Will You Be Still Working In Your Seventies?
Barbara Brabec shares a story about retirement planning with the simple financial exercise that changed her life and the way she was looking at work itself. It might change your retirement outlook too.
“Life is much like my kaleidoscope pictures in this article . . . it changes with every twist and turn we make.” – Barbara
IT ALL STARTED in late 2014 when my sister, Mollie, came out from California to help me get through a hernia-repair surgery that my surgeon said was likely to be extremely painful with a long recovery period. Surprisingly, I woke up in Recovery with no pain at all and never needed even a Tylenol after I got home. So this visit with Mollie turned out to be another blessing because we literally talked around the clock while she was here—about life, faith, dreams, goals, aging, physical concerns, and more.
One day when I was talking about my need to get back to work after she left, she asked, “Why do you feel you need to work all the time when most people your age have been retired for a decade or more?”
After giving her my usual workaholic and money-related reasons for spending most of my days in front of the computer, she said, “Okay, I get that. But have you ever figured out how much money you actually have in savings, investments, and other financial resources, and how much money you think you’ll need each year over and above your Social Security and other income you can count on?”
Because I’ve always kept close track of every dollar spent for both business and living expenses, I could easily estimate my annual living expenses and home-business overhead, add something for inflation, and come up with the figures needed here.
The BIG Question
WE’VE ALL SEEN THOSE ADS on TV asking, “In retirement, will you have enough money to live life on your terms?” That question had haunted me for decades and even more so in recent years as I’ve watched my living expenses rise every year. The guidelines for figuring out the answer to retirement questions are much different for today’s job holders than for someone like me who’s already well into her retirement years. Who knows in any given year how long we’ll live or how much our living costs are going to increase in the next five or ten years?
Until Mollie asked me the above questions, I’d never looked at my widow’s financial picture in terms of how long my money would last if I actually started to withdraw regular amounts each year. I think this has a lot to do with how I was raised. By the financial guidelines of those days, my folks were poor, yet my sisters and I never felt poor because we had everything we needed or wanted (within reason), including good food, new clothes for every new school year, music instruments and lessons, school pictures and sweaters, formals for proms, and so on.
We were taught, however, that money was hard to come by and thus precious; that it was necessary to work hard in life, think twice before spending our income, and save as much as possible so we’d have money in our old age. Which is exactly what my parents did, what my husband and I strived to do throughout our lives, and what I’ve continued to do since he died. Although I live frugally but very comfortably now, I’ve always been reluctant to draw much from my savings because I feared running out of money in my old, old age and being a burden on my younger sisters, my only family. As my research for this article proves, millions of others are also concerned about having enough savings for retirement.
But Mollie was now making me look at my life now in a way I’d never done before, and she made a good point when she asked me what I’d been saving money for all my life if not to spend some of it now. Then she helped me finish the financial exercise she’d challenged me to do earlier:
“Now that you have a total of your financial resources, divide the amount you think you’re going to need each year into that total and tell me how many years you come up with. Then compare that number to how many years you think you’re likely to live.”
In the end, it was all about YEARS and my acceptance of the fact that I was well into my so-called “Golden Years.” I was stunned to find that if I continued to live as prudently as always, I probably had enough savings and other financial resources to get me well into my nineties, even with inflation and without considering any income I might receive from my web business, royalties on books I might publish between now and then, and a number of possessions I’m planning to sell just to simplify my life. Talk about a change of mindset! It was comparable to being born anew in that I suddenly saw light at the end of my financial tunnel.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), about 40 percent of people ages 55 and older were working or actively looking for work in 2014. That number, known as a labor force participation rate, is expected to increase fastest for the oldest segments of the population—most notably, people ages 65 to 74 and 75 and older—through 2024. – from the article, “Older workers: Labor force trends and career options.”
How Long Do You Think You’ll Live?
If you think that’s a big question, answer this one: How differently would you live if you thought you had only five or ten more years of life?
Now that’s a question I’m still thinking about and one worth pondering by everyone, regardless of age, simply because none of us knows when our number is going to be called. Few of us want to think about the eventual end of our lives, but sooner or later we all must accept the fact that we’re not going to live forever. Our lives hang on a slender thread, and clearly we’re not in control of our destiny. News stories remind us every day that people younger than we are losing their lives in such ordinary events as accidents at home or work; vehicle, train, and plane crashes; fires, natural disasters, accidental explosions—and guns in the wrong hands. And who hasn’t mourned the loss of a younger family member or friend struck down in life by disease or other medical issues, or killed in the line of duty?
I come from a long line of women who have lived to be nearly a hundred. Since I stayed well during the worst of Covid-19, remain in good health and have been vaccinated, I still like to think I might live into my mid-nineties. But God may have other plans for me. As I continue to age, I’ll have to start shortening the period of time I think I might live (based on my overall health at that time). The benefit of thinking in shorter periods of life-span time is that it will become easier to focus on what I really want to do with the rest of my life at that point in time. I can relate to what the ill-fated iconic actor James Dean once said: “Dream as if you’ll live forever. Live as if you’ll die today.” This fact from the SS Administration may be encouraging to you:
“Today, one in four people who reach age 65 will live past 90, according to the Social Security Administration. One in 10 will live past 95. With such longevity, financial advisers say, people need to be more creative about finding new income in retirement—which more often makes a job a regular part of the plan.” – from a Washington Post article, “The anti-retirement plan: Working 9-to-5 past 65.”
IT WAS A LIFE-CHANGING MOMENT for me to finally realize that I no longer “have to work all the time” to maintain my present life style, but can choose whether to work for clients or for own pleasure. After a lifetime of writing and publishing to make a buck, “work” seems to be my middle name, and I’m not ready to quit my work on the web because I have valuable skills and knowledge to offer to writers and self-publishers. More important is the fact that I love to interact with other writers, especially those first-time authors who need help or just encouragement to get published. I like being needed and appreciated, so this kind of work will be hard for me to ever give up voluntarily.
I no longer offer two services I offered for years (editing and critiquing author-publisher book contracts) because what I really want to do for the foreseeable future is to write and self-publish more books and new articles on my website. And while I cherish readers who buy my books and appreciate what I have to say, writing isn’t just about making money now as it always was in the past; it’s about doing what my heart is calling me to do; work that makes me feel fulfilled and productive.
I have to laugh at the title of this article now since I’ve left the seventies behind. Like so many other professionals in all walks of life today, I’ll keep working until God tells me I have to quit. If life is a play, then I’m well into my Third Act, but to think in positive terms, I’m reminding myself that sometimes Act Three is very long. And some plays have as many as five acts—plus an Encore.
As I’ve often said, “Old writers never die; they just change their subjects.” I’ve got a new dog memoir in progress now with two other books-in-progress waiting for my attention. For sure, I’ll run out of time before I run out of material for things to write a book or article about. I’ve always imagined myself at the end of my life saying, “WAIT! I’m not done yet.”
in response to this article when first published:
Norma Rudloff wrote: “Your article on retirement hit home, as most of your articles usually do. I’m so glad to have had you along on the wonderful ‘ride’ that I’ve experienced during the past 33 years. At the age of 76, I’ve asked myself why I’m still doing what I’m doing over and over. It’s because I really love what I can create and love the fact that I can be surrounded by colorful flowers on a cold wintery snowy day. What I find most fascinating is that now that I’m finally finished with shows, business is picking up on the internet and I just received the largest order of my career. Working at home and being ‘retired,’ I have the luxury of being able to pick and choose what I want to do, but my fingers want to keep busy, so I’ll keep on keepin’ on, just like you. It isn’t even to generate money coming in any longer, but it sure is nice when it happens.”
Mary Mulari wrote: “On the topic of retirement and what to do afterwards, it seems like I’ve heard so many stories in the past year of people who have retired and after just a few months are looking for ‘something to do.’ After a lifetime of showing up for the 9-to-5 and focusing on work, maybe it’s too much to ask that we close the door and just sit and leave behind everything we know from our work. Would it work better to take up a new hobby, focusing full time on a whole new area of interest and knowledge? I’m not sure, but it seems to make sense that we might need something of significance to think about or do.
“I think about myself and how it would be if I quit writing about sewing, presenting seminars, and planning for the ‘Sewing with Nancy’ TV shows I’m doing now. I think I’d have to find something to challenge me for more than half an hour every day. I don’t have a retirement plan in place. It was certainly not an option while I was single. I saved what I could and managed to maintain my home and work place, and sometimes I envied people who had a regular paycheck, benefits, and a schedule for retirement. But the work I do keeps me involved, interested, and curious, with great opportunities, and so I’ll continue. What I’m doing is working well for me and Doug, who occasionally travels with me to my seminars.”
Lupe Hoyt wrote: “I don’t EVER plan to retire in the traditional sense. I’m relearning to play piano, picking up my flute and dulcimer again. I’m writing a book about my mother, dad, and our family life for my extensive family and grandchildren who never met my parents. I have saved enough old magazines, reusable soup cans, paper towel tubes, yarn and fabric to continue crafting, water color paint, draw, write, sew, make piñatas, etc. As long as I can dream and create I’m living high. As long as I can pray and serve others, I’m living even higher.
“There’s nothing inappropriate with deadlines to meet, only inconvenient when we are ill or incapacitated. While recovering from first chemo rounds I felt like a dried-up pile of leaves as I lay on the sofa. After the first day, I gathered strips of fabric, lay on my back with one end of three strands tied in a knot held between my toes and braided a rug. On my last hip replacement with unexpected complication, I couldn’t walk for three months but hopped on one leg with a walker. During that time, I spent my days reading, planning the rest of my year, crafting, writing, moving to music. That ‘free time’ was an opportunity to map out significant things important to me.”
Your comments are welcome now.
How to be a Fearless Dreamer and Reinvent Your Life at Any Age. Barbara’s thoughts and research about the importance of dreaming and changing your life if it isn’t all you want it to be.
Pruning Your Life to Encourage Growth. As we grow older, we tend to try to rid our lives of things that are stressing us, taking more time than we want to give them, or are simply becoming a burdensome physical responsibility. You can do something about this.
Rethinking Your Life and Career in an Exciting New Way. Barbara revisits a book she first read and reviewed in the late eighties, one that could prompt today’s readers to seriously rethink their whole life and career/job/business ambitions.
First published 2015; updated in 2021.
Money Matters T/C