I was having dinner with a friend and fellow attorney that defends municipalities. He was relating a story to me of a deposition he had taken that day of a man that was suing his client (a township), alleging he was the victim of police abuse in the jail. In the course of the deposition, the witness indicated he was more scared for his father (apparently a great father and son team), because he was “really old.” My friend could not resist asking the fatal question, “So, how old is your father?” The reply was, “He’s 53.” At 59, my friend wasn’t prepared for this shocking revelation! Well, one thing is for sure – this man’s perception of age leaves a lot of “very old” and “ancient” people.

Is 53 and beyond “really old?” Is it time to hang it up at 65? There was an article in the Wall Street Journal titled, Americans Rip Up Retirement Plans. The article reported that 2/3 of Americans between the ages 45 and 60 say they plan to delay retirement plans, up sharply from just two years ago when only 42% were planning to delay retirement. Is this surprising? More important, is this a good thing? I don’t find it surprising, and I think it is a good thing. Medicine has extended our life expectancies. We live longer, and we spend more. According to the Social Security Administration, a man reaching 65 today can expect to live until age 83, and a woman can expect to live until age 85. About one of every four 65-year-olds, today will live past 90, and one out of 10 will live past 95. Worldwide, most babies born in 1900 did not live past the age of 50. So the witness my friend deposed had a point; he was just 113 years behind the times.

When I graduated high school in 1972, the average life expectancy in the US was 71.2. Today, it is 78. We could spend hours fretting over the future of Social Security in the United States, but one thing is certain, we have a need to plan our finances for longer life expectancies. If we are in our mid-fifties or sixties, we need to be pragmatic as to whether we have laid a solid foundation to retire that contemplates we’ll be sitting around complaining about the Lions and second-guessing the Tiger’s manager when we’re in our 90s. The financial crisis was a rude awakening for many people. Some of us suffered significant setbacks in income. Too many of us were living on the edge – allowing ourselves a high standard of living predicated on available credit lines; rather than bonafide savings for retirement or emergencies. Those affected must recover from the setback by taking immediate steps to shed debt and preserve future income for retirement and recognize that (health permitting) the timeline has been extended.

Whatever the story, when we started our “adult years” in the 1970s, we expected to only make it to our early 70’s, and now, assuming we make it to 65, we’re expected to make it to at least 83-85. To me, logic dictates that a retirement timeline consistent with our parents is unrealistic. In 1970, if we planned to retire between 62 and 65 (let’s say 63.5), we were only expected to live to 72. Today, if we expect to live to 84, then the target date, proportionately, is 74.

Forget about fretting over Social Security. We need to realign our strategy and plan accordingly. Stay healthy, exercise, embrace technology (so you are not rendered obsolete by the youngsters), and knock ‘em dead – oops, let’s go with “knock ’em out!”

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