I turn 65 next year. My wife and I have a small nest egg, but still owe $35,000 on our mortgage. For years part of my pay was in company stock. Now that stock isn’t worth much more than it was when I received it. Will we ever be able to retire?

February 24, 2011 in Uncategorized

The topic today involves retirement. Over the last thirty years I've counseled hundreds of people faced with the problems and opportunities that accompany achieving the symbolic age of 65. But times have changed. This isn't our parent's era anymore. The days of buying a house for $8,000, paying off the mortgage and selling it for $300,000 thirty years later are gone. Gone, too, are lifelong pension plans with full health coverage. There are those who believe Social Security may even be risky. People are scared. Take these questions, for instance:

I turn 65 next year. My wife and I have a small nest egg, but still owe $35,000 on our mortgage. For years part of my pay was in company stock. Now that stock isn't worth much more than it was when I received it. Will we ever be able to retire?

For years my husband was the principle bread winner in the family. He died last year, after being retired for only a few months. I discovered, much to my chagrin, that no one wanted to hire me for any meaningful work. Our savings are not going to be enough to see me through, even with Social Security benefits. Maybe it's just pride, but I don't feel comfortable working with the kids at our local fast-food restaurant. What can I do?

My factory just went bankrupt and closed their doors after I worked for them for twenty-seven years. I expected to retire with full benefits. Now they tell me I've lost everything and have to start over again. Because of pre-existing conditions, I can't afford health coverage. Where does a person turn for help?

These people all share something in common. They expected the life-supporting systems they grew up with to continue forever. But retiring and moving to Florida or Arizona is a relatively new concept that may have already run its forty or fifty-year course. It only seems traditional to us because it's what most of us knew growing up.

When 'age 65' and 'retirement' became linked together, the average age of death was in the low seventies for men and high seventies for women. Retirement was seen as the reward of a few years of relaxation before the supposed inevitability of age worked its deadly course. Today, people regularly live well into their nineties. Back then, lifetime health care was available for a very reasonable amount of money. With today's expensive medical technologies, it's a different story. A few decades ago, the baby boom bulge was yet to become a Social Security concern. Business was booming and 'Come Grow with Us' was a popular community slogan. Companies lived by an unspoken, but firmly understood, rule: 'You remain loyal to us and we'll remain loyal to you.'

Those days are gone. Say it out loud - forcefully. Right or wrong, fair or not, those days are gone! You simply have to accept it.

There are two ways of dealing with harsh reality. You can either whine and mope, or adapt and move on. It's a cruel truth - but a truth none the less. The person who pragmatically accepts that truth, physically and emotionally cuts his or her losses, and begins to make plans is the person who will best be equipped to thrive in the future.

The mistake all three of our questioners made is that they placed their future well-being in the hands of another person, a tradition, a way of life, a company, or some other outside agency. We all do it. Our culture almost forces that course of action upon us. It's nothing to be ashamed of. It's called trust, and trust is usually a good thing. Where would the world be without it? But it can turn into a trap if the person or institution we trusted lets us down. The question then becomes, is it too late to learn from our mistake and go forward with our lives? With feelings of unfairness and betrayal fresh in our minds, can we overcome our emotions, refrain from thinking of ourselves as victims, and go forward to a new future? Do we have options?

That's a question we'll take up in future ASK JIM segments. The answer might surprise you. Although I can't answer your questions specifically without knowing a lot more about your individual situation, take heart. You have a lot more to offer than you realize! Think outside the traditional "work for a company and trust them for my retirement" box. Read the stories of others who have crafted new careers. Their experience might spark some ideas. Here at Over60Exchange we're soon going to offer an entire book devoted to this subject. We'll let you know as soon as it's ready for publication. Watch for it. Your best years could very well be ahead of you, no matter how old you are! Have faith!

This space is devoted to questions and comments concerning emotional, psychological and spiritual aspects of aging. Specific questions dealing with health or finances should be addressed to specialists in those fields. Please read the following Over60Exchange Disclaimerfor additional limitations.

Contact Jim at jim@over60exchange.com

You must be logged in to views and add comments.