When Peter Vangsness began working as a high school teacher in 1974, he didn’t think much about retirement. But after a career change into private industry in 1981, he started doing long-range financial planning, with his wife’s encouragement.
The couple socked away money in individual retirement accounts, maxed out their annual contributions when possible and sought guidance from a professional financial adviser.
Their planning paid off. Vangsness, 70, and his wife, Patricia, 65, who are now both retired from full-time careers, are living the retirement they envisioned. They downsized into a condo and live close to their adult children and five grandchildren.
“It’s so important to get into good habits with your finances,” says Vangsness, of Medway. “It’s never too early or too late.”
But unlike him, millions aren’t well prepared for their retirement years. The Federal Reserve’s “Economic Well-Being of U.S. Households in 2020” report found that 26 percent of working adults had nothing saved for retirement.
For those living in the Bay State, financing their golden years is especially challenging. According to a recent analysis by the financial news website 24/7 Wall St., Massachusetts is the fifth most expensive state for retirees.
According to its calculations, the estimated cost of living comfortably in retirement in Massachusetts adds up to nearly $1.3 million.
“We live in a high-cost state,” says Mike Festa, director for AARP Massachusetts. “AARP helps prepare people financially for their future.”
Money management tips
As part of that effort, in December, AARP Massachusetts is holding a series of free virtual workshops on financing retirement. The topics include an overview of Social Security, estate planning and debt management.
Many people are accelerating their retirement plans in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, says Martin Booker, an AARP financial resilience program manager, who will be leading a Zoom webinar on debt management, on Wednesday, Dec. 15, from 6 to 7:30 p.m.
Booker offers these tips:
- Pay down consumer loans and credit card balances, defer Social Security as long as possible, and stay in the workforce longer, even part-time, to supplement retirement income.
- Take stock of your finances before you make decisions that could have a long-term impact on your retirement years. “Without knowing where you are, you can’t plan. And you can’t fix what you don’t face,” Booker says.
- Visit aarp.org/tools to find several free online planning resources, including calculators for 401(k) savings, Social Security benefits and retirement income.
As the economy rebounds from the effects of the pandemic, many workers will have to make up lost ground in saving for retirement.
A recent AARP survey found that 1 in 4 adults age 25 and older stopped contributing to retirement accounts or dipped into their retirement savings during the coronavirus crisis.
“Saving is always hard, especially during a pandemic, but you can’t ignore it,” Festa says. Creating more options for workers to save for retirement will help.
AARP Massachusetts is backing a bill that would expand the state’s CORE Plan—a 401(k) retirement savings program for employees of small nonprofits— to include those of any size. The plan is administered by the state treasurer’s office.
“It’s a great step in the right direction,” Festa says.
To learn more and to register for the financial workshops, go to the Events page at https://states.aarp.org/massachusetts/.
Jill Gambon is a writer living in West Newbury, Mass.
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