21st Century Retirement Strategies That Will Make You Secure, Part 1

Having reached the age of 67, it’s only now that the realities of retirement have actually sunk into my brain. After all, like most of us, that kind of event always seems like it’s far off in the distant future. It’s a lot like thinking about your long term health prospects in that you seem invincible in some respects and working every day fortifies that feeling.

In the 21st century, retirement strategies are changing. In Part 1 of this series, I discuss how health and Social Security will impact your retirement.

Realistically, we all know that retirement is coming whether it is in a far distant future or just peaking over the horizon. But even knowing that, we sometimes don’t paint a realistic color to what it will actually be like. Will it be a time of exploration, fun, and peace of mind? Or will it be a time of struggle, difficulties, and a less comfortable lifestyle? The way your retirement unfolds is never 100% under your control but the ways you prepare for it are for sure. That’s why you need some solid retirement strategies.

Wishing for Success Won’t Make it Happen

It’s always a good time “right now” to examine your retirement strategy plan and even more so these days because some of the traditions of planning are changing. The 21st century presents new challenges and benefits that previous generations of retirees never faced. Time now to consider seriously what you are doing to prepare for it and more importantly what you can do to make your retirement years the very best they can be!

Even if you consider yourself to be a minimalist, that is a person who lives simply and doesn’t require a lot of “things”, having some comforts in your golden years will still require some kind of monetary support. Your days of extravagance may be truly behind you, but having food, clothing, and shelter is still on the must-have list even when you are in retirement. That’s probably why the overwhelming majority of financial advisors and bloggers are constantly talking about how much money you will need and what sources of income there are available to you once you retire. You didn’t find any of that a surprise, did you?

Knowing what you need in the lifestyle you want ahead of you starts years and years before retirement when you begin to save or invest in what will be the main source of your support after you stop working. In a real sense retirement, planning begins on the first day of your first job and continues until the day you actually retire. If it doesn’t happen that way, you haven’t maximized your retirement planning process.

Here’s to Your Health!

A good many people are really fortunate in not having any serious health problems most of their lives. It makes sense that younger people don’t have as many health problems. That explains why they seldom think about their health and have a view that they are more or less immortal when they’re young. If you have taken good care of yourself, have good genes, and do all of the routine precautionary things concerning your health, you may be one of those lucky people.

Unfortunately, you never know what will ultimately happen to you and your health. Those that do have health problems often have difficult periods of time in lives that interfere with family life, education, and work life, not to mention cause lots of stress. We all have friends or family members that have had such experiences, even if that doesn’t describe our own personal situation.

But, and it’s a biggie, even if you haven’t ever been sick a day in your life, you just never know when an illness or even an accident may completely change things. That’s why a good rule to live by is:

Plan for the best in life, but be prepared for the worst.

When it comes to your health, never take it for granted. Eat right, exercise enough, and see you doctor for regularly scheduled checkups. Don’t skimp on your health insurance and when necessary, take your doctor’s recommendations seriously. You have to carefully consider your health situation now and in your future because it can and will affect your life in multiple ways.

Health and Longevity

Another reason to think about health and retirement has to do with longevity. Because of advances in research and medicine people are living longer than ever before. Back in the 1960’s, 70’s, 80’s and 90’s people weren’t expected to live into their eighties as they are today. The longer lifespan is a blessing but it probably also means that at some point you are still going to experience health problems. Living longer means that you need even more funds in your retirement than ever before. Running out of money and outliving your funds is pretty scary.

Health Insurance

Health insurance is a battleground as I write this and any changes in health care laws that are being debated right now will affect every one of us at some point in our lives. The bottom line is that you will need some kind of plan to cover all of the “what ifs” that are out there now and even more so as you grow older.

In retirement, your medical expenses can skyrocket overnight. In my own case, I discovered I had type 2 diabetes and congestive heart failure (CHF) among other conditions after I turned age 60. That was caused by a lifelong abuse of my body and some very poor lifestyle choices. It resulted in hospital stays and life threatening situations that now require me to see my doctors quarterly and to take over 10 prescriptions a day at very high costs. Do you think I ever planned that my health expenses would take such a huge chunk of my retirement funds to handle?

Most of us don’t think about that possibility unless you grew up with medical conditions during your childhood and it has carried over into your adult life. Word to the wise; prepare yourself emotionally and financially for those unpleasant possibilities.

Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid: How secure are they?

The simple answer to the above question is “not very”! That is pretty scary for most of us. We have all been conditioned to the fact that Social Security and the other programs would not only be there for us in our retirement, but they would be safe and strong too. Not so fast.

With the Baby Boomers retiring faster than you can say “aloha” and Gen-Xer’s and Millennials having struggles in the job market and thus not contributing as much to the retirement tax funds, Social Security and other support programs are seeing funds dry up. Most experts predict that without some kind of legislative adjustments soon, these programs will be unable to maintain the current levels of funding by the 2030’s! How old will you be when that happens?

Think about this: even if you are able to work until full retirement age (currently 66)—which by the way most people don’t—with the maximum benefit you would be getting (based on 2016 numbers) $2,668.00 per month or $32,078.00 per person per year. If you are living on your own, that may not be enough to take care of all your needs unless you have other sources of income you have been saving and investing over the years long before you retire. That’s a really good reason to prepare for that real possibility by making sure you are fully funding you own retirement program while you are working. It must be a priority.

In Part 2 in this series, 21st Century Retirement Strategies, we will look at pensions, a rapidly disappearing retirement option, and some of the more viable retirement options. Look for it in my next post.

Did you start planning your retirement on your first day of work? Have you been taking care of your health? Do you believe Social Security will still be available when you retire?


  1. Emily @ JohnJaneDoe

    Most of our retirement plans were based on the thought that any Social Security would be gravy but until the last 5-10 years, didn’t consider much about health care costs. After all, Medicare would be there. Now, I’m a lot less sure that even Medicare won’t go away (or become so stripped down that it will be of minimal help.) And that’s a scary, scary thought.

    1. Seriously. I was never counting on SS because of my age, but Medicare and Medicaid….I can’t believe they’re being threatened. One of my kids needs Medicaid, so cuts have a really big potential to not just mess up my money in retirement, but also in the near future. Hopefully that doesn’t happen, but after the past year… This world is getting so unpredictable, and that’s really bad for finances.

      1. Unfortunately, we do have to worry about what is going to happen with our healthcare programs. To me, that means we just have to do a better job ourselves in every way possible to keep healthy and keep our finances strong just in case something happens. Since the debate is going on right now, it’s a good time to get in touch with your representatives and tell them how you feel about the healthcare plans.

  2. My health is the biggest question mark concerning the retirement days. In case of some serious sickness, how can I fund and organize my life? What I have done, I am 67, is that I dont have too much debt, which means I can stand extra expenses. And then I have insurances.

    1. Make sure you maintain your health insurance so in case of a problem you’ll have some coverage to help you. I would also recommend that you do all the proactive things you need to do to insure you catch any problems at the earliest possible stages. I know what your fears are and I’ve experienced some of those things myself, Juhani. My hopes are that those things will not become a problem for you. Thanks for sharing your personal concerns.

  3. Fruclassity (Ruth)

    Gary, I’m very sorry about your health issues and the extent to which they are impacting your life and finances. I REALLY respect the fact that you are sharing your experience with other people. I have no doubt that your readers are challenged to look at the ways they are caring for their physical and financial health as a result.
    I did not think of retirement my first day of work – or my first decade (and then some) for that matter. But I had dumb luck from day 1. I have always had a good old fashioned pension plan, so that even in my worst head-in-the-sand days of financial mismanagement, I was automatically contributing to my retirement. Now, we’re on a mission to be debt-free before retirement, and we’re investing more for my husband – who has never had a pension plan – and his retirement.

    1. First, Ruth, thank you so much for your kind words. I’m glad you mentioned pensions…I am going to be talking about them in Part 2 on Friday. Working towards being debt-free will certainly be a big aid for you when it comes to budgeting in retirement. One of my regrets is that I’m still carrying my mortgage which is the basis of most of my debt at this point in my life. You seem to have a good plan in place. Thanks so much for your comments.

  4. I *do* think Social Security will be around when I retire. I won’t be surprised though if it is scaled back. That’s why we aren’t banking on it. Whatever we get will be extra and allow us to either retain more of our investments in our estate – or to increase our spending to enjoy life even more. Both sound like good options so will have to see which wins (or a combination of them).

    Big PLUS ONE (or +1000?) on the health topics. Health is right up on our short list of family priorities. If being healthy means an increase in the budget, we have deemed it worth it. Taking care of ourselves now should pay off multiples in the future.

    1. My thoughts, Brad, are in agreement with your prediction on Social Security. That leaves more reasons to look for supplemental ways for income to fund retirement. I see that you have thought about it carefully and investing is a good way to do just that. I’m also glad that you’re making your health a real priority. I can attest personally to the high cost that it’s taken not only on my finances, but on my stress level as well. I appreciate your response to my post.

  5. Thanks for sharing Gary. I know your experience will be eye-opening for many readers. I did not plan from day one. I did after a few years start investing in my 401k, but did miss out on a few years of free money. I could certainly do a better job with my overall health. All things that are within my control and need to be a priority as we all get older.

    1. I’m glad you’re now doing the things you are, which will certainly make your retirement days a lot more comfortable. You still have years to keep accumulating your funds, and look out for your health as well. If you can, read Friday’s post where I’ll be talking about what I feel are the 8 best ways to prepare for retirement. Thanks for your comments, I appreciate them, Brian.

  6. We’ve never counted on SS, and frankly I don’t like to count on Hubby’s pension plan either. I’ve seen too many big companies fail and people left without their pensions to count on it. Ironically, he works in the healthcare industry.

    We still have a couple of decades before retirement, so I really hope someone finds a way to fill the gap Baby Boomers have in their healthcare. That will help all of us! Like Emily said, I never counted on SS, but for Medicare to slip away does mean we need to think about our retirement plans a little differently. Thanks for shedding a light on this topic!

    1. It’s helpful that you have time to prepare for what may be a big change in the way the government helps with retirement and healthcare programs. Unfortunately, we can’t take anything for granted today. That’s why my suggestions have been to have diversified and multiple strategies for planning for retirement. I wish you all the luck, Jamie, and thank you so much for commenting.

  7. Mel

    I definitely plan like there won’t be any government assistance, but hope I’m wrong. I’ve also noticed that plans provide % increases for every extra year you work until 70, so I’ve noticed that even if we keep working longer, they still cap out at 70, making it impossible to receive the same bonuses for working longer, since the expected retirement age keeps creeping up anyway.

    1. You raise a good point, Mel. It affects a lot of people when they retire at age 62, which is currently the earliest you can claim SS retirement benefits. The difference between starting at 62 and waiting until 70 is huge, even if your full retirement age is at 67. That’s why it’s recommended to wait as long as you are physically and financially able to. Also keep in mind that Medicare doesn’t begin when you take early retirement. It starts at age 65 (and that is before full retirement.

  8. This is on point Gary. A helpful article especially to those who are still planning and who will plan their retirement strategies. Health factor is commonly set aside or is taken for granted when it comes to planning the future. But people should now realize that health plans should take one of the major roles in retirement planning. Improving one’s health literacy can provide health benefits as well as a financial advantage to person. Also, learn about the different health options such as Medicare, Medicaid, Medicare supplements and LTCi and know how you can use them to your advantage.

    1. Understanding the programs you mentioned can be confusing to a lot of people and I agree they should definitely make a point of learning all of their options. Worrying about your health, unfortunately, seems to mostly occur when you are first diagnosed with an illness and at that point, it might be too late to have that influence your retirement planning. I appreciate your comments.

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