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In my previous column on retirement planning tools (March 6, 2002), I used the example of a retired couple with a $43,000 income. Several readers have questioned my use of such a high retirement income example. Although the example was derived from figures provided by the Social Security Administration, there are obviously many retired individuals and couples who live solely on Social Security benefits of $800-$1400 a month. In addition, there are working individuals, couples and families who live on the same amount of income. For advice and strategies on living on a modest retirement or working income, there are some excellent Internet resources.
Your Money or Your Life: Transforming Your Relationship with Money and Achieving Financial Independence, by Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin (Viking, 1992), offers a plan for living a fulfilling life on a modest income. Their personal answer to Chapter 4’s question, “How Much is Enough?,” is $6,000-$8,000 per person annually. This is not a theoretical answer; it is based on their actual living expenses in the early nineties. (Using the inflation calculator at www.westegg.com/inflation, $6,000-$8,000 in 1992 dollars would be equal to $7,500-$10,000 in 2001.) A detailed summary of the book is found on the homepage of the New Road Map Foundation at www.newroadmap.org. One sure way to save money, they write, is to “Stop trying to impress other people. Other people are probably so busy trying to impress you that they will, at best, not notice your efforts. At worst, they will resent you for one-upping them.”
Paul Terhorst, author of Cashing in on the American Dream: How to Retire at 35 (Bantam Books, 1988), retired at age 35 in 1984. The retirement budget he set for himself and his wife, Vicki, was $50 a day (equivalent to $85 today). The Terhorsts have been happily retired for 18 years and have lived literally all over the world: Paris, Thailand, Buenos Aries, Texas, etc. You can follow their adventures and get practical advice on retirement living at their homepage, www.geocities.com/TheTropics/Shores/5315. The advice they have lived is to spend on yourself, not your assets. They suggest converting your assets to cash (selling your house, cars, etc.) and cutting down on your infrastructure. The book gives these guidelines for retiring on a Social Security budget: live overseas or live in the U.S. like a student, search out moneymaking sidelines, and focus on spending priorities.
Terhorst has an interesting link on his site to “How to retire today. You won’t need a million bucks to do it!,” an article written by Paul B. Farrell of www.CBS.MarketWatch.com. Farrell also writes from personal experience. His view is that you should “Stop listening to Wall Street’s conspiracy of brokers, financial advisors, fund companies and online retirement calculators. Scare tactics warning that you’ll need a million bucks to retire! …What a hoax. A multi-millionaire investor attending Warren Buffet’s Omaha barbeque told me many of his buddies lived on $30,000. And the Employee Benefit Research Institute says 80 percent of retirees actually live on less than $22,000 a year.”
Farrell recommends reading Ralph Warner’s Get a Life: You Don’t Need a Million to Retire Well (Nolo Press, 1996.) Scott Burns, personal financial columnist for the Dallas Morning News, profiles Warner and his book in his column, “Don’t Get Rich, Get a Life,” that you can access from his homepage at www.scottburns.com. In the column, Burns summarizes a speech Warner gave at a meeting of personal finance journalists, “While money seemed to be first on the priority lists of those anticipating retirement, it was a low fourth or fifth on the priority lists of people who were actually enjoying their retirement. So what’s more important than money? Taking care of your health by regular exercise and healthy habits, having a lot of interests outside of work, having good friends, serving your community, and having close relationships with your family.” Warner also stated that we need a lot less money for retirement than is often advocated by “experts” and suggested tactics similar to those advised by Joe Dominguez, Vicki Robin, and Paul Terhorst: trade a large house for a smaller one, move to a less expensive location, and turn hobbies into part-time work.
Even if Social Security is your only source of income, chances are, writes Scott Burns, that you’re richer than you think. To find out why this is true, go to his columns, “Invisible Wealth: There’s a Chance You’ve Got It” (www.scottburns.com/Columns/970921su.htm) and “Raising Your Imputed Income” (www.scottburns.com/Columns/020108tu.htm).
Indeed, most of us truly are richer than we think. In 1899, Thorstein Veblen published the book, Theory of the Leisure Class, and coined the term, “conspicuous consumption.” Your Money or Your Life quotes from Stuart Chase’s foreword to Veblen’s book: “People above the line of base subsistence, in this age and all earlier ages, do not use the surplus, which society has given them, primarily for useful purposes. They do not seek to expand their own lives, to live more wisely, intelligently, understandingly, but to impress other people with the fact that they have a surplus…spending money, time and effort quite uselessly in the pleasurable business of inflating the ego.”
The Greg Gore Web Site on Computers and the Internet (www.GregGore.com)
column was published in the Daily Local News, West Chester, PA on
March 27, 2002. Greg Gore can
be reached at gg@GregGore.com.
2009 by Greg Gore. All rights reserved.