Longevity Project — Part 4: Financial planning is one key to aging well | PostIndependent.com

Longevity Project — Part 4: Financial planning is one key to aging well

Anna Stewart
Post Independent correspondent

Editor's note: This is the fourth and final installment in our four-part Longevity Project, looking at the keys to living a long life and issues around aging in Garfield County. Additional parts appeared Aug. 29, Sept. 5 and Sept. 12.

Will I outlive my savings? Will I have a golden retirement? Will I ever be able to retire at all? These are the questions that keep many Americans awake at night.

Colorado has the third-fastest rate of growth in the 65-plus age group, as the baby boomer generation continues to age into the retirement years. Boomers made up 25 percent of the state's population just three years ago, and the number of those age 65 and up is expected to grow by 77 percent to nearly 1.3 million by 2030.

Garfield County is a big part of that growth, with its attractive outdoors lifestyle and relatively convenient access to health care and other services for the senior population.

According to the most-recent projections from the state Demographer's Office, the rate of growth in that 65-plus age group in Garfield County was expected to be 74 percent between 2015 and 2025, the biggest rate of growth for any age group.

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And, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment, Garfield County has one of the highest life expectancy rates in the state, yielding an average of 74.9 years per person.

Glenwood Springs has an average life expectancy of 78.3 years; Rifle 79.8 years; and pockets of the county, including Carbondale and Parachute, over 85 years of average life expectancy, according to an interactive map on the CDPHE website showing life expectancy statistics across the state.

That trend toward an aging population raises a host of issues, from people aging out of the labor force, to housing, transportation and health challenges, to placing downward pressure on household incomes and public finances.

Key among those concerns raised by state officials in looking at that trend is whether people have an adequate aging plan, especially when it comes to finances.

tale of 2 households

We asked two sets of local seniors to describe their retirement years. Both are in their 70s. Both live in Garfield County. Both are civically active. One couple is fully retired. The other still has to earn a living.

Ted and Sheryl Doll's professional roots were with IBM in Chicago. The company had lots of perks — stock options, full pensions, 401ks.

"I started at IBM in the late '60s," says Sheryl, now 71. "I worked for 25 years. Ted and I rode a wave of prosperity. There were some downturns, but there were two of us working. Those are the reasons we were able to put money aside."

The couple bought a condo in Chicago. Sheryl retired from IBM in 1992. Ted, 76, retired in 1996. They took jobs at Texas Christian University, and the Dolls bought a $300,000 home with a pool.

In 2011, they landed in Glenwood Springs with the proceeds from their sale of the Texas home.

"The condo here was a bargain," says Sheryl. "We paid around $255,000."

The Doll's riverfront retirement condo is mortgage-free. In 2015, the couple invested in a rental property in Moab. "We paid $220,000," says Ted. "We paid cash. No mortgages."

The Dolls describe themselves as frugal.

"Anything extra, every raise was invested," Ted added. "We are still in that mode of saving."

Their lives in retirement are enviably full and satisfying. They give their time to the Kiwanis Club and Literacy Outreach. Their thriftiness allows the retired couple to attend concerts in Aspen, golf three times a week, ski Snowmass and travel.

"You name it, we've been there," says Ted.

"That's a minority," says lifelong Garfield County resident John Martin, who sits as one of the three elected county commissioners and also operates a produce farm in Delta County with his wife, Nancy, who sells their goods at farmers markets around the region.

"They're the success stories, but they're not the people who have always lived here," Martin said. "My situation? Been married 50 years. In 1969, my starting wage in Glenwood was $1.35 an hour. I worked 12-16 hours a day. In 1972, my poor little house was only $12,000, but it still took a mortgage and a second. It took me about five years to pay off the second."

Martin, 70, worked first in construction, then law enforcement for 25 years before being elected as a county commissioner in 1996.

"There was no pension plan. The only thing we had was what we put aside," says Martin. "After three bouts of cancer, because insurance never covered it, that nest egg is completely gone.

"Riding horses is my mental exercise," he says of one of his favorite pastimes. "My physical exercise is farming and driving trucks. My only regret is that I don't dance enough. My wife would just appreciate the heck out of me if I'd take time off just to dance a little bit."

Clearly, the Dolls had a head start on a comfortable retirement — jobs at a massive company with massive benefits, and their own good financial planning. Those wages and benefits that allowed them to retire to Utopia, Garfield County.

But those benefits were not available to many people who lived their lives in Garfield County, Martin said.

"Those that lived here didn't have that," says Martin, who is now in his sixth term as a county commissioner. "They worked two or three jobs just to take care of things."

Expensive place to age

Garfield County is expensive, but the winter sports, the fishing, the hiking, the biking and the generally healthy living environment make it an attractive place for people to stay, and migrate to, well into their 70s, 80s and 90s. The county has an irresistible magnetic pull on the less well-off, as well as the well-to-do.

"The aging population has been challenged to save enough money to retire," says Karen Brown, Chair of Colorado's Strategic Action Planning Group on Aging. "In the old days, you retired and maybe lived a couple of years — two, five, maybe 10 years, where Social Security, plus your savings, might have been enough to cover things.

"Now, older people are living 10, 20, 30 years beyond retirement," Brown said. "And they never anticipated they'd be living that long, so their savings are not cutting it. The stats show about half the over-65 population in the country has saved nothing — zero."

The average Colorado income is $41,000.

"It's hard to save money," says Brown. "It's not that people are not good at budgeting. They are challenged to have enough money to budget properly."

Although Martin has a high-profile elected position as a defender of the resources and interests of the Western Slope, and seems to be immensely enjoying his Colorado lifestyle, he sees his circumstances exactly the same as many other seniors.

"People in my generation are doing what I'm doing," he laments. "Multi-generational households, more than one job, everybody's employed, and yet we still don't have the abilities to recreate, to vacation, to have the nice amenities that people think we should have."

Martin sums it up, "There is no retirement. My last vacation was 25 years ago. You will work until you cannot work anymore, probably until you die …"

Post independent Longevity Event

When: Monday, Sept. 24 (doors open at 5 p.m., program begins at 6)

Where: Morgridge Commons/CMC (above the Glenwood Springs Library)

What: Expert panel discussion on aging issues, followed by speaker Tony Buettner with the Blue Zones Project, providing science-based answers about living longer.

Tickets: $25, available online here, or at the door. Food and beverages included.

Details: Speaker Tony Buettner is the senior vice president of business development at Blue Zones, a Minnesota-based team that puts the research of his brother, National Geographic Fellow Dan Buettner, into action in communities across the country. Dan Buettner is the New York Times bestselling author of “The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer from the People Who’ve Lived the Longest,” “Thrive: Finding Happiness the Blue Zones Way,” and “The Blue Zones Solution.”

About this series

The Longevity Project explores the trend toward an older population in Garfield County as the baby boomer generation ages, and the various outlets to continue living a long, active life.

Aug. 29: Garfield County’s population is aging, and many are staying active well into their 80s and even 90s. But there are a host of challenges — health, financial and otherwise — that come with an aging population.

Sept. 5: Is 70, or even 80, the new 50? Garfield County’s seniors are out there skiing, hiking, riding, and volunteering in the community.

Sept. 12: Many seniors would prefer to stay at home for as long as they can as they age, and research shows they live longer if they do.

Sept. 19: What happens if your savings lasts only into your 70s? A look at the financial realities of an aging population that’s living longer than ever.

super seniors

This Sunday, Sept. 23, the Post Independent concludes its series of “Super Seniors” profiles, as nominated by our readers earlier this summer. Previous profiles appeared on Sept. 2, Sept. 9 and Sept. 16.