In one way or another, we're all thinking about retirement - saving our money for a bright future of exploring and reading and meeting new people. We're aggressively watching our investments and cutting back on non-essentials, in the hopes of catching a piece of the pie someday. But what is it - really - that we're hoping for? Are our expectations realistic, and where have we learned what to anticipate when we leave the workforce behind?
One word: Hollywood.
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Since TV and movies became a popular source of entertainment, we've been fed idea after idea of what our retirement years should look like. We began anticipating our golden years as hassle-free and cash-laden. But it's rare that spoon-fed morals and focus group decisions are truly representative of real life. Exposing these Hollywood clichés will hopefully bring the reality back to retirement. (Learn how to live large for your golden years in The Millionaire's Retirement Plan.)
Cliché #1: You'll Live On A Beach-Front Property (As seen in "Office Space")
Mojitos on a sunny beach-front property with a deck overlooking the ocean, as a reward for years of blood and sweat - this is how retirees are often represented on film. And the worries of civilian life are long left behind. The only real concerns are which pair of white beach pants to wear, and ensuring that the blender is still working.
But the reality is that, with the housing and lending markets in current disarray, we'll be hard-pressed to keep our own homes - never mind those facing the Pacific sunsets.
In actuality, soon-to-be retirees are clamoring to hold on to their current properties or - more commonly - considering downsizing, in the hopes of using any profit made from a house sale as expendable income.
Rural and isolated areas may become harder to come by, as condominiums and shared accommodations become the norm for retirees. Oh, you can still have that mojito - but there's a greater chance that you'll be sipping it on your 17th-story balcony watching the police direct traffic below.
Cliché #2: The Gold Watch (As Seen In "About Schmidt")
We all want to be appreciated. And after 20, 30 or even 40 years with a company, it's fair to expect some recognition - a dinner, an office party or even the overused cliché of the gold watch. We'd all like some form of appreciation for years of honesty and dedication.
But the reality of the matter is that the length of careers is becoming shorter and shorter by the year. Even Baby Boomers aren't lasting in their workplaces as long as their parents or older siblings did - a 2008 survey by the Bureau of Labor Statistics revealed that those born in the later years of the baby boom averaged about 11 jobs between the ages of 18-42, while the older generations averaged five or less. And with shorter career life spans comes less incentive for large-scale recognition.
While we won't have statistics on the current generation's professional life for quite some time, if the labor markets continue down this road you'll be lucky to get a handshake when you hit 65. (Even if the economy is unstable, don't worry. Check out You CAN Retire In A Recession.)
Cliché #3: Shot Three Days Before Retirement (As Seen in Any '80s Action Movie)
For some, this may seem like a great escape - for others, the ultimate cop-out. But the cliché of not having to face retirement at all is becoming less and less likely. The truth is the length of life expectancy has been growing consistently for generations.
In the U.S. in 2010, the average life expectancy is currently 78.2 years - 75.6 for men, and 80.8 for women. That's almost 10 years longer than just 50 years ago, and almost 15 years longer than the age most people expect to retire (65). And let's not even consider colonial times, when life expectancy was reportedly only 45 years. Try building your Roth IRA for that one.
So, even when you throw yourself a retirement party with the three friends you have left, in your one-bedroom condo, it might be a good idea to keep the want ads nearby - you never know when you'll need a little part-time supplementary income. (Find out how retiring during a recession can actually be a good thing in The Benefits Of Retiring During A Recession.)
The Bottom Line
While the concept of a traditional retirement - or even a glamorous one - is not dead, it does take a more aggressive approach on your part. As has been said many times, the key to a strong retirement nest egg is to start saving early and be unforgiving in your dedication to making that pot grow!
Catch up on your financial news; read Water Cooler Finance: Google Gains, Taxpayers Pay.