Baby boomers plan for retirement

Published 8:38 am Wednesday, July 29, 2009

“Very, very busy” is not how most people envision their retirement, but for Bob and Ginny Riege, and a rising number of baby boomers, this is standard.

After teaching at Austin High School for more than 30 years, both were able to retire at age 56 because of the “rule of 90.”

This “rule,” which only applies to people who started teaching before 1979, says that when the age and number of years someone has been teaching add up to 90, that person is eligible to retire.

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“We now have the freedom to do things we want to do,” said Bob, who retired in January.

The couple has been involved in hunting and fishing excursions for moe than 25 years, a hobby that has earned them an ongoing supplemental income as well as local fame.

At one time they ran a guide service on the Mississippi River, but now they mainly do promotional work for some Canadian provinces and write for newspapers, magazines and Web sites, including Midwest Outdoors, Bassmaster and Sportsman’s News.

Not returning to school will allow the couple to take extra fall hunting trips for caribou, moose and bear and spend more time at their home in Wabasha.

The Rieges are unusual in the fact that they were able to retire at 56, but their choice to continue making a living through a favorite hobby represents a growing trend among their generation.

Baby boomers, or those born between 1946 and 1964, are the largest generation in the country, with 77 million expected to retire within the next decade.

The resulting strain on the Social Security system doesn’t surprise most people, who are also aware of the increasing average life expectancy in the United States. The projected national average for 2009 is 78 years, according to the CIA World Factbook.

The full retirement age is 65 for those born before 1938, 65-66 for those born between 1938 and 1959 and 67 for those born after 1959. Reduced Social Security benefits start at age 62.

Half of American workers do not have an employer-sponsored retirement program.

What is President Obama doing to protect Social Security? His bipartisan plan is to work with employers to set up automatic enrollment retirement accounts and eventually increase saving participation to 80 percent for low- and middle-income workers.

According to a recent report by Americans for Secure Retirement, if middle-class boomers continue their current standard of living and don’t delay retirement, three out of five will run out of financial assets in their retirement.

Beth Johnson, associate financial adviser at the Austin Ameriprise practice of Stephen Palen, said the economic crisis has not only raised concerns, but altered a mentality.

“What we’re seeing is even more people who are changing their view of retirement.”

That view may involve anything from a less extravagant retirement to an entirely new career. Most often, it means staying at work longer to save money.

Lynne Lancaster, a generational expert and co-author of the best-selling book “When Generations Collide,” offered her expertise on boomers’ outlook.

“I think they’ve viewed retirement as something of a reward,” she said.

“For many that’s a bit unrealistic.”

In a time when it is not uncommon for people to live into their 90s, numerous Boomers are seeing the need to care for their elders, as well as their grandchildren — extra financial strains on top of the recession and high unemployment rates.

Many realize they “have to be more diligent about saving,” Lancaster said.

But the need to save for retirement is not the only factor pushing folks to stay in their jobs longer; many who are in good health prefer not to retire early because they enjoy the stimulating and social parts of a job.

More people, Johnson said, are figuring out how to “make a living at something they really enjoy.”

Lancaster acknowledged this tendency as well.

“Some baby boomers really love to work and some would have kept on working regardless of the economy.”

There is no doubt the Rieges fall into this category.

Although they will not be eligible for Social Security benefits for several years, the Rieges have no worries about their financial security in retirement, because of earning a supplemental income and building up a pension through the Teachers’ Retirement Association.

The major challenge for boomers who extend their careers, Lancaster explained, is going to be regaining their energy.

“Some are burned out…because they have not taken significant breaks.”

But several characteristics of the boomers, she said, will lend themselves well to staying in the workforce longer: their great work ethic and good health.

And the Rieges — who stay in good health through a lot of outdoor activity — are no exception. Bob walks his dogs every morning, and Ginny often rides her bike or goes rollerblading.

Bob plans to continue his hunting and fishing work “as long as I can physically do it.”

And what big excursion are the Rieges planning for next? A salmon trip in August and a caribou hunt for fall in Manitoba, Canada.

Now that they’re retired, said Bob, “we’re going to kick it into high gear.”