I'm not going to live forever. I accept that.
I come from good stock, though. I had two of my great-grandmothers attend my wedding, and one lived to be 99 years old. Ninety-nine and a half, actually. I just spent some time with my 85-year-old grandmother Rosario -- and she looks as though she could keep going for another 85 years.
There's a flaw to my plan, of course. These are the women in my family. The men in my family tree haven't been able to cling to the mortal branches for nearly as long.
So you probably can't blame me for feeling a little nostalgic as I think back to the 1980s, when a band called The Godfathers had an alternative-rock hit titled "Birth, School, Work, Death."
The lyrics of the song aren't as clever as the title, unfortunately. However, it's a pretty dreary depiction of four of the big phases of life. For way too many of us, the transition between work and death is as thin as a heartbeat.
It's a shame.
Don't get me wrong. I love what I'm doing. Writing about money is a dream job, even when I get hate mail for breathing funny on Sirius Satellite Radio or refusing to crown Apple's Steve Jobs as The King of All Media. I can do this forever, if they'll let me -- but will I have to?
What Social Security means to you
My quest for trying to wedge "retirement" between the "work" and "death" parts starts with taking a peek at my most recent Social Security statement.
Take a look at yours. Under the section titled "Your Estimated Benefits," you get a projection of what your monthly check would look like under various scenarios. The retirement benefits can start kicking in when you turn 62, though if you can hold off until you reach your full retirement age between 65 and 67 -- or even hold out all the way to when you're 70 -- your monthly benefit will be significantly higher.
Now, after reviewing those numbers, ask yourself: Is that enough? Coupled with any other pensions, savings, or other retirement plans that you may have, can you ride out your golden years with that kind of stipend?
Before you answer, let me hit you some bad news: Those sums are in today's dollars. While they'll rise with cost-of-living adjustments, who's to say that those increases will reflect the true costs you face in retirement? Those line items might seem awfully puny when you finally get there.
And what if 62 isn't good enough for you? What if you want to cut loose the moment you turn 50 and apply for your AARP card? Or, at the very least, punch out when you turn 55 and order off the senior menu at Denny's?
Starting retirement early takes planning. That takes making decisions sooner rather than later.
74 million panhandlers ... and you
There are 37 million Americans that are at least 65 years old. The Social Security Administration expects that amount to double by 2040. "Without changes," reads the front page in the latest Social Security statement I received, "by 2040 the Social Security Trust Fund will be exhausted."
Does that make that statement in your hands seem practically worthless, especially if you've got several decades before you can belly up to the Denny's counter and order that Senior French Toast Slam? Not necessarily, but it's always best to plan for the worst.
Robert Brokamp's Rule Your Retirement newsletter has several online calculators to help you answer questions such as:
- How much will my savings be worth?
- What's it worth to reduce my spending?
- How will retirement affect my expenses?
- What IRA am I eligible for?
You don't need to subscribe to the service to get your hands on those resources. Just enter the phrase "retirement calculator" into your search engine of choice, and you will find several cyberspace freebies.
On the other hand, Robert's service has the advantage of packaging retirement-planning tools alongside a vibrant discussion-board community, monthly insightful issues, and special features along the way. It doesn't hurt to give a 30-day trial offer a spin. However, if you still think that it's not right for you after your free month, at least know that you can get some limited assistance out there in cyberspace, gratis.
And at least follow some simple steps to see what kind of retirement you can stick between cubicle and casket:
- Figure out your current net worth.
- How much will you have in the future?
- Calculate what your expenses will be at your ideal retirement age.
- What kind of return do you need on your investments to get you there, and is it compatible with your risk tolerance?
Singing your own tune
There is no reason why you can't enjoy your retirement, as long as you plan accordingly. The sooner you start, the easier it will be. The more you know, the smarter you will be. Whether it's to live a richer life or to make sure that your estate planning leaves little to chance when you're gone, you have to make your own luck. Set aside that statement from Social Security and start scribing your own instead. Call it "Your Definite Benefits."
Your future is what you make it. And you'd better plan well, because that future may last a lot longer than you think. Today, it's the AARP card -- tomorrow, it's the Denny's senior menu. Who knows? Several years from now, you may find yourself dancing the night away at your great-grandson's wedding.
If you can't last forever, at least make sure that your money lasts as long as you do.
You can join Rick in planning for your retirement -- and owning your retirement if you're there already -- before it owns you. Subscribe to Rule Your Retirement, or simply kick the tires for the next 30 days with a free trial.
Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz would like to point out that neither of his great-grandmothers actually caught the bridal bouquet at his wedding reception, though he did see one of them dance. He does not own shares in any of the companies mentioned in this story. At least not yet. Rick is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early. The Fool has a disclosure policy.