Forced Retirement: The Time to Prepare is Now

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Here’s a random thing that happened after becoming financially independent. When I caught this opening scene of people getting fired from the movie “Up in the Air” on TV, I felt sympathy but I remember it used to give me stress and anxiety.

Ever since starting out with a negative net worth due to $30,000 in student loans, I’ve saved money every pay period because I worried about what would happen without a job. I wanted my financial life to be a robust fortress. It was a gradual process and not black-and-white, but one day I realized that I longer had to worry about a boss (or worse, a mercenary consultant that looked like George Clooney) firing me ever again.

Barron’s recently had an article So, You’re Retired but Don’t Have Enough Money to Be Retired. Now What? (possible paywall but it worked for me) which is really an excerpt from the book 55, Underemployed, and Faking Normal by Elizabeth White. Essentially, it is about people who had well-paying jobs for a long time, but hit hard times in their 50s and 60s:

I never thought it would happen to me. All my life—working at the World Bank, getting my M.B.A. at Harvard Business School, starting my own retail company—I thought of retirement as golfing in Florida (not that I really wanted to). Even after my business failed—taking most of my savings with it—I bounced back. I reinvented myself as a consultant and earned a six-figure salary. But in my 50s, the Great Recession hit, and the clients were slower and slower to call back. By age 60, it was crickets.

With nothing to speak of coming in, I was running through what was left of my savings. I started to notice friends in the same boat, trying to keep up appearances. A small group of us began to talk. All were 55 and older, well educated, with a history of career choice and good incomes. And then the bottom fell out. None of us expected to be here: in our 50s and 60s, scrimping and scraping or borrowing money from our adult children or 84-year-old mothers.

What is her advice for surviving forced retirement? Well, it sounds a lot like what you would read in an early retirement article.

The key question is not just how to tighten our belts. The real question is: Can we cut way back and still have good quality of life, still find ways to be connected to who and what we love? I believe that the short answer is yes.

A big first step in securing our futures is adopting a live-low-to-the-ground mind-set, which means that we have to drastically cut our expenses to fit our new income realities. But it also means figuring out what matters to you and what your priorities are and then cutting way back on everything else.

Once I get beyond the basics, it’s really about good health, family, and friends for me. I used to eat out a lot, and that’s something I still miss. But the women friends I rely on for sanity are all still here. It turns out we didn’t need fine dining and $12 glasses of Chardonnay to bond us.

You should happily spend money on your priorities, cut back on everything else, and realize that happiness is not about stuff. Sound familiar?

The key difference is that this is presented as a last-ditch solution after your hand has been forced. If you combine aggressively prioritized, lean spending with a solid six-figure career for a while, you have the basic recipe for financial independence. It may be much harder because of our various human tendencies, but it can be done.

We live in a culture that creates need where none existed before and defines quality of life as a metric of income. When you’re making money, all of that mindless consumption goes unchecked. When funds are tight you have to think about it. What do you really need to feel deeply grounded and content? You’ll discover that you actually need very little. It really does not cost much to be happy. I’m spending a tiny fraction of what I used to spend, and the world hasn’t ended.

What if you realized that at age 25 instead of 55?

Bottom line. Forced retirement may make you realize that you can live on a lot less money than you spend now. However, perhaps this book can help those who still have a solid job right now that they can also streamline their spending and thus be better prepared for whatever may happen in the future. I enjoyed the writing style in this excerpt and find it relatable.

“My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of selected credit card products. My Money Blog and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and the content has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned. MyMoneyBlog.com is also a member of the Amazon Associate Program, and if you click through to Amazon and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission. Thank you for supporting this independent site.”



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Comments

  1. “You should have sorted this out when you were younger” or “Now you are doomed to living meagerly and coping until you die” does not have to be the only answers.

    What about believing that with some creativity you can still go for it, make loads of money in something you enjoy, in a lifestyle that works for you, build up your determination, keep failing your way forward until you find a way?

    Perhaps work for yourself or become so valuable to people who are gripped by that value that they can’t resist paying you well and receiving the great boon you have to offer irregardless of your wrinkles.

    By this time you’ve been through a lot in life. If you can survive all you have so far, you must have accumulated some thing of incredible value that someone desperately wants …. or at least the ability to create and deliver some kind of value that people are willing to pay well for.

    Why not use all you’ve seen in life to find a way to still shoot for the stars in a way that works for you?

    The easiest way the societal conversation gets attention is by playing up the negative and preying on our deepest fears.

    You don’t have to let it convince you that it’s the only truth possible.

    You don’t know what is really possible or what you are creatively capable of in any given circumstances until you gather up all your accumulated wisdom, give it a go and go get some (of whatever you want) for yourself.

  2. Douglas Fitzgerald says:

    I read the Amazon blurb about the author and it says “She resides in Washington, DC with her daughter and grandson.” Isn’t multigenerational living the real solution to her problem? The children get their grandparents, mom and dad get help with the kids, and grandma and grandpa get financial help and connections with family in a country where loneliness is an epidemic for older people. I know that isn’t the purpose of this post at all but it struck me.

    • Sounds like there’s an assumption that families, multi-generational or even same generation, should stay together no matter what. Not all families are functional and healthy. Are those families doomed to a life sentence of stressful or even abusive cohabitation? I’d much prefer a social net that caught the unlucky few than throwing individuals under the bus when they age past their prime.

  3. that “Up in the Air” scenario actually happened to me a few years ago, and i’m always glad to be reminded of that event because a> reinforces my determination to sock away as much as I can w/o sacrificing quality of life, and b> reminds me that it could happen again sometime in my career (make that it is likely to happen again), so inspires me to keep learning new stuff to stay relevant in my field

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