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"The Book on Business"
May 2004
by the Business Librarians at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh

Previous Issues

HG179.B7438 2004
Retire on Less Than You Think: The New York Times Guide to Planning Your Financial Future

by Fred Brock, Times Books, 2004.

Have you ever sat bolt upright in bed at two in the morning with the words "I will never be able to afford to retire" ringing in your head? New York Times columnist Fred Brock wants you to know that this fear is the result of bad advice. When financial services companies insist that you will need 70 to 80% of your pre-retirement income to live on after retirement, they mean they need you to save that kind of money so they stay in business. Your actual needs can be far less.

What percentage of your income are you saving now? For some people trying to "catch up" it can be a big number. Are you saving 30%? Guess what - you are already living on 70% of your pre-retirement income! Take the time to do some soul searching about what you want from life and you might even find you can afford to retire early.

Retire on Less Than You Think is not really a guide on how to save enough to retire; it is a guide to understanding and affording this new stage in your life. Brock discusses the results of a major survey, which found that people happiest with retirement were not necessarily those who had saved the most money. Instead, they were the ones who saw "retirement" as a gateway to something new. Some started small businesses; many continued to work part time; some traveled; others volunteered. All of them had looked with a clear eye at their lives and had simplified those lives with great success. They did so by asking the right questions. Is your house still right for you and could you be living somewhere with a lower cost and higher quality of living? Do you need a brand new car every three years? Threaded throughout is a common theme—it's not what your income will be after retirement that is important; it's your expenses that are the key.

Brock deepens his clear-headed and encouraging look at life after work today by also providing an historical perspective. A hundred years ago people did not "retire" as we think of it today. Brock quotes gerontologist Ken Dychtwald's view that around 1900, "work was seen not only as a way to provide a living, but a way for people to feel a sense of self-worth." In the 1920's and 30's, however, new theories of scientific management stressed increasing productivity. Older workers were thought to be less productive than younger ones, so moving them into retirement could increase productivity and, by no small coincidence, provide needed jobs during the depression.

Social Security, signed into law in 1935, was conceived of more as stopgap income for the last few years of life than as a steady stream of income for years of leisure. How many people know that the first ever Social Security Check was not issued until 1940, to one Ida Fuller of Ludlow, Vermont for $22.54? At that time, "even though benefits were available at 65, the average age of retirement in 1940 was 70. However, the average life expectancy then was 62.9 years… Today, the average age for retirement is 62 and in 2001 the average life expectancy was 77.2 years."

This book focuses on how to find the correct answers for you. Brock offers an excellent guide on how to find out what it costs–and and what it's like—to live in various places, which leads into detailed examinations of the two key issues you need to have a handle on: your assets, and health care planning. Brock also incorporates some very sound and reassuring information about Social Security that sifts through recent political rhetoric to let you know what to expect. With concluding section of worksheets to help you "put it all together," and an extensive appendix of resources to help you in your planning, this book may be just the prescription that will allow you to sleep and 'perchance to dream' of great years ahead.

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Also recommended are:

HD9349.S634 C639 2004
The Real Thing: Truth and Power at the Coca-Cola Company
by Constance L. Hays. Random House, 2004

HG179.S824 2004
How to Ruin Your Financial Life
by Ben Stein. Hay House, 2004.

Contact the business librarians, who also answer questions about business, money, and work, at (412) 281-7141 or at

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