Retirement, Really?

Terry Savage, Tribune Content Agency on

Retirement is a word that has traditionally been used to define the period after a life of full-time work ends – and before death. Historically, it was a short period of three to five years in which a “worn-out” retiree could play golf, or fish, or sit on a beach. That quaint concept has been overtaken by today’s reality of longer lifespans, more volatile career paths, and a changing economy.

Retirement is about more than money. A recent survey by lists the best and worst places for retirement. Among the criteria, financial aspects were important, including state income taxes and estate taxes – all part of a category called “affordability.” But although financial matters were the largest category at 40% of the rating, other issues played a significant role: wellness (20%), culture (15%), weather (15%) and crime (10%).

Tops on the “best states for retirement list” were Georgia, Florida, Tennessee, Missouri and Massachusetts. Read the specifics of the Bankrate survey at to find out where your state of residence ranks at

Can YOU retire?

But all of these criteria presume you have a choice about retirement – not only where to live but whether you can “afford” to retire – or should plan on working as long as you possibly can to bring in some income to supplement Social Security benefits.

Remember, for about half of seniors, Social Security provides at least 50% of their income, and for about 1 in 4 seniors, it provides at least 90% of income. That doesn’t leave much flexibility, although it may be important to choose a low-cost retirement destination to stretch a limited budget.


The real question for many people is how to bring in some income in their later years to cover even the basics of food and shelter and uncovered medical expenses. And this is especially important for seniors who are alone, without a spouse or family to rely upon.

Fifteen years ago when I wrote the book called “The Savage Number: How Much Do you Really Need to Retire?”, the focus was on reaching some sort of “magic number” – along with a withdrawal strategy – that would give you peace of mind that your money would last your lifetime. And perhaps leave some for your heirs.

But that was before the financial crisis of 2008-2009, when the financial stability of many Americans was turned upside down. Homes were foreclosed, jobs were lost, and confidence was shaken. True, the stock market has reached record highs since then, despite the impact of the pandemic.

But our society has been divided into those (relatively few) who are prospering – and the many who lost employment and savings just as they were nearing retirement. For them, the retirement choices are limited.


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