Retirement Fears, Longevity and Old Friends

"Can you imagine us years from today? Sharing a park bench quietly ... How terribly strange to be 70. Old friends, memory brushes the same years; Silently sharing the same fears."
—from “Old Friends,” as performed by Simon and Garfunkel

A major annual retirement survey was released this summer. Among its findings are the nine biggest fears that Americans have regarding retirement.

The greatest fear, shared by over half of the respondents, is outliving one’s savings and investments. A larger number of those surveyed now see themselves living to age 90. A smaller but respectable percentage envisions themselves as future centenarians. Bottom line? Our money must last longer as life expectancy increases. If Paul Simon was writing “Old Friends” today, he’d change the age in the lyrics.

This is the overriding financial concern we all share in retirement. Of course, we need to begin addressing this issue decades prior to our actual retirement years. The survey did note that the average age that most Americans begin contributing to retirement accounts is 27. That’s not bad.

Almost half of those surveyed fear the demise of Social Security. My own opinion is that Social Security will be there for us, with some potential changes, throughout our lifetimes. The voting bloc represented by Boomers is awfully strong. The collapse of Social Security has been predicted annually since I began my practice over two decades ago. Nothing to be gained by worrying about this issue, anyway, since it’s beyond our control.

Three of the next four fears involve health related issues: declining health that requires long term care; lack of access to adequate and affordable health care; and fear of cognitive decline, dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease. Health issues are the financial wild card in retirement planning. People rightfully fear the price tag of escalating health problems. We are also scared of living at less than our best, living in pain, or becoming a shell of our former physical selves. In fact, according to many surveys, most of us fear being incapacitated or impaired more than we fear dying.

Folks often fear not one but a combination of these factors, even if they have amassed a significant nest egg and are enjoying a nice annual income. One of the biggest challenges in retirement is accepting that we are never going to be as financially secure as we’d like to be. Retirement means crossing the Rubicon from full-time employment to part-time work or none at all. Once we are there, things happen that we can’t control. But planning well and taking care of our health can lead us in the right direction.

Margaret R. McDowell, ChFC®, AIF®, author of the syndicated economic column “Arbor Outlook,” is the founder of Arbor Wealth Management, LLC, (850.608.6121 –, a “fee-only” registered investment advisory firm located near Sandestin.