essays

Show Me the Money

mochachinoWhy can’t baby boomers put away more money for their retirement? We know we’re going to need more than social security to live on, so what’s the problem? Besides losing a pantload of money when the market tanked, a slow recovery, and maybe losing your job, I mean what’s your excuse?

The conventional wisdom (sidebar: when did wisdom get conventional?) has it that boomers have selfishly squandered their money on mochachinos or fancy cars, but that may be just one more myth among the many when it comes to baby boomers.

The National Center for Policy Analysis recently reported on how spending habits have changed over the decades. So guess in what areas boomers are spending more than prior generations. Let’s start with education: costs have increased 80% for 45 to 54 year-olds and 22% for 55 to 64 year-olds. Then there’s the continuing costs of supporting adult children. Remember when you got out of high school or college and then got a job? It has not worked out that way for a lot of the boomer offspring. About half of all boomers are still providing some financial support to their kids. Next up: housing costs have risen 25% from 20 years ago. And don’t forget healthcare costs: medical care and premiums have skyrocketed in 2 decades.

If all these factors are not enough to convince you that boomers have not been playing the profligates, consider how stagnant our earnings have been. Real median income in 1990 for 55 to 64 year-olds was $52,340. It peaked in 2007 at $60,345 and had fallen to $56,575 by 2010. I don’t want to know what it is in 2012, because it cannot have gotten any better.

Dodge DartSo let’s review: everything is costing more but you’re making less. So how do we try to close that gap? We spend less on clothing, less on dining out, and less on transportation (there’s some very old cars out there). The experts advise us to focus on the spending categories that we can control but that seems difficult when it appears the cost of living is out of our control.

But let’s end on an upbeat note. Eventually your kids are going to have jobs and homes, and when they do, you can stake a claim on one of the bedrooms and live off their largesse for a while. No kids? It’s not too late to adopt.

Jay Harrison is a graphic designer and writer whose work can be seen at DesignConcept. He's written a mystery novel, which therefore makes him a pre-published author.

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