*While some senior citizens across America are enjoying their retirement years, millions of others, who are growing older, are faced with the challenge of being ill-equipped to live off a fixed income.
Although retirement (or the ‘golden years’) is supposed to be a time to enjoy the freedom and flexibility that retirement offers, many retirees are having to punch the clock or put their retirement on hold.
Some of the challenges that older or elderly people face in their senior years includes isolation and loneliness, depression, escalated utility bills, driving and shopping, physiological problems, financial predators, lingering health problems and other issues that come with aging.
“The real problem that I found is that most senior citizens don’t plan for their retirement. You call it the permanent unemployment check. I really didn’t think about it until it was upon me. Fortunately, we are doing fine, but most senior citizens have financial problems,” says Leo Keith, Jr.
The statistics are frightening. A recent study states that one out of every three Americans has no retirement savings whatsoever. According to a recent study by GoBankingRates.com, among those who have saved, 56 percent have saved less than $10,000 for their retirement. On the other hand, life expectancies are increasing and one in four 65-year-olds will live to age 90, which means one should save for an additional 10 years. In retirement, your health is your wealth.
Seniors depending on Social Security alone may be in for a rude awakening and possibly setting themselves up for a potential nightmare. Social Security was not meant to be a retirement plan. It should be a supplement to other sources of retirement savings. Healthcare should be a major concern for retirement Medicare does not cover everything. It only covers about 62 percent of medical expenses.
Retirees Leo and Valerie Keith, Jr.
Sixty nine-year-old disabled veteran Leo Keith, Jr., of Lithonia, Georgia, says:
“In my case, the challenge I am facing in my senior years is health-related. I went to Vietnam in my 20s, and I lost my leg, and I have shrapnel in my body and arthritis throughout my body. I have arthritis in all of my joints. Every time I wake up, I put my prosthesis on and I think about when I stepped on that landmine. I get angry sometimes and may say some things to my wife that are not appropriate.”
“For my health, I’m 100 percent disabled and I’m serviced by the VA. The VA system is overwhelmed by so many people. I go to VA Hospitals and clinics in different areas. If I have an emergency, I am able to walk in and see the doctor,” says Keith.
He adds, “Most times the VA Hospital is sufficient for my needs. I have no problems with the nurses or doctors, but sometimes it takes forever to be serviced. The waiting time is the only problem I have with them,” he says.
“When I first retired, it wasn’t a lot to do, but I found the Lou Walker Center. It is a very good center. You can swim and play volleyball, take computer classes and writing classes. There’s more senior citizens there and it’s crowded now. The center is one of the best places to be. DeKalb County has four or five Senior Citizen Centers around the county. They have programs there and they go on trips. The last trip they had was to Hawaii. The next trip they are going on is to Japan and a cruise in the fall,” says Keith. His wife chimes in and says they go on the trips sometime and other times they have to pass.
“I really haven’t run into anything. I’ve been blessed. Being a senior citizen, I’m not out like I use to be. We may go to the movie, dinner, a play, but we really and truly enjoy the senior citizen life. The main thing is your health. I get upset when I think about the things that happen to me,” he says.
In most states, citizens can call 211 to locate different organizations that will provide numerous services from providing grocery or cooked meals, mortgage assistance, to winterizing your home to making home repairs for free.
“I learned this from my wife. Many times, there are programs out there that will help you. Like Publix, they have some medicines that are free. Also, ask for your Senior Citizen discounts. You have to ask because most restaurant and businesses have a Senior Citizen discount.”
The Senior Citizen center that Leo and his 62-year-old wife, Valerie Keith, attend only costs $10 per month, or $120 per year. However, some of the other centers, do not charge anything to join, but you have to live in the county. Some centers provide breakfast and lunch, free of charge. If you don’t have a car, the local city bus service will pick up senior citizens for a few dollars. “There are all types of programs you just have to ask,” says Valerie Keith. She has helped numerous family and friends locate programs to assist them when they fall on hard or challenging times. Although, her husband is retired and she is on disability, they have managed to find enjoyment in their senior years and have their life under control.
Close to retirement and not prepared, as she would like to be, a woman spoke under the condition of remaining anonymous. She has a retirement portfolio but says she has very little set aside. Here is what the 55-year-old, Texas native had to say. “I refuse to be a part of the statistics. However, I am deeply concerned that I am not anywhere close to being prepared for retirement. It’s frightening and haunts me on a regular basis. In addition, the sad thing about it is I prepared early on for retirement and over the years, I continued to contribute to my IRA and Roth accounts. However, my life was turned upside down financially after my divorce and job loss. I was forced to dip into my savings and retirement for years because I could not obtain full-time employment. Relocation quickly became an option but never materialized.”
She adds, “It was either dip into my retirement or end up losing my home and become homeless. I obtained two part-time jobs, which I would eventually be laid off from, and I would have to start all over repeatedly. ”
Disappointed and visibly shaken, she says, “I did all the things I was taught to do. I am intelligent; I am a go-getter. I networked with people and recruiters from various field but things just never materialized. I read financial and business magazines. I obtained the college education and advanced degrees, changed fields, and I still had an extremely hard time finding a full-time job in my field or any field for that matter. I applied for everything I qualified for. I even applied for jobs below my skill set, outside my field, jobs with the federal government and city and state government across the country, and I never hear back from 98 percent of the jobs. My family does not understand why I have not been able to locate a full-time professional job. I don’t have a problem with relocating, but what I do have a problem with is picking up and relocating across the country without a job or any money.”
“I haven’t given up hope. I keep searching, keep praying and applying for opportunities. Relocating is still a very strong possibility. I still have a little time to add to my retirement portfolio.”
Retirees David and Sharon Rucker
Retiring when you are physically or financially able to enjoy life is a plus. Unfortunately, 55 percent of retirees end up retiring earlier than expected due to health issues, followed by job loss.
Sharon Rucker, 63, and David Rucker, 71, of Knoxville, Tennessee, married for 29 years, story is different from many senior citizens. Not only did they plan for their retirement, they made sure that they did not get into a lot of debt. With proper planning, they were able to retire early without any debt.
Sharon, a retired Computer troubleshooter & longtime Gospel singer/musician & online radio station owner, retired 14 years ago at 49-years-old, and her hubby, a HR Personnel Assistant & Recruiter, retired twelve years ago at age 59. They are in a great space due to making sacrifices in their younger days. It was not always that way though. Both were previously married to spouses that created a financial nightmare for them. Fortunately, for them, they dated, married and were able to get back on track and prepare for retirement together.
“I learned what to do the hard way. We both had financial problems, but we pulled together. When it comes to retirement, think of it as a journey instead of a finish line,” says David. “It’s important to have a plan to make your income last through retirement. You can’t come home with all that debt. You don’t want to be overwhelmed,” says Sharon. “We were not the kind of people that got in a lot of debt. If we couldn’t afford things, we didn’t charge them. We didn’t go in debt if we couldn’t afford them.”
When Sharon retired, she was younger than the average retiree was, and she still had the desire to pursue her lifelong gifts. She went to work for a Gospel radio station, but it shut down and Knoxville did not have a station. She refused to let that stop her from playing Gospel music. With pen and paper in hand, she immediately started brainstorming and created a successful online Gospel station. Sharon only spends a couple hours per day on air live and her station operates 24/7. “I enjoy the station because it allows me to do what I love. I am grateful God allowed me to do my station. My station is in my home and people are listening all over the world,” she says. Sharon also brings in a source of income from singing. She has been performing since age 13.
Advice to Future Senior Citizens
David offers his advice to future senior citizens.
“It wouldn’t hurt to go talk to someone about retirement and financial planning. You need to talk to people about insurance, too. Be willing to change or you will end up being in a worst predicament. Not having any debt is a good place to be,” says David. “I recommend you pay off your debt because you’re about to come home with a pension once a week and everybody is not going to come home like that and Social Security is only once per month and not only do you have debt, you’ve got utilities, phone, food and cable. You have to pay for this, and you are in a different time zone. We came home and we didn’t have debt.” She says they paid off her SUV and they did not have a car note or a house note. They only use their credit cards to book vacations and they pay the amount off immediately.
“We drove the same car for 20 years. We went without a car note for 20 years. Now, we make sure we have one nice automobile to travel. Now, everyone is throwing away massive amounts of money on cars,” he says. “If you’re conscience about retiring , you don’t necessary have to run out to buy a new car because as soon as you drive off the lot, it depreciates. Young people can save a chunk of money by taking care of cars and keep them a little longer.”
Sharon adds, “The patience we had before is paying off now.” David says, “I didn’t believe in giving away my money. You can get a lot more, a lot faster if you sacrifice in the beginning, instead of running out and getting interest.” Sharon chimes in and says she had to learn how to have patience and it has paid off.
“We are just one of the lucky couples. We don’t have to go back to work. My gift has always helped me, and I was able to make extra money playing at churches and weddings,” says Sharon.
“Retirement life is treating us well. I love it! Especially if you’ve had, a fairly stressful job and you don’t have to answer to people. I expected to travel a lot and I envisioned spending more time with family and rent a Winnebago and travel. I expected to have more fun, but I don’t have the energy to do things,” says David.
Some of the challenges the Rucker’s face in retirement includes minor health issues and taking a lot longer to get ready to go out. “When we’re going somewhere, it takes us hours to get ready. Where I use to be able to get up and get ready in an hour, now it takes two hours to get ready. We get up early so we can get our bodies going. It’s a chore. I have to have 2-3 hours to get ready.
She adds, “Our bodies aren’t tired but our energy level is just a bit slower.” As far as aging, we have mobility issues. It’s a chore to bend over. My hair grays quicker, but these are simple things.”
“God has allowed us to be debt free, and I don’t want to be running through the airport. We go to the beach nearby. We don’t travel like we use to. We go to the beach once per year now. We don’t want to go like we use to,” says Sharon.
She concludes, “Aging is really a wonderful thing. I get to appreciate everything. Your mindset is different. You see things differently. If you get here, you will be grateful that God allowed you to be in this place.”
Resources to Assist Seniors
Senior Citizens Centers (Most cities have one or more. Click to search Google)
Scan Foundation – Transforming Care for Older Adults
Call 211 to get referrals for assistance with Mortgage assistance, Repairs on home, Winterize your Home, Electric Bill, etc.
EURweb associate journalist Angela P. Moore is based in the Atlanta area. A passionate writer-and-photographer-at-heart, she freelances for local and national magazines. She pens articles on celebrity profiles, art, music, business, travel, entertainment, health, self-help, and consumer-related issues. She is also the founder and owner of APM Public Relations. In the realization of her life-long passion for writing, Angela will release her debut book winter 2016. She can be reached via [email protected].