Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Are you an Early Boomer and what does it mean for retirement decisions?

I am classified as an "Early Boomer" as I was born in 1949 - well within the 1946 - 1955 birth year range.  Supposedly our key characteristics are being experimental, individualism, free spirited, and social cause oriented.  In addition, the media says we are a well educated, workaholic generation who are independent, goal orientated, self reliant achievers who like to win. Our competitive spirit supposedly resulted in a focus on health and exercise.

I liked to think of myself in many of those ways when I was younger - and still do.  I marched against the Vietnam War, was a workaholic, am well educated, and have always focused on engaging in healthy behaviors.  However it is hard to think of yourself as individualistic when millions of your peers engaged in similar behaviors.  I wonder if we weren't relatively conformist after all.  Only we conformed with each other not with our parents' generation and there were distinct groups of early boomers conforming in different ways.

Now I find myself on the leading edge of baby boomer retirement.  What will our retirement look like?  Very different from our parents is the prediction.  So far that is true for me.    I'm not retired in the sense that I haven't stopped working entirely and don't collect Social Security or other retirement benefits.  I don't work full time instead taking on some consulting assignments.  I exercise and engage in healthy habits but have had some challenging health problems none the less.  I do some volunteer work but it doesn't take up much of my time.  I'm an empty nester with no grandchildren so I'm not raising or helping to raise children.  I cook, clean, do the shopping, laundry, yard work and other household chores but I have always done that and my husband does many of them too.  As he still works full time I may do a bit more but we have always adjusted who does what to fit our work demands.   The other activities I have aren't that different than from when I was working full time.

Being an Early Boomer though means that there aren't many road maps for us to follow as we head through our 60s and beyond.   I've looked at what I would like to copy from my parents' retirement.  Their zest for travel and new experiences is one I share.  They prepared all of the legal documents recommended and keep them up to date and have a living trust.  My Dad had the attitude of being happy to be alive no matter what health problems he faced and he faced many.  My Mom has shown great resiliency in how she has coped with widowhood and living alone for the first time in her life at age 87.

But in many ways the decisions we face are different than the ones they did.  They officially retired at the same time and never worked for pay again.  The did not have to decide when to start Social Security benefits.  They had lived in the same home almost their entire married life, moved close to my brother a few years after retirement and never moved again.  They had no living parents when they reached retirement age so no concerns about how to contribute to their care.  Although health conscious, they never "exercised" and instead just let daily life do the job and slowly stopped most physical activity.  My Dad was very concerned about leaving an inheritance for his children and so was reluctant to spend much money and kept many unnecessary items just in case they might be needed; fortunately my Mom is clearing them out slowly with our help. 

So I have some parts of my retirement journey in place due to good role models, but have no idea about others.  We haven't thought through when to downsize or where to live and are not sure how to make that decision.  We have long distance relationships with our children who will likely continue to move around the country just as we did and one recently lived abroad for two years.  We each have one living parent (and each one sibling who lives near the parent) who we try to care for through frequent trips to visit, assisting when they are ill and making regular calls.  We both are reluctant to stop working altogether because we have invested so much in our professions and get satisfaction from our work.

I don't think I am in denial about the challenges of aging, end of life and long term finances.  We have a lot of decisions to make yet though and will keep looking for role models for our own plans.  Then we will take action as best we can while also letting go of the idea that we know or have control over much of what the future will bring.  Hopefully we will ride this wave well along with the rest of the Early Baby Boomers.

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