A Crucial Decade

60My 60th birthday is rapidly approaching. Yikes! On most every day, I feel much younger than my mental image of a 60-year-old, but the calendar tells the truth. My birth year of 1954 places me squarely in the middle of the Baby Boomer generation, defined as those born between 1945 and 1964. That placement resulted in me being just a bit too young to go to Woodstock and just a little too old to believe that I could grow up to be one of Charlie’s Angels.

A 60th birthday is an undeniable milestone that marks the beginning of a crucial decade that can determine how well you fare in older age. For women especially, who are statistically more likely than men to be impoverished and single in old age, the decisions you make in your 60s can play out for good or bad as the years add up.

This year I’ll be taking a close look at exactly where I stand financially as I enter what might well be my last full decade of being an earner rather than an expender. It’s a good idea to do some budgetary soul-searching once you turn 60 to clarify your monetary goals as you move toward the point where you may not have a regular paycheck coming in every month.

I shouldn’t admit this since I work in conjunction with a certified financial planner, but my personal budgeting process has not always been one for the textbooks. As a child of depression-era parents, I have always been wary of being in debt. This trait has often been in conflict with my more materialistic desires, but, ultimately, fear won out and I managed to get through my youth and middle-aged years without carrying the burden of excess consumer debt. My budgeting process primarily consisted of one rule; don’t spend more than you earn, and if you do so this month you need to make up the difference next month.

To begin to figure out how much income I might have to work with in retirement, I went to http://www.ssa.gov/myaccount/ and created an account that gives me quick access to information about my earnings history and potential benefit payouts at any age between 62 (the age at which you become eligible for reduced, early benefits) and 70 (the age at which you have maxed out your benefit accumulation). It also provides me with tools that help me decide how to best coordinate my benefits with those of my spouse. Lots of permutations are possible, some of which can net you tens of thousands more dollars than others.

Because I spent a significant portion of my working years at jobs in which I paid into public pension funds like PERA instead of Social Security, I also needed to take a close look at the Windfall Elimination Provision information on the Social Security site. To fully maximize my benefit, I will need to work at a job that withholds Social Security taxes for at least 7 more years.
That brings me to the age of 67. By then, I will need to have navigated the river of decisions involved with applying for Medicare. It’s not a trip for the faint-at-heart. Anyone approaching age 65 needs to educate themselves or else seek competent counsel about Part A and B, Part D, Advantage Plans and Medigap policies.

If you are still working at a job that provides you with health insurance as you turn 65, you must seek out information about how your employer plan will interact with Medicare. If you are currently funding a Health Savings Account through your employer, you need to understand what will happen with that vehicle when and if you sign up for Medicare. And even if you’ve done all of this investigative work, you must be prepared to do it again next year in mid-October when health insurance providers can change their coverage and charges.

Aside from analyzing and making all the decisions about possible retirement, Social Security and Medicare, I really hope that I will be able to spend a significant portion of this coming decade having some fun. After all, I’ll be in the “go-go” phase of my older years (as opposed to the “slow-go” years of middle older age and the “no-go” years of oldest old age). No, that doesn’t mean I’ll be dancing in a club, but it does mean that I’ll probably do some traveling, indulge in some active hobbies and work at shoring up my connections to family, friends and my community.

I’m getting just a wee bit tired thinking about all that needs to occur after I turn the Big 6-0. I haven’t even mentioned that I’ll also need to come up with a plan for where and how I want to live in retirement and older age, as well as understand my options if there’s a debilitating health emergency or some other “what now?” catastrophe. Can’t I stay here in my 50s just a bit longer?

On the other hand, there’s a certain comfort in knowing that the challenges I’ve faced in life up to now are in the past, that so far I’ve been lucky in love and friendship, that my doctors say I’m healthy and that I long ago decided to let my hair go gray. So, from where I sit, things are looking up. 60 may not be so bad after all!

Blog by Holly Deni