Peter Dunn, Special to USA TODAY Published 6:00 a.m. ET Nov. 1, 2020 | Updated 8:34 p.m. ET Nov. 1, 2020
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I lost my marketing job in May, but may be on the verge of finding work again. The new opportunity in front of me pays $10,000 less, and is in a completely different field. I’m 50 years old, behind on saving for retirement, and I live alone. Fortunately, I don’t have any debt. I don’t know how much longer I can go without a job, should I just take this $60,000 a year job and deal with the consequences of earning less money?
– Katherine, Minneapolis
I’m so happy you’ve put yourself in the position to work again, Katherine. For so many, employment decisions have started to feel like a cruel riddle which only has suboptimal solutions. And as you described, the solution in front of you is also suboptimal. The goal is to find a way for you to survive on less income, while at the same time trying to get back on track for retirement.
You said it yourself, your previous income didn’t lead to proper savings levels. This isn’t to suggest you didn’t make enough money to save for retirement; instead I’m suggesting you simply didn’t save enough for retirement, no matter the reason. You could have very well made enough to save, and chose not to. Accepting this, or at least acknowledging this, is vital to your solution.
What I’m asking you to do is definitely difficult. You will have to make near-permanent changes to your lifestyle and spending behavior. But, your biggest weakness is also your biggest opportunity.
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When you said you were behind on saving for retirement, what you likely meant is that you hadn’t put together a plan to maintain your $70,000 a year lifestyle, once your career ended. This tells me a couple of things. First, you need to save more money, and second, you need to decrease your $70,000 a year lifestyle by retirement, in order to have a more workable solution.
Let’s assume your $70,000 a year job produced a take-home pay of about $4,000 a month or so. And the proposed $60,000 a year job would produce a take-home pay of $3,500 a month.
If you can adjust to this lower level of income, retiring successfully will actually get easier.
Based on some quick estimates on the Social Security Administration website, your Social Security Retirement income at age 67 will be somewhere between $2,271 and $2,030 (in today’s dollars). To successfully retire, you must account for the amount of work income you lose by retiring, and replace it with retirement income sources. The biggest income replacement source you’re likely to have at this point is Social Security Retirement. Which is great news, especially since you’re behind the proverbial eight ball. Now all you have to do is close the gap between your need and Social Security Retirement. If you can adjust to your new $3,500/month or less lifestyle now, you can begin to close the gap faster.
There are two ways to close the retirement income gap even further. First, you could build-up your nest egg by making monthly contributions to a retirement plan. Ideally the income derived from your primary job allows you to do this. And if it doesn’t, then a less than ideal yet prudent decision is to take on a second source of employment income in order to reach those savings goals. Like I said at the beginning, you’re not alone when it comes to facing suboptimal realities right now.
The second way you can close the gap is to decrease the $3,500 a month of need. If you have a mortgage, you can accomplish this by paying off the mortgage over the next 17 years or so. And if for instance your principal and interest payment is $1,000/month, you’ve just closed the gap very quickly.
Yes, Katherine, I’ve just oversimplified a very complicated process. But my hope is it began to paint a picture of what’s possible for you, once you plug-in more specific numbers. In a perfect world, you decrease your lifestyle now, and then your income climbs back up to and then above $70,000 a year. Then, to lock-in your good fortune, keep your lifestyle at your newly adjusted level. Even if that doesn’t happen, you should be OK as long as you start contributing to a retirement account as soon as possible.
I’m sorry you’re going through this right now, but your diligence and attention to detail will turn your misfortune into a sustainable retirement income strategy.
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