According to a Merrill Lynch report, baby boomers are reinventing retirement by working longer, playing more and living longer. Retirement options can now add up to a fully involved, satisfying life — if you have been able to plan and save. We asked five retirees – and one optimistic 30-something — for tips and pointers on how to sail smoothly into our golden years.
Julie Wysocki, Surprise, Arizona
On: Prioritizing Health and Wellness
I’m a T2 para, injured at the C6 level when I was 11. My husband, Paul, and I have been married 33 years. Paul, 70, retired in 1999, has osteogenesis imperfecta and uses a scooter and crutch walks. I’m 67 and retired when I was 50 due to shoulder injuries. I have a master’s in rehab counseling and worked at the University of Washington Medical Center in Seattle. Now we split our time between our condo in Seattle and our home in Surprise. We have a daughter, 42, who lives in Seattle, and our son passed away last year.
We were always very careful about living within our means, not getting into a lot of debt, and we saved. My husband has a pension, and I rolled mine over to an IRA. We live on our IRAs, my Social Security and Paul’s pension.
We retired to Arizona because things were more affordable here, especially housing. Even groceries and entertainment are less expensive here. Our Arizona home is paid off, but not our Seattle condo. We drive back and forth seasonally and will eventually make a decision to sell one of the homes.
Most of our concerns center around our health. As you age with a disability, you develop disability-related issues that are harder to handle. Just being able to remain independent and handle health issues are main concerns. For the most part, we live an easy retired life. We go to movies, do some entertaining and have friends over to play cards.
For anyone who is getting older, part of your worst fear is not being able to take care of yourself. But if you have a severe disability, that comes closer to home. Not a lot has to happen before you lose your independence. In our situation, our independence is already compromised to some degree and it wouldn’t take much for it to go away.
You have to go it alone in some ways and be proactive. We have Medicare and a Medigap plan, which picks up where Medicare stops. We were both on group plans when we were working, and it was a little scary to go on Medicare. People say it’s not going to cover everything, but we have had no problems.
We live comfortably and we don’t need a lot. The things we do need are our two vans. If you don’t save and keep yourself out of debt, I think retirement could be scary. If all you have is Social Security … nobody could live off that.
N. Wilson, Portland, Oregon
On: Investing Wisely
I’m 75 and have MS. My husband and I owned six retail stores in California when we retired at 55. We lived the good life as millionaires until my husband had an indiscretion and we divorced. After that, I had a goal to make another million and came close by buying and selling real estate. I have four sons, one of whom recently asked me to pick a nursing home I’d like to live in when the time came. I told him to pick one where he would like to live and that ended the discussion.
I started working when I was 13 and have had my nose to the grindstone since. I’ve always been a saver, have always invested in the market and lived frugally. Having money is a major thing, especially now. I had a house but couldn’t keep it up, so now I rent an apartment. I live off Social Security and interest from my IRA and CDs. My yearly income is $40,000, which sounds like a lot of money to live on, but it’s nearly gone after I pay my medical insurance, prescriptions, rent and other needs.
When you retire, you shouldn’t have any credit card debt, no mortgage, you should have an easy-access money market with at least three month’s worth of cash to pay all your bills — and you should buy stock.
If you want to know how to squeeze a nickel, you’re talking to the right person: It’s shopping for everything. When purchasing a vehicle, ask for the fleet discount. Know exactly what you want, down to the color before calling, and pay with cash or have your own financing.
Ask your bank to drop the interest rate .25 percent on loans or bump up the interest rate .25 percent for savings. If you put your money in a bank, say, Capital One, go through a discount retailer like Costco. It’s still Capital One but you get an extra .25 percent on a money market account.
Save at least 15 percent of every dollar you make. Throw your change into a jar and buy a CD at a bank when it gets full. Better yet, for a higher percentage rate, buy CDs online at, say, MoneyRate.com.
If you can afford to part with $100 a month, invest in some good stock. If you’re not comfortable doing it on your own, join a stock group. Buy stock in companies whose products you use. What kind of soap do you use to wash your clothes, your hair? What other products does that company make? If you use them and love them, buy stock. Look for solid companies that are having problems. Right now the pharmaceutical company, Merck, is being sued over its cholesterol drug. Merck’s stock dropped $20. The company just took a bump — its value will go back up.
Sin stocks are always good: if you drink Budweiser or Coors or smoke Phillip Morris cigarettes, buy their stock. When the economy gets really bad, “sin” goes up. People gamble more during tough times. Look at casinos or companies that make slot machines.
When you get close to retirement age, re-balance your portfolio and maybe only put one-third of it in stock. Most of my money is in CDs now, but if you don’t have stock, there’s no way to beat inflation.
I don’t carry furniture insurance. My furniture is six years old, I live in an apartment and I’ve never had a house fire. I drive a 1998 Honda and keep a $1,000 deductible on my auto insurance, keeping my rates low. If I total my car, they’re only going to give me book value for it, so why carry more than what they’re going to give me on the off-chance that I have an accident?
I know the amount of money I have will turn a lot of people off. But for me, it’s a feeling of mastery, a feeling of power. When you’re disabled and you get older, you feel almost invisible and powerless, so this gives me kind of a clout. It gives me a feeling of, I did it! It was a goal to get to that dollar figure and I’m proud to have made it.
Larry Nitz, Havre, Montana
On: Staying Active
I sustained a T12-L1 incomplete SCI in 1983 from a fall off a power pole. In 1999 I retired from my public utility job, and am now 60 years old. My wife of 40 years, Linda, and I take care of our 6-month-old grandson while his parents work. We have two sons, ages 32 and 36. I receive workman’s comp but will be on Social Security when I’m 65.
When I retired, I expected to become more involved with the disability community. When the ADA first came out, I was an advocate and did accessibility audits for businesses. I spearheaded an organization for cross-disability issues at work, was president of an independent living organization and served on the state board center for independent living.
After I retired, I became a safe driving instructor for AARP. I picked my own schedule, but every time I had a class scheduled, it interfered with something else I wanted to do. I quit that — and I know that sounds selfish — but I already put my time in as a volunteer.
It’s good to have a lot of hobbies. When I first retired, I got into Cowboy Action Shooting. It’s about as much fun as you can have with your clothes on. You dress like an old cowboy in the Old West. Typically you have two revolvers and a lever action rifle and a shotgun of the era. You shoot from stage to stage with a group of people called a posse, in different scenarios – like robbing a bank or rescuing a damsel in distress.
A few years ago I got into racing AMX [auto moto-cross], which is dirt track racing with left and right hand curves, hills, jumps and dips. My son helped build our car and we campaigned all summer until the very last race when I rolled it. It took a year to put the car back together.
In winter, my wife and I head out to our woodworking shop and make Christmas gifts for our family and friends. In summer, we love to RV. We know our travels are going to be more limited this year because of gas prices. My wife and I think maybe we shouldn’t worry about the price of gas and do what we like to do, but at the same time it’s crazy to spend that much money on gas.
Our house is paid for but we still have to be frugal. The other day I paid $30 for my cholesterol drug and my Medicare prescription company paid the $48 balance. Just for the heck of it I called Wal-Mart to see what they’d charge for the same drug. They said a 90-day supply would cost $15. I’ll be switching my prescription.
A big treat for us is to get in the car, go to McDonalds, hit the drive-through, go park and watch traffic go by. We go exploring through neighborhoods, looking at homes. If there’s an area under construction, we’ll drive by and see how they’re doing.
The thing about retirement is to keep your mind busy — you’ll be a healthier person and a happier person.
Barry Lindeman, Calgary, Alberta, Canada
On: Planning for the Future
I’m 36 and have a C5 SCI. I work for the Canadian Paraplegic Association and hope to retire in 15 to 20 years. I live in a small rental in Calgary and recently bought a condo in Las Vegas that I visit in winter months.
I started an online travel planning company for people with disabilities who want to experience the wonderful world of Las Vegas: www.WheelchairVegas.com. My retirement dream is to have three or four accessible condos that — along with my touring company – will allow people with disabilities to be well taken care of when they stay in Vegas.
I never expect to totally quit working because I’ll always have fun hosting people in Las Vegas, making sure they have a good holiday.
Paul Ingle, Mesa, Arizona
On: Keeping Health Insurance
I had a diving board accident when I was 17 in 1959 and I’ve lived almost 50 years with a C6-7 level injury. I grew up in Illinois and became a public school teacher in the department of science for grades 7-12, in Rhode Island. My wife passed away in 1995. I retired 11 years ago, am unmarried but live with my friend, Kit.
As in some other states, public or government workers don’t pay into Social Security in Rhode Island. It’s great when you’re working — you get more money in your paycheck. It doesn’t make a difference at retirement: If I applied for Social Security, I’d be docked the amount of my teacher pension and would get about $100.
At retirement, I purchased health insurance from my employer group, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Rhode Island. At 65, I applied for Medicare but found out that not paying into Social Security also meant I didn’t pay into Medicare. I never realized the two were tied together. To be eligible for Medicare, you have to pay into Social Security at least 40 quarters. I only had 26 from summer jobs, so for me to purchase Medicare would cost $400 per month. Fortunately, my late wife, also a teacher, had enough quarters, so I was covered under her Social Security. It was like a gift.
Another thing I didn’t realize was that quarters have nothing to do with time — it’s how much money you make. One quarter means you earned $1,000 within a three-month period. My pension is good, between $40-50,000 a year and I have investments. I started a tax sheltered annuity and when my mother passed away in 1998, I inherited a bit of money. I can by no means say I’m financially comfortable because I’m such a wise investor. It happened fortuitously.
Jim Schoeld, Seattle, Washington
On: Adapting to Life’s Changes
I retired as a Lutheran pastor in 2001 after 39 years of service. My ministry included congregations in Montana, North Dakota, Minnesota and Washington. I’m married to Rachel and have four children. My C5-6 injury occurred one month after I retired, in a car accident.
Rachel and I had retirement plans to travel with our fifth-wheel RV. We had bikes, loved swimming, knew people throughout the West with whom we had hoped to spend long visits. My guitar always went with us as we enjoyed singing around evening campfires. We planned interim ministry in the upper Great Plains where many small communities can no longer afford a full-time pastor.
After my injury, it became very clear to me that I would have to re-invent myself. With no use of hands, torso and legs, the motorized wheelchair brought me mobility. But without my hands, the guitar and clarinet, gardening and landscaping, barbequeing and handyman talents disappeared. While Rachel and I were too distressed to imagine a life-after-injury, my Rotary Club remodeled our house for accessibility. We bought a Dodge van with hand controls, lock-downs and automatic doors.
The van afforded me mobility and independence and helped restore some sense of value, which was surprisingly bolstered one evening when my wife and I were invited to enjoy a supper with 15 young people who were dually diagnosed. As we sat at table that evening, they asked me what I missed most since my accident. My answer included everything in my work that had been sources of fun. They told me that they hadn’t known me in any of the ways I had listed and reminded me that my humor, interest and compassion had not been affected in the accident.
I am quite content with my reinvented self. Now my time is spent in ways not diminished by my injury. I preach in places where the pastor is out of town. The lay people of those churches are more than willing to be “my hands” during the distribution of the bread and wine. Now, my greatest challenge comes in getting congregations to “hear the words” instead of “seeing the chair.” That challenge keeps me focused and attentive to the Gospel message, not my own survival and faith reactions. When I am asked, “Where was God? Why didn’t He protect you?” my answer always begins with “Accidents happen.” Since I have felt rescued at many times in my life, how can I suddenly turn against a God who has seen me through so much other stuff?
You have to give credit to the people who wake you up and restore you. Some of my self-pity got a severe jolt while I was in the hospital after my accident. A teenager, severely injured when he was only 3 years old, asked me what I missed most. I said, “My hands.” He replied, “What do you do with hands?” I had had 66 years of using very talented and trained hands! My sense of life’s joys, even if altered, was awakened and challenged.