It’s not every day you are lucky enough to receive a good financial planning book or two from dog walking, but that’s what happened to me.
When my dog Bear was alive, we regularly encountered a man walking his two dogs—Tessa and Bailey—coming in the opposite direction. Tessa was a husky German shepherd cross and Bailey a golden lab. My Bear—a female border collie springer spaniel cross—and Tessa despised each other.
As we crossed paths—giving a respectable distance and holding on to our respective dogs’ leashes for dear life—Tessa and Bear put on a spectacular display of barking, snarling and growling, with poor, sweet and friendly Bailey, caught in between.
It’s hard to have a conversation with a fellow dog owner under those circumstances.
After Bear died, I would occasionally run into Tessa and her new companion, Cairo—also a golden lab—while out on my walks. No more doggie drama queen shows.
As Tessa got older, walking became more difficult and she needed to lie down and rest every so often. On one of those rest stops two summers ago I finally had a chance to chat at some length with the dogs’ owner, Don Pollock.
An Interesting Discovery
I learned that Don’s a retired accountant who had just published a book on retirement called Retirement Hell: By-product of a Middle Class Under Siege, and he very kindly placed a copy of it in my mailbox a few days later. His second book, Avoiding Retirement Hell – Using Old School Strategies, was released earlier this year, of which he also generously provided me a copy.
Retirement Picture Bleak for Many Baby Boomers
If ever there was motivation for people to start saving and investing early, this is it.
In his very direct, tell it like it is way, Don paints a bleak picture of what many baby boomers can expect in retirement—and it’s far from rosy.
The days of cradle-to-grave employment with a full generous pension are over, leaving many of us to fund our own retirement. That’s not easy given some of today’s harsh economic realities—the high cost of living, loss of well-paid jobs in the manufacturing sector, disruptive technologies, and changes in the workplace, to name a few.
Add to that the personal roadblocks to retirement—off ramps as Don calls them—like job loss, employer bankruptcy, divorce, catastrophic disease or injury, inability to live within your means and indifference to financial and retirement issues, and you have a perfect recipe for “retirement hell.”
And it gets even more troubling than that. “Women from the baby boomer’s generation will suffer a disproportionate level of poverty in retirement,” writes Don in his second book. “The primary reasons are the gender pension gap and a longer lifespan on average than men.”
Don’s books are a stark warning to the generations behind us baby boomers to pay attention to their long-term financial planning and start doing it now. As he so candidly puts it in his first book, “lacking wealth, high income or a generous pension plan, retirement will not take care of itself unless living off government assistance is an acceptable option.”
Of course, there are government pensions and “A significant segment of our population will rely on government pensions as their primary source of income,” writes Don. “This is not only an issue for families, but it will create a financial burden for the government…”
Avoiding Retirement Hell
Is there hope for people in the baby boomer generation who don’t have generous pensions or retirement savings? Well, yes, sort of. Don takes the readers through several strategies like leveraging the equity in one’s home, downsizing, moving, intergenerational support and income earning activities—all of which have their plusses and minuses.
“One of the greatest mistakes a family can make is to not calculate their potential income in retirement,” writes Don in book two. In a subsequent chapter, he shows how to prepare a forecast for their retirement revenue, recommending that this be done ideally with a financial planner or accountant.
When it comes to investing, there are a few important takeaways. One is that families that self-finance their retirement strategy must have an investment strategy. Another is that they seek professional expertise unless they have ample knowledge themselves. And finally, regardless of how conservative one’s views on investing, “if the objective is to build a portfolio to fund retirement, it would normally include equity investments.”
Start Planning for Retirement When You’re Young
Of course, the ideal time to start saving for retirement is when we’re young, but, alas, how many of us do? To a young person, retirement seems an eternity away. But time passes quickly—and seems to speed up as you age. So as much as this book is of interest and use to the baby boomer generation, it’s equally if not more relevant to the generations behind us. The surest way to avoid retirement hell is to apply the time-tested financial planning basics—start early so your money has lots of time to compound, invest regularly and live within your means.
Late last year Tessa became too lame to go for walks. She passed away on February 8th of this year—just after the release of Don’s second book.
I trust that she and Bear are getting along much better in their celestial lives than they did in their earthly ones. RIP ladies until we all meet again!