Opinion

Great plans for retirement, but how much will materialize? | Gustafson

In the 2002 movie, “About Schmidt,” a recently retired insurance agent (portrayed by Jack Nicholson) goes on a road trip in a brand new RV to see his daughter, and a bit of America along the way. What unfolds is a story as complex and convoluted as Schmidt’s new life. He realizes that his work of many years has quickly become irrelevant, and that his ties to family and friends have long frayed. Now he is intent on making up for the many sacrifices and missed opportunities in his past. Even his wife’s sudden and unexpected death doesn’t change that. There is still more to come in his “Golden Years,” or so he hopes.

More so than any other generation before them, today’s retirees have great expectations about what they will be able to accomplish after officially leaving the work force. There are many good reasons for that. People live longer, have a wider variety of skills and interests, are more mobile, and can take advantage of technologies not available only a short time ago.

On the downside, a great number are not financially secure enough to be able to afford retirement. They hope to continue working, at least part-time, to supplement pensions and savings. According to surveys, three fourths of Americans say they plan on working beyond retirement age in some capacity.

But that may be easier said than done. In actuality less than one fifth manage to remain in the work force. Many retire even sooner than they had envisioned – in most cases not by choice. According to the AARP, older Americans may want to continue working because it provides them with much needed income, keeps them busy and engaged, allows them to stay socially connected, and so forth. But often retirees underestimate the difficulties of finding any job, let alone one that fulfills them and gives them pleasure.

True, much of today’s work environment does no longer require hard physical labor, so aging people are not necessarily as disadvantaged as they used to be. But well paying jobs, as scarce as they are, typically demand long work hours as well as skills older workers may not have and find hard to acquire.

Also, while blatant age discrimination is unlawful, many employers are hesitant to hire workers late in their careers, even those with valuable expertise, if they can get their needs met by younger ones for less money and fewer benefits.

There are, of course, numerous examples of retried persons finding meaningful and rewarding things to do. Those who can afford to busy themselves for free are invited to volunteer for countless causes. But for the majority that’s no solution. According to consumercredit.com, more than 70 percent of Americans are financially too insecure to retire without some source of income in addition to their pension plans and/or social security checks.

Among the greatest concerns, unsurprisingly, are rising healthcare costs. This is where many of the elderly feel most vulnerable. Whether the Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. “Obamacare”) will change that remains to be seen, but presently there is much uncertainty about the new law’s impact, particularly on those who suffer from chronic ailments.

For this and other reasons, we all, but especially the now retiring baby boomers, are well advised to pay close attention to our health needs, preferably in terms of disease prevention through diet and lifestyle improvements. Contrary to widespread belief, illness and decline are not inevitable parts of aging. In fact, with few exceptions, we have considerable control over our own aging process. And how well we do health-wise determines greatly what else we can hope to accomplish in every other aspect.

So, to my fellow-retirees who are still highly active and full of plans for the future, I say: let’s keep up our zest for life, but let’s start with the fundamentals, and see where we can go from here.

Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog and at amazon.com.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (www.timigustafson.com).

We encourage an open exchange of ideas on this story's topic, but we ask you to follow our guidelines for respecting community standards. Personal attacks, inappropriate language, and off-topic comments may be removed, and comment privileges revoked, per our Terms of Use. Please see our FAQ if you have questions or concerns about using Facebook to comment.

Read the latest Green Edition

Browse the print edition page by page, including stories and ads.

Sep 19 edition online now. Browse the archives.