'Holy Cross Girls' are a microcosm of baby boomers on verge of retirement

The future looks golden in an author's informal survey

By Mary Beth Franklin

Apr 27, 2015 @ 12:08 pm EST

For the 25th year in a row, the Employee Benefits Research Institute (EBRI) released its annual report card on the state of Americans' retirement savings. This was the first time that I didn't cover the release of the time-honored EBRI report, but I had a good excuse. I was enjoying a five-day Caribbean cruise with eight friends from high school. Still close after 47 years, we decided to take a cruise to celebrate our collective 60th birthdays.

The 2015 EBRI survey shows that a majority of Americans — 58% — are confident or somewhat confident about having enough money for a comfortable retirement. That's a significant increase from the record lows recorded from 2009 to 2013.

I took advantage of my captive audience to conduct my own retirement confidence focus group over dinner one night. It seemed an appropriate venue since our friendship began around the school lunch table when we met as freshmen in 1968.

The results of our focus group were even more impressive than the 2015 EBRI survey. Each of the “Holy Child Girls” — 100% — are confident that they have saved enough money for a comfortable retirement that probably will begin in the next five years.

Together we represent a microcosm of aging baby boomers. Three are widows. Four have been divorced. Five of us have been married to the same husbands for 25 years or more.

Several have hosted their children's weddings. Most of us have buried our parents. Four of my friends have grandchildren while two others still have children in college. Bottom line: We have shared a lot of milestones.

But most of us believe our best years are still ahead of us. A lifetime of hard work and diligent saving present each of us with enormous opportunities. But just as we chose different career paths, our visions of retirement are equally varied.

One, a veteran nurse and survivor of the ever-changing health care profession, is looking forward to hanging up her scrubs in the next year or two, playing golf and traveling with her soon-to-be husband.

Another friend is getting accustomed to living on her own after the death of her husband a few years ago. She imagines a future snowbird existence, living and working up north in the spring, summer and fall and migrating to sunnier locations in the winter where she might pick up a part-time job to stay busy.

A hard-charging business executive hopes to wind down her high-pressure job by age 65 before doing something completely different — perhaps designing and installing gardens. A widow, she plans to stay in her suburban Maryland home that will be mortgage-free by the time she retires; she figures with her affordable property taxes, it would be cheaper to stay put than to move.

High property taxes are the price another friend was willing to pay for top-notch public schools in New Jersey while her three children were growing up. But as retirement approaches, she and her husband, both employed in financial services, may consider moving to a more tax friendly state that's still near family and friends.

Another friend said she and her husband are thinking about trading their big house in Pennsylvania for something smaller near their current home. That would free up cash for traveling between North Carolina, where they have vacationed for years, and Florida to escape the coldest months.

One of the “girls” is passionate about her speech language pathology career but is counting down the few remaining years to qualify for her teacher's pension. She plans to leave the brutal New England winters behind and follow her bliss with her silver Airstream travel trailer in tow. She's confident she can adapt her lifestyle to live comfortably on her retirement income and may continue to work as a consultant in her field.

One of the group, who dutifully funds her four grandchildren's college savings accounts each month, worries that may have to end when she and her husband retire in a few years. But by then, the children's savings will be off to a good start and the magic of compound interest can do the rest.

As for me, I feel like a late bloomer. I have two grown sons but no weddings nor grandchildren in sight. But I'm too busy to notice and having too much fun to slow down just yet. Thankfully, my retired husband has taken on the role of back-office and house manager, freeing me up to write my columns and travel around the country spreading the word about Social Security claiming options.

After an intense Social Security tutorial over dessert and coffee, any of the Holy Child Girls can tell you that 66 is the magic age for claiming benefits and explain the advantages of file and suspend.

The highlight of our cruise was an onboard concert with Motown icon Smokey Robinson. After crooning “Ooh Baby, Baby” and “Tracks of My Tears”, the 75-year-old singer/song writer told the audience that he was having “the time of my life at this time of my life.” And so are we.

(Questions about Social Security? Find the answers in my ebook.)

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