Recently, I wrote an article about taking a road trip to Joshua Tree National Park. This delightful expanse is peaceful and serene, featuring unique rock formations and trees indigenous to the area. While we’re now able to take advantage of being retired — and still have the ability to just jump into the car to go see the beauty of our state — there are many who are unable to, for any number of reasons.
One of our readers took the time to write that, sadly, not everyone has the means and stable health to travel. In fact, according to most studies, this is more the norm. So far, we have been fortunate in the health department, but believe me, I knock on wood several times a day!
There are way too many roadblocks as we get older, and perhaps the golden years are not as sparkly as we’d hoped. Along with the gold comes the reality of aging, which brings financial worries due to medical bills, aches and pains from any number of health issues, and fear of an unknown future filled with any number of devastating possibilities. We as older people are filling up our date books with doctor appointments in lieu of social events, and since every issue has its own specialist, those appointments become surprisingly frequent.
When we were young and invincible (or so we thought), it didn’t really occur to us that “someday” was right around the corner. The income from working stops, and a fixed-income budget becomes reality. Social security helps, but is not the fix-all for the monthly bills. IRAs and other investments can help deter the costs, but the fixed income we now have to adhere to doesn’t come close to adjusting to the quickly rising costs of everyday living expenses.
My maternal grandfather owned a small mom-and-pop business in New York. The two-aisle store was downstairs selling stationery and other office supplies, and had a printing machine in the back for business cards and stationery. My whole family — including me at age 15 — worked there at one time or another, and my dad spent almost 40 years as their salesman. He took the Long Island Rail Road into the city six days a week and never complained. Every year, he had his two-week vacation, which he spent with us driving anywhere he could afford to get to. Gas prices were much lower in the 1950s!
When the business closed, my dad was unable to collect any pension or retirement, so being frugal and watching the spending was mandatory. In those days, finding a job in your 60s was hard enough, but his resume had only one job on it.
Growing up on the East Coast, I saw that most people began their career with either a company or the government, and would make a career of that one job. The goal was to work until 65, retire and live “the life of Riley.” Those days of working for one company that would take care of you after you retire are long gone. Few private-sector workers these days have traditional, defined-benefit pensions, where you’re paid a fixed stipend for life, based upon your salary and years of service.
Most retirement funds are now 401(k) types, where the employer and employee contribute a fixed amount, and the money is invested in the stock market. During the worst of the last recession, 401(k) accounts lost almost one-third of their values. That was enough to change some would-be retirees’ plans.
Also, a recent AARP survey found that about 50% of older Americans are dipping into their retirement savings to help their grown children, while some just haven’t been able to save enough. “Baby boomers” have median savings of a little over $150,000 to get through what could be a 30-year retirement. With increasing possibilities of health-related costs, this may not be anywhere near enough.
About 25% of adults age 65 and older are now in the workforce. That number is expected to increase, making it the fastest-growing group of workers in the country. Some love what they do and are able to continue working, while others have no choice financially.
We are often targeted by con artists who think all seniors are wealthy, and therefore become victims for these brutal and evil scams. Life savings have been wiped out, leaving devastation and the need to find work to try to replenish the loss. Be cautious and aware.
Grandpa worked from age 12 until 74 years old and went into retirement kicking and screaming. We both worked all of our teenage and adult lives. Now we can carefully enjoy the fruits of his labor and mine, but we remain cautious, and aware that not everyone is as fortunate.
Thank you to the gentleman who wrote to us regarding this very important issue, inspiring me to bring light to a dark subject.
Marla Luckhardt is a Brentwood resident who works with several local senior care and advocacy groups. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.