Years ago, I hit a major crossroads. I had been restructured out of a corporate job I loved, and while I was shell-shocked by the reality of being a victim of workplace ageism, I knew in my heart that I had something important to do in my life. There was a mission I had yet to find; it was out there, somewhere, waiting for me to uncover it.
Thankfully, I stumbled across Barbara Sher’s book: It’s Only Too Late If You Don’t Start Now: How to Create Your Second Life At Any Age. Of the many books I’ve read, this guide was one of the most transformative. It empowered me, and it gave me the fierceness I needed to take charge of my life. I soon found my mission that had been lurking in the shadows, and Klein Financial Advisors was born.
Last week, I found myself sharing that story with Susan and Scott. My newest clients, they are on their own urgent mission: to build a nest egg… starting at age 57.
When we first sat down together, I could feel their apprehension. It was no surprise. They had told me they had minimal savings and were unprepared for retirement. Smart, responsible people, they had been dealt a tough hand financially. With three kids to raise and aging parents to care for, they were among the many who lost their homes in the financial crisis. As an independent contractor, Scott’s income had ebbed and flowed, and Susan had left her job at a local university to wrangle three teenagers and help her mother with some health issues. Since then, they’ve been focused on staying out of debt (cheers to that!), and even though Susan is now back at work, they haven’t been able to save a dime for retirement. Today, they’re ready to do something about it. Susan was blunt: “Are we just too late?”
My answer was simple: “It’s only too late if you don’t start now.” With that, we rolled up our sleeves and settled in for some serious planning. And it all began with making these four important promises to themselves:
Promise #1: Claim Social Security at age 70 (not a day earlier!)
Smart Social Security claiming is an absolute must. While most everyone is eligible to begin receiving Social Security payments at age 62, between age 62 and FRA (Full Retirement Age) at age 66 or 67 (depending on your birth year), your benefits increase 5% each year.Even better, between FRA and age 70, your benefits increase by 8% each year you delay, plus an annual cost of living adjustment. Therefore, if your monthly benefit at age 62 is $750, waiting to file until your 70th birthday nearly doubles your monthly check to $1,320. Plus, because spousal benefits are based on the other partner’s benefit amount, by waiting until age 70 to claim benefits for the highest earner both spouses’ benefits are increased by 8% per year. Your goal is to secure a higher monthly income over the long term, and delaying Social Security is one of the most effective ways to do it.
Promise #2: Rethink your retirement age.
Most of us grew up with the idea that we would retire at 65… or earlier if we could swing it. It’s time to relegate that 20th century idea to the history books. People are living much longer. In 1970, the average U.S. lifespan was 67 for men and 74 for women. Today those averages have climbed to 76 for men and 81 for women. That means that here in Lake Wobegon (where we’re all above average), your investments must meet your needs for an extra decade—at least. Instead of making your retirement goal 65, banish that idée fixe and put a plan in place to keep earning into your 70s.
Promise #3: Focus on building enough cash reserve to make work optional.
Saving cash can be challenging, but only because we’re usually rooted in habits and behaviors we’ve been honing for decades. Building a nest egg in your later years can be done, but it takes focus, diligence, and sacrifice. Get rid of debt first. More than anything else, debt has the power to hurt your future self. Reconsider adopting your parents’ or grandparents’ depression-era frugality tips. You may have laughed then, but thrift serves your goal to eventually to make work optional. Again, it’s only too late if you don’t start some serious thriftiness today. Build that cash reserve dollar by dollar.
Promise #4: Don’t give away your future to your children.
Saying no to adult children isone of the biggest challenges you’ll face. For decades, the #1 priority for parents is to take care of their kids. You’ve been holding their hands since they opened their eyes for the first time. How can you stop now? You can. And you must. Especially when your retirement savings is lacking or nonexistent. (For more on this hot topic, see my blog post Money Rules.) If you haven’t saved for college tuition for your kids, work with them to create a plan that doesn’t put your future at risk. If you have 20-somethings living at home—a common scenario these days—they should be contributing financially to the household. When your adult child needs money, he or she really does have other resources. It’s time to stop being “the bank of Mom and Dad” and start making your future your new #1 priority.
Recognize that it is not too late, as long as you start now! I just read this great NPR article that talks about getting kids to pay attention, something Mayas in Guatemala are doing better than most. The writer quotes psychologist Edward Deci at the University of Rochester, who says that one of the most important ingredients for motivating kids is autonomy. In his words, "To do something with this full sense of willingness and choice." It’s a lesson in motivation at any age.
Susan and Scott have made that choice. They are catching up on savings through IRAs. They’ve stopped financing their kids. Susan is considering increasing her income with a better paying job or a side gig. They are both committed to right-sizing their lives so they can build the nest egg they will need in the future. They have a plan, and they are building momentum every day.
Whether you are just starting to build your retirement nest egg or your savings is not where you need it to be, make the choice today to actively create a financially secure “second life.” It’s only too late if you don’t start now.
 According to the National Center for Health Statistics 2016 data.