A Life Without Retirement Savings

brokeAt Vitae, a career site geared towards working academics, Stacey Patton has an interview with Debra Leigh Scott, a 60-year-old divorced mother of two now-grown children who works as an adjunct professor at Temple University and has no retirement savings. When asked how she would live if she were to lose her teaching position, Scott says grimly: “Suicide is my retirement plan…Unless you have a spouse or partner, you’re looking at dire poverty in old age. In addition to poverty, you’re looking at getting no additional work because of your age, or you’re looking at dropping dead in the classroom.”

Scott doesn’t want to kill herself, but says it’s one of her options. It’s bleak.

Let’s talk about options other than suicide.

Being old with no savings is a fear that most of us have; a Gallup poll earlier this year showed that more than half of respondents feared they didn’t have enough saved up for retirement. A recent report on the “Economic Well-Being of U.S. Households” by the Federal Reserve showed that “31 percent of non-retired respondents reported having no retirement savings or pension, including 19 percent of those ages 55 to 64.” A good chunk of Americans are going to have to figure out how to face their retirement years without any money saved up—especially if wages remain stagnant and we all remain perpetually broke.

Many older Americans will have to rely on Social Security, which currently pays out an average monthly benefit of $1,294 to retired workers. So those without any savings will need to reduce their expenses to match this benefit as closely as possible, which means if the house isn’t paid off yet, you’ll have to secure cheap housing options, like finding roommates for a Golden Girls-type situation.

Others, who can’t live off of Social Security alone, will need to find ways to supplement their incomes with part-time work.

We’re all different—our emergency back-up plans vary depending on the kinds of lives we live and the relationships we have. My parents, for example, could always live under my roof and receive my financial assistance (this is a separate post in and of itself). If suicide was on their list of options, I would make sure it was far, far at the bottom of their list.

Photo: Dan Moyle

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