement seemed tense:
· My ophthalmologist said, “When you figure it out, let me know.”
· My dentist said, “What retirement? I’m not going to retire. I’m just going to keep showing up, as long as I can.”
· A friend said, “I have my eye on a few refrigerator boxes. I’m going to take my time. Pick out a nice one.”
I realized it was pointless to worry about retirement. All we could do was keep on doing what we were doing: saving as much as possible, taking lunch to work, bargain-hunting in New York (possible, despite the city’s reputation) and hoping that this generation will transform retirement as it has transformed nearly every other life event.
Leave it to boomers
I’m a tail-end Boomer, so I have some time before I join our exodus from the workplace (10,000 a day is the statistic often quoted). Anyway, I love working. Now I get to write about retirement from the consumer side, which as my husband is forever pointing out, is basically looking into stories and news that I’d want to know anyway.
As a generation, boomers have reacted, over-reacted, acted histrionically and then worked to change conditions and reinvent themselves over and over again. Boomer retirement, which started technically in 2011, already looks different from other generations’ retirement.
So, like my dentist, I’m going to keep showing up for as long as possible, brown-bagging it and watching what others do — like a friend who swaps her apartment in Manhattan for ones in Barcelona or Paris for affordable vacations, or another friend who is mulling the possibility of renting out her apartment and moving to a cheaper city in Europe, or people who retire to Panama or Malta.