MONEY Second Career

Finding the Perfect Balance Between Work and Fun in Retirement

Ranger with snowmobile, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming.
Ranger with snowmobile, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming. Blickwinkel—Alamy

These retirees found a way to spend all their time on pursuits they love.

“Damn the submarine. We’re the men of the Merchant Marine!” That singsong phrase woke me up every morning for seven months on my first ship, the SS San Francisco. I went to sea after graduating from college. For four years, I worked on ships, mostly tankers, steaming through the Suez and Panama canals, past the Rock of Gibraltar at midnight under a full moon, stopping in ports like Athens, Dubai, and Yokosuka. A number of my peers had similar adventures after college, including leading wilderness trips, tending bar, teaching English overseas and traveling around Europe picking up odd jobs. Ah, those were adventurous days before the desire for a career and family responsibilities took over.

Peter Millon is living the adventure, too—in his Unretirement, at age 69. Last year, he spent about 70 days skiing the slopes in Park City, Utah, when he wasn’t working four days a week for ‎Rennstall World Class Ski Preparation, repairing skis and waxing skis for racers. Essentially, he split his retirement time 50/50: working half-time and pursuing his passion the other half. In the off-season, Millon plays golf with his oldest son who lives in Salt Lake, fishes and takes target practice. Not bad.

Leading a Wealthy Life

A wealthy industrialist? A Wall Street master of the universe? A high-tech titan of business? Hardly. Millon isn’t wealthy, but he leads a wealthy life. “Do something you love, something for you,” he says. “Don’t do it for anyone else.”

Millon began his career working at a small ski maker in St. Peter, Minn. He then spent decades as a technical director at Salomon North America and its various competitors. During the real estate bubble years, Millon was selling high end appliances for the home, living in a townhouse in Massachusetts. Business tanked when the bubble burst, and he took advantage of an early retirement package. Three years ago, he sold the townhouse and moved to Utah where he was known in the ski community, picking up a condo on the cheap. These days, Millon lives comfortably off Social Security, some investments and the income from his part-time job.

The ‘World’s Oldest Intern’

John Kerr is living the 50/50 life in his Unretirement, too, working as park ranger in Yellowstone between May and September. He didn’t plan on becoming a ranger, though. Kerr had a four-decade career at WGBH as a marketing and fund raising executive, retiring at 65. “It took the shock of the change to rattle my bones a bit,” says John Kerr. “I had way too much energy and experience to sit around.”

His exploration took him out to Jackson Hole, Wyo., where Kerr has a small condo. While walking around Bozeman, Mont., he saw a sign for the Yellowstone National Foundation, which supports Yellowstone National Park. He walked in unannounced and from an off-hand remark during a conversation with the organization’s head, he learned it had an internship opening. Kerr applied and for the next year he was “world’s oldest intern,” talking to visitors about wolves.

Kerr became a Yellowstone ranger five months a year for the next nine years, living close to Jackson in the winters and using his time off to visit family. Now 76, he recently moved back to New England to be near family. Still, he expects next season he’ll return to Yellowstone. “It has been a great adventure,” he says.

Advice for Your Unretirement

When I asked Kerr and Millon what advice they’d give to others in their 60s and 70s eager for adventure, Kerr emphasized the importance of an open mind. “You have to have your eyes open and your ears flapping,” he chuckled. Millon suggested drawing on the relationships you’ve made over the years and the skills you’ve developed without trying to compete for the kind of job you had earlier in your career.

What I took away from both men is that the financial penalty of working fewer hours and doing more of what you love can be much less than you might think.

“The key is that when your interests align with your work, there is nothing from which to retire,” says Ross Levin, a certified financial planner and head of Accredited Investors in Edina, Minn. “We save money to ultimately create a lifestyle. If that lifestyle doesn’t need much money, then we need to save less.”

Think of it this way, says Levin: You earn $10,000 a year in your fulfilling work on a ski slope or in national park or down in the Florida Keys. That’s the equivalent of having $250,000 in investment assets, assuming the 4% withdrawal rule (a standard guideline for safely taking money out of retirement savings). A $20,000 income is the equivalent of $500,000 in assets, and so on.

Much of the conversation about prospects in the traditional retirement years often forgets how creative people are at coming up with solutions. Many Unretirees I’ve interviewed over the years have found they made significant cuts in expenses without slashing their standard of living.

So, if your career didn’t leave you with the kind of portfolio that pushes you into the ranks of the wealthy, that doesn’t mean you can’t construct a comparable lifestyle. The question is: What’s your adventure?

Chris Farrell is senior economics contributor for American Public Media’s Marketplace and author of the new book Unretirement: How Baby Boomers Are Changing the Way We Think About Work, Community, and The Good Life. He writes about Unretirement twice a month, focusing on the personal finance and entrepreneurial start-up implications and the lessons people learn as they search for meaning and income. Tell him about your experiences so he can address your questions in future columns. Send your queries to him at cfarrell@mpr.org. His twitter address is @cfarrellecon.

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Doing Great Work After 60

Shifting From Full-Time to Part-Time Work

12 Takeaways From a Mini-Retirement

MONEY Second Career

The Secrets to Launching a Successful Encore Career

These prize-winning social entrepreneurs built non-profits that make a difference.

“You must do the thing you cannot do,” Eleanor Roosevelt once wrote. It’s the only way to overcome the fears we all face in doing something new, she thought, and take a leap into the unknown.

Kate Williams quoted Roosevelt earlier this week here when she accepted a $25,000 Purpose Prize, one of the awards given annually by Encore.org, a San Francisco-based nonprofit that works to engage baby boomers in “encore careers” with a social impact. The awards, now in their ninth year, recognize trailblazers over age 60 who have tackled social problems creatively and effectively. Cash prizes range from $25,000 to $100,000.

Williams, 72, lost her eyesight to a rare degenerative disease after a long career as a corporate human resources professional. She overcame her own fears, first by moving away from friends and family in Southern California to start over in San Francisco and later by starting an employment training program for the blind. Today, she runs a similar, larger program for the national non-profit organization Lighthouse for the Blind.

Encore.org’s mission is to promote a game-changing idea: Greater longevity and the graying of America present opportunities, not problems. This year’s Purpose Prize winners underscore that point. They’re rock stars in the world of social entrepreneurship, having started organizations that work on issues like sex trafficking, disaster relief, autism and education in impoverished neighborhoods.

The idea of second careers with social purpose has broad appeal. Millions of older Americans want to stay engaged and work longer, sometimes out of economic need but often out of a deep motivation to give back. An Encore.org survey this year found that 55% of Americans view their later years as a time to use their experience and skills to make a difference, though just 28% say they are ready to make it happen.

Many people have trouble figuring out where to start—which brings us back to Roosevelt. Fear of the unknown is a key hurdle in starting down a new path later in life, and I had the chance to ask some of the encore experts gathered for the awards about how they would advise others seeking to begin.

The juices get flowing when people connect their experiences and knowledge with a problem they are passionate about. But first they have to make the leap.

“I had been in the corporate world, not part of the blind community,” Williams says. “I was frightened, but what I thought would be overwhelming turned out to be a beautiful thing. As soon as we started our training classes, I was hooked.”

The Lighthouse for the Blind program has worked with 100 blind job seekers over the past three years, and has placed 40% of them.

David Campbell, winner of a $100,000 prize this year, wanted to help after the Indian Ocean tsunami that devastated parts of Southeast Asia in 2004. A senior executive at several software and Internet technology companies, he figured he could help by creating a Web-based tool to organize volunteer tsunami relief efforts. That led him to start All Hands Volunteers, which has worked on 45 disaster relief projects in six countries and dozens of U.S. locations. The non-profit uses the Internet to route volunteers to places where they can be put to work effectively.

“People just want to know that if they go, they’ll have a place to sleep that won’t be a burden to the local people, and a contact to start with,” he says. “We give you exact instructions on how to get there, and assure that you’ll have a bunk bed, food and someone will have organized work and that you’ll have the right tools to be productive.”

Campbell talks often with people looking to get started on encores. “I always advise people to start by volunteering with some organization with social purpose – it’s an easy, great way to start. But the question many people have is, ‘Which one, and what might I do?’ “

Campbell suggests people consider geography and the focus of the work. “Do you want to work locally, nationally or internationally? Do you care about health, education or some other thing? That starts the conversation and helps people narrow it down.”

Then, he says, visit a non-profit that interests you, and take the time to understand its needs.

“Be willing to help understand the mission, and do whatever it is they need help with. And don’t treat volunteering as a casual activity. You need to commit to a certain number of hours of work a week as though it were a paying job, and take responsibility for it.”

To paraphrase another famous Roosevelt, the only thing you have to fear is fear itself.

Related:

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Should I work in retirement?

Does working affect my Social Security benefits?

 

MONEY retirement age

Australia’s Brilliant — and Brutal — Retirement Crisis Solution

Sydney Opera House and downtown skyline, Sydney, Australia.
Jill Schneider—Getty Images/National Geographic

Australia is asking workers to work longer. Would it work in the United States?

Americans are quite familiar with the challenges threatening the Social Security system, with an aging population starting to retire and putting more strain on the shrinking group of workers paying the Social Security taxes that support their benefits. But America isn’t alone in facing a retirement crisis, and other countries are taking much more dramatic steps to shore up their systems for providing financial assistance to people in their old age. In particular, Australia plans to force its workers to stay in their jobs for years beyond their current retirement age in order to qualify for benefits — and it’s giving employers incentives to make sure older workers can get the jobs they need to hold out that long.

The Australian solution: Work until you’re 70

Australia has seen many of the same things happen to its old-age pension system that the U.S. has seen with Social Security. When Australia first implemented what it calls its age pension more than a century ago, only 4% of the nation’s population lived to the age at which they could claim benefits. Now, though, life expectancies have grown, with the typical Australian living 15 to 20 years beyond the official retirement age of 65. As a result, 9% of the Australian population gets benefits from the age pension, and the potential for some of those recipients to get support from the program for two decades or more has threatened the financial stability of the system. Currently, 2.4 million Australians receive about $35 billion in benefits from the program, making it the Australian government’s largest expenditure.

As a result, Australia has made plans to increase its official retirement age. Over the next 20 years or so, Australians will see the age at which they can officially retire climb to 70 if the plan is approved, putting the land down under at the top of the world’s list of highest retirement ages.

When you just look at the age-pension portion of Australia’s retirement system, that sounds draconian, and plenty of Australians aren’t thrilled about the move. With a significant part of Australia’s economy based on extracting natural resources like oil, natural gas, coal, and various metals, the back-breaking work that many Australians do makes the prospect of staying on the job until 70 seem almost physically impossible. Proponents of the measure counter that argument with the fact that 85% of Australians work in the services industry, and many of those jobs don’t require the physical exertion that makes them impractical for those in their 60s.

Moreover, younger Australians worry about the need for older workers to stay on the job longer. Many fear a “jobless generation” of young adults who can’t get their older counterparts to give way and make room for them to start their careers.

What Australians have that the U.S. doesn’t

Yet before you bemoan the fate of the Australian public, it’s important to keep in mind that the age pension system isn’t the only resource they have going for them. In addition, Australians participate in what’s known as the superannuation system, under which employers are required to make contributions toward superannuation retirement accounts equal to 9.5% of their pay. Like American 401(k)s, employees are allowed to select investment options for this money, with default provisions usually investing in a balanced-

Over time, superannuation assets have built up impressively. As of June 30, assets in superannuation accounts rose to A$1.85 trillion. Australia is also seeking to have those fund balances rise more quickly by requiring more from employers on the superannuation front. Over the next seven years, the employer contribution rate will rise to 12%, accelerating the growth of this important part of Australians’ retirement planning.

Like 401(k)s and IRAs in the U.S., Australians can make withdrawals from their superannuation accounts at earlier ages than they can claim pensions. For those born before mid-1960, access to their retirement savings opens at age 55. That age is slated to rise to 60 over the next decade, but it will still give Australians access to money well before age pensions become available to help them bridge the financial gap.

Should America follow Australia’s lead?

Calls to increase Social Security’s retirement age have met with strong opposition in the U.S., and the Australian plan won’t change that. Yet without the backstop that superannuation provides, raising the retirement age to 70 in the U.S. would be even more painful for aging Americans. Some workers are fortunate enough to have employer matching and profit-sharing contributions that mimic what most Australians get from superannuation, but it’s rare for anyone to get anywhere near the 9.5% to 12% that Australian workers have contributed on their behalf.

Many see Australia’s answer to its retirement crisis as brutal, but given the aging population, it’s consistent with the original purpose of old-age pensions. If the U.S. wants to make similar moves, American workers need the same outside support for their retirement that Australians get — and that will also require more effort on workers’ part to save on their own for retirement.

MONEY retirement planning

3 Ways to Feather Your (Empty) Nest

Birds in nest throwing money in the air
Sebastien Thibault

Just because the kids are gone doesn't mean it's time to splurge. Here are some ways to treat yourself well without compromising your comfort in retirement.

The phrase “empty nest” may sound sad and lonely. But—shh!—don’t let the kids know that when they clear out, Mom and Dad have fun. Often too much fun. A study by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College found that empty-nesters spend 51% more than they did when their children were home. “We have clients who go out to lunch and dinner every day,” notes Cincinnati financial planner John Evans.

Certainly after surviving Little League, teenage attitude, and the colossal cost of college, you ­deserve to splurge. But you also don’t want to compromise your finances as you begin the final sprint to retirement. Here are three ways to keep feathering your nest while still enjoying your freedom.

First, Keep Your Spending in Check

  • Rerun your numbers. While you can likely afford to let loose a bit, make sure your retirement plan is in order before you go wild. “You should save a bare minimum of 10% a year, really more like 15%—and if you’re behind you may need to save 20% to 30%,” says Boca Raton, Fla., financial planner Mari Adam. Use T. Rowe Price’s retirement income calculator to see what you need to put away to get your desired income.
  • Make a payoff plan. Erasing your debts before retirement will require sacrifice now—but will take pressure off your nest egg and allow you to have more fun later. Figure out how to do it with the debt calculator at CreditKarma.com.
  • Plug the kid leak. One in four affluent parents ages 50 to 70 surveyed recently by Ameriprise said that supporting adult children has put them off track for retirement. Lesson: Get your priorities (retirement and debt elimination) straight first, and build gifts into your annual budget proactively vs. giving willy-nilly.

Second, Free Up Even More Cash to Stash

  • Downsize. Convert Junior’s room into a better tomorrow: Moving from a $250,000 house to a $150,000 one could boost your investment income by $3,000 a year while reducing maintenance and taxes by $3,250, the Center for Retirement Research found.
  • Cut your coverage. If your kids are working, you may not need life insurance to protect them. You may be able to take them off health and auto policies too.
  • Moonlight. Besides increasing your income and helping you establish a second act, “self-employment makes a huge difference in what you can do on your taxes,” says Tony Novak, a Philadelphia-area CPA. That’s especially valuable in these peak earning years when you’ve lost the kid write-offs.

Finally, Supercharge Tax-Efficient Savings

  • Catch up on your 401(k) and IRA. Once you hit 50, you can sock away $5,500 more in your 401(k) this year, for a total of $23,000, and an extra $1,000 in your IRA, for a total of $6,500. In 2015, you’ll be able to put an extra $6,000 in your 401(k), for a total of $24,000; IRA caps remain unchanged. If you start moonlighting, as suggested above, you can shelter more money in a SEP-IRA—the lesser of 25% of earnings or $52,000.
  • Shovel cash into that HSA. Got a high-deductible health plan? Families can contribute $6,550 ($7,550 if you’re 55-plus) to a health savings account. Contributions are pretax, money grows tax-free, and you don’t pay taxes on withdrawals for medical expenses. If you can pay your deductible from other savings, let your HSA grow for retirement, Novak says.

Sources: Employee Benefit Research Institute, PulteGroup, MONEY calculations­

MONEY retirement planning

Millennials Feel Guilty About This Common Financial Decision—But They Shouldn’t

Sad millennials leaning on desks
Paul Burns—Getty Images

Young adults aren't saving as much as they think they should for retirement. But paying off debts is just as important.

Millennials are pretty stressed out about their long-term finances, according to Bank of America’s latest Merrill Edge Report. Some 80% of millennials say they think about their future whenever they pay bills. Almost two-thirds contemplate their financial security while making daily purchases. And almost a third report that they often ponder their long-term finances even while showering.

What’s eating millennials? Student loan debt. Even the very affluent millennials surveyed by Bank of America feel held back by student debt—and these are 18-to-34 year-olds with $50,000 to $250,000 in assets, or $20,000 to $50,000 in assets and salaries over $50,000. Three-quarters of these financially successful Millennials say they are still paying off their college loans.

Among investors carrying student debt, 65% say they won’t ramp up their retirement savings until they’ve paid off all their loans. But with that choice comes a lot of guilt: 45% say they regret not investing more in 2014.

Contrary to popular wisdom, millennials are committed to investing for retirement. Bank of America found that the millennials surveyed were actually more focused on investing than their elders. More than half of millennials plan to invest more for retirement in 2015. But 73% of millennials define financial success as not having any debt—and by that measure, even relatively wealthy millennials are feeling uneasy.

Fear not, millennial investors. You’re doing just fine. First off, you’re saving more — and earlier — than your parents’ generation did. A recent Transamerica study found that 70% of millennials started saving for retirement at age 22, while the average Baby Boomer didn’t start until age 35. On average, millennials with 401(k)s are contributing 8% of their salaries, and 27% of millennials say they’ve increased their contribution amount in the past year. Even if you can only put away a small amount at first, you can expect to ramp up your savings rate during your peak earning years.

For now, here are your priorities:

Save enough to build up an emergency fund. You could be the biggest threat to your retirement savings. A recent Fidelity survey found that 44% of 20-somethings who change jobs pull money out of their 401(k)s. (That’s partly because some employers require former workers with low 401(k) balances to move their money.) Fidelity estimates that a 30-year-old who withdraws $16,000 from a 401(k) could lose $471 a month in retirement income—and that’s not even considering the taxes and penalties you’d owe for cashing out early. If you have to make the choice between saving and paying off debt, at least save enough to get through several months of unexpected unemployment without draining your retirement accounts.

Pay off any high-interest debt first. When you pay off debt, think of it this way: You’re making an investment with a guaranteed return. Over the long term, you might expect a 8% return in the stock market. But if you have a loan with an interest rate of 10%, you know for certain that you’ll earn 10% by paying it off early.

Save enough to get your employer’s full 401(k) match. The 401(k) match is another investment with a guaranteed return. Invest at least as much as you need to get the match—typically 6%—with the goal of increasing your savings rate once you’ve paid off the rest of your debt.

Related:

MONEY 401(k)s

Why Millennials Are Flocking to 401(k)s in Record Numbers

hand clicking Apple mouse connected to egg with 401k on it
Jason York—Getty Images

First-time 401(k) plan enrollees are soaring as young workers enter the labor force. This is a positive development. But it won't solve our savings crisis by itself.

Young workers have received the message about long-term financial security—and with increasing assistance from employers they are doing something about it, new research shows.

In the first half of 2014, the number of Millennials enrolling for the first time in a 401(k) plan jumped 55%, according to the Bank of America Merrill Lynch 401(k) Wellness Scorecard. This twice-yearly report examines trends among 2.5 million plan participants with $129 billion of assets under the bank’s care.

The brisk initial enrollment pace is due partly to the sheer number of Millennials entering the workforce. They account for about 25% of workers today, a figure that will shoot to 50% by 2020. But it also reflects a broader trend toward 401(k) enrollment. Across all generations, the number enrolling for the first time jumped 37%, Bank of America found.

One key reason for the surge in 401(k) participation is the use of auto-enrollment by employers, as well as other enhancements. The report found that number of 401(k) plans that both automatically enroll new employees and automatically boost payroll contributions each year grew 19% in the 12 months ended June 30. And nearly all employers (94%) that added automatic enrollment in the first half also added automatic contribution increases, up from 50% the first half of last year.

Enrolling in a 401(k) plan may be the single best financial move a young worker can make. At all age levels, those who participate in a plan have far more savings than those who do not. Another important decision is making the most of the plan—by contributing enough to get the full company match and increasing contributions each year.

Other added plan features include better educational materials and mobile technology. In a sign that workers, especially Millennials, crave easy and relevant information that will help them better manage their money, the bank said participants accessing educational materials via mobile devices soared 41% in the first half of the year.

The number of companies offering advice online, via mobile device or in person rose 6% and participants accessing this advice rose 8%. A third of those are Millennials, which suggests a generation that widely distrusts banks may be coming around to the view that they need guidance—and their parents and peers may not be the best sources of financial advice.

Millennials have largely done well in terms at saving and diversifying. They are counting more on personal saving and less on Social Security than any other generation, the report found. They seem to understand that saving early and letting compound growth do the heavy lifting is a key part of the solution. Despite its flaws, 401(k) plans have become the popular choice for this strategy.

Yet this generation is saddled with debt, mostly from student loans and credit cards, and most likely to tap their 401(k) plan savings early. Millennials are also least likely take advantage of Health Savings Accounts, or HSAs, which allow participants to set aside pre-tax dollars for health care costs. Health savings account usage jumped 33% in the first half, Bank of America found. But just 23% of Millennials have one, versus 39% of Gen X and 38% of Boomers.

Still, the trends are encouraging: employers are making saving easier and workers are signing up. That alone won’t solve the nation’s retirement savings crisis. Individuals need to sock away 10% to 15% of every dime they make. But 401(k)s, which typically offer employer matching contributions, can help. So any movement this direction is welcome news.

Related:

How can I make it easier to save?

How do I make money investing?

Why is a 401(k) such a good deal?

MONEY Second Career

3 Secrets to Launching a Successful Second Act Career

Adele Douglass created the first U.S. humane certification program for farm animals raised for food Robert Merhaut

Adele Douglass built a non-profit that protects millions of farm animals and gives farmers a new marketing niche.

After a three-decade career in Washington devoted to animal welfare issues, Adele Douglass thought she knew a lot about how bad their mistreatment could get. Still, she was shocked when she began to look closely at the conditions of farm animals in the U.S.

She discovered chickens being raised in cages so overcrowded they couldn’t raise their wings, pigs unable to turn around in tightly packed pens, and animals left unsheltered against outdoor elements.

Douglass decided the best way to improve the conditions of livestock was to push for change herself. So in 2003, at age 57, she quit her job as a non-profit executive for an animal rights association and launched her own organization, Humane Farm Animal Care. “The more I knew, the more appalled I got, and the more I wanted to do something myself,” says Douglass, now 67. “Legislation was not going to solve the problem. It took 100 years for the Humane Slaughter Act to be passed.”

Douglass figured out a way to engage farmers and consumers on the issue—by addressing their growing concerns over eating meat from animals being fed antibiotics. She developed Certified Humane, which is the first certification in the U.S. that guarantees farm animals are treated humanely from birth to slaughter. To get this certification, farmers must allow animals to engage in natural behaviors, provide appropriate space for roaming, and food free of antibiotics or hormones. Farmers who are Certified Humane can market to natural food shoppers and get higher prices for their products, Douglass says.

Humanely raised food appeals to American families of all income levels. “Young mothers want to feed their families good food. Poor people don’t want to feed their families junk” says Douglass.” Following humane practices also improves the environment, since fewer animals raised on more space creates less pollution.

To fund the organization, Douglass cashed in her $80,000 401(k) account. Her daughter, who had encouraged her to make the move, gave her $10,000 and worked at the organization during its first few years. Douglass also received grants from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and The Humane Society. In the first year of operation in 2004, 143,000 animals were raised under the organization’s standards.

Today 87 million animals are in the program, and the non-profit has three full-time employees and two part-timers. Fees for certification and annual inspections cover about 30% of the organization’s costs—the rest comes from donations and grants.

Douglass shares this advice for others hoping to launch a second act career:

Make a plan before you exit. Douglass spent years researching the issue before quitting her job. She was able to get off the ground in just one year because she modeled the certification program after an existing similar program in the U.K. called Freedom Food.

Leverage your contacts. Douglass has a deep list of connections, from animal scientists and USDA officials to fundraisers and academics, as well as contacts in the animal rights movement and veterinary profession. “I had the contacts, knowledge and experience which gave me confidence I could do this on my own,” says Douglass.

Cut personal expenses. Though Douglass’ salary isn’t much less than what she earned in her previous career, her compensation is a lot more volatile. She has willingly taken pay cuts in recent years. Douglass says she hasn’t had to change her lifestyle much. But she reduced her biggest expense—her home—by downsizing to a smaller place, which made it easier to adjust.

At 67, Douglass doesn’t envision retiring. Now living alone, with three adult children and five grandchildren, she says her family is one of her greatest joys. But her work remains an enormously satisfying part of her life too. “Sure, there are days when I am tired and frustrated. But I am doing something that benefits people, animals and the environment. I feel really good about that,” says Douglass.

Adele Douglass is a 2007 winner of The Purpose Prize, a program operated by Encore.org, a non-profit organization that recognizes social entrepreneurs over 60 who are launching second acts for the greater good.

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The 9-to-5 Start-up: How to Launch a Business Without Quitting Your Day Job

How This Former Techie Gave Her Career a Jolt

MONEY retirement planning

22% of Workers Would Rather Die Early Than Run Out of Money

transparent piggy bank with one silver coin inside
Dimitri Vervitsiotis—Getty Images

Yet many of the same folks are hardly saving anything for retirement, study finds.

A large slice of middle-class Americans have all but given up on the retirement they may once have aspired to, new research shows—and their despair is both heartbreaking and frustrating. Most say saving for retirement is more difficult than they had expected and yet few are making the necessary adjustments.

Some 22% of workers say they would rather die early than run out of money, according to the Wells Fargo Middle Class Retirement survey. Yet 61% say they are not sacrificing a lot to save for their later years. Nearly three quarters acknowledge they should have started saving sooner.

The survey, released during National Retirement Savings Week, looks at the retirement planning of Americans with household incomes between $25,000 and $100,000, who held investable assets of less than $100,000. One third are contributing nothing—zero—to a 401(k) plan or an IRA, and half say they have no confidence that they will have enough to retire. Middle-class Americans have a median retirement balance of just $20,000 and say they expect to need $250,000 in retirement.

Still, Americans who have an employer-sponsored retirement plan, especially a 401(k), are doing much better than those without one. Those between the ages of 25 to 29 with access to a 401(k) have put away a median of $10,000, compared with no savings at all for those without access to a plan. Those ages 30 to 39 with a 401(k) plan have saved a median of $35,000, versus less than $1,000 for those without. And for those ages 40 to 49 with 401(k)s, the median is $50,000, while those with no plan have just $10,000.

Clearly, despite its many drawbacks, the venerable 401(k) remains our de facto national savings plan, and the best shot that the middle-class has at achieving retirement security. But only half of private-sector workers have access to a 401(k) or other employer-sponsored retirement plan, according to the Employee Benefit Research Institute. Those without access would benefit from a direct-deposit Roth or traditional IRA or some other tax-favored account, but data show that most Americans fail to make new contributions to IRAs, with most of those assets coming from 401(k) rollovers. One exception: a growing number of Millennials are making Roth IRA contributions.

Most people do understand the need to save for retirement, but they don’t view it as an urgent goal requiring spending cutbacks, the survey found. Still, many clearly have room in their budget to boost their savings rates. Asked where they would cut spending if they decided to get serious about saving, 56% said they would give up indulgences like the spa and jewelry; 55% said they’d cut restaurant meals; and 51% even said they would give up a major purchase like a car or a home renovation. But only 38% said they would forgo a vacation. We all need a little R&R, for sure. But a few weeks of fun now in exchange for years of retirement security is a good trade.

Of course, the larger problem is that a sizeable percentage of middle-class Americans are struggling financially and simply don’t enough money to stash away for long-term goals like retirement. As economic data show, many workers haven’t had a real salary increase for 15 years, while the cost of essentials, such as health care and college tuition, continues to soar.

Given these economic headwinds, it’s important to do as much as you can, when you can, to build your retirement nest egg. If you have a 401(k), be sure to contribute at least enough to get the full company match. And if you lack a company retirement plan, opt for an IRA—the maximum contribution is $5,500 a year ($6,500 if you are 50 or older). Yes, freeing up money to put away for retirement is tough, but it will be a bit easier if you can get tax break on your savings.

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MONEY Investing

3 Steps Retirement Investors Must Take Now To Survive This Market

boats trying to ride out rough waves in ocean
Valentin Russanov—Getty Images/Vetta

No one knows if the recent stock market turmoil is over or just beginning. Either way, it's time to re-think your investing strategy.

Is the recent volatility a prelude to worse to come? Or just another scary bump in a near six-year bull market that still has legs? Neither I nor anyone else knows the answer. But I can tell you this: It would be foolish not to take the recent turmoil as an opportunity to re-evaluate your retirement investing strategy.

Stocks have given investors a wild ride lately: one-day swings in value up or down of 1% to 2% (or more) have become frighteningly common. And with both valuations and concerns about slowing global growth running high, we could easily be in for more of the same, if not worse. Or not.

And that’s the point. Since we just don’t know, the best you can do is take a step back, re-evaluate your investing goals and risk and make whatever changes, if any, you must to make sure you’d be comfortable with your portfolio whether the market nosedives from here, or recovers and moves to even higher ground. What follows are three steps that will help you make that assessment.

1. Assess your risk tolerance: If you’ve never completed a risk tolerance questionnaire to gauge your true appetite for risk, don’t put it off any longer. Do it now. If you don’t want to go through the process of completing a questionnaire, then at the very least tote up the value of your stock and bond holdings and estimate what size loss you might be facing if we see another downdraft like the 57% drop from October, 2007 to March, 2009. Should the market take a turn for the worse, you don’t to find that the mix of stocks vs. bonds in your portfolio is out of synch with the drop in the value of your portfolio that you can actually tolerate.

In fact, even if you have assessed your risk tolerance in the past, I recommend you do it again now. Why? Stocks have had a terrific run since it bottomed out during the financial crisis. Even after recent losses, the Standard & Poor’s 500 index was still up some 175% since March, 2009. It’s natural during such extended booms to become complacent. The fear and anxiety we felt during the last big market meltdown fades with time and we fall prey to overconfidence in two ways. First, we may begin to overestimate our real appetite for risk. Second, we begin to underestimate the actual risk we face in the market. Doing either of those alone isn’t good. The combination of both can wreak major havoc with your finances.

2. Bring your portfolio in line with that risk assessment: Once you have a sense of what size loss you can handle without selling in a panic, you can then start making any adjustments, if necessary, to make sure your mix of stocks and bonds reflects the level of loss you can comfortably absorb. For example, if you feel that you would begin to freak out if you had to watch your portfolio decline any more than 20% but five-plus years of stock gains have bulked up the equity portion of your portfolio so that it represents 90% of your holdings while bonds have dwindled to just 10%, then Houston, you have a problem. A 90-10 mix in 2008 would have left you staring at a 33% loss. And that doesn’t count the decline that occurred at the end of 2007 and in the early months of 2009.

If you find that for whatever reason your portfolio is much more aggressive than you are, you need to scale it back—that is, sell off some of your stock holdings and reinvest the proceeds in bonds and/or cash. This sort of adjustment is especially important if you’re nearing retirement or have already retired, as a severe setback can seriously disrupt your retirement plans.

I’m sure you can come up with dozens of reasons to put off doing this. You’ll wait for the market to come back and then rebalance your portfolio. (News flash: The market doesn’t know—or care—that you’re waiting for it rebound.) Or you don’t want to sell because you’ll realize taxable gains. (Oh, you’ll feel better selling later for a smaller gain or even a loss. Besides, to the extent you can shift assets in 401(k)s, IRAs and other tax-advantaged retirement accounts, taxes aren’t an issue.)

Or maybe you’re one of those people who has a “feel” for the market, so you’ll wait until you sense the right vibe before making any adjustments. Fine. But at least check to see how well your ESP worked back in early 2000 when the dot-com era imploded and in late 2007 when stocks went into their prolonged tailspin. Unless your timing was spot on (and you’re willing to risk that you’ll be as lucky again), I suggest you revamp your portfolio so you’ll be able to live its performance in the event of a severe downturn.

3. Take a Xanax: I’m speaking figuratively here. Once you’ve gauged your risk tolerance and assured that your portfolio’s composition is aligned with it, you’ve done pretty much all you can do from an investing standpoint. So try to relax. By all means you can follow the market’s progress (or lack of it). But try not to obsess about the market’s dips and dives (although much of the financial press will do its best to try to get you to do just that).

What you definitely do not want to do, is react emotionally to the latest news (be it good or bad) and undo the changes you made during your re-evaluation. That would be counterproductive and, far from following a well-thought-out strategy, you would be winging it. Which is never a good idea, and a particularly bad one during tumultuous markets. If watching market news on cable TV or reading about the financial markets online makes you so nervous that you feel the need to do something, then step…away…from…the…screen.

If all else fails, comfort yourself with these two thoughts: Market downturns are a natural part of the investing cycle—always have been, always will be. And investment moves driven by emotion and made in haste rarely work out for the best.

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MONEY Ask the Expert

Here’s How Social Security Will Cut Your Benefits If You Retire Early

man holding calculator in front of his head
Oppenheim Bernhard—Getty Images

Whether you retire early or later, it's important to understand how Social Security calculates your benefits.

Q: I am 60 and planning on withdrawing Social Security when 62. Due to a medical condition, I am not making $16.00 an hour anymore but only making $9.00. Do you know how income level is calculated on early retirement? Thank you.

A. Social Security retirement benefits normally may be taken as early as age 62, but your income will be substantially higher if you can afford to wait. If you are entitled to, say, a $1,500 monthly benefit at age 66, you might get only $1,125 if you began benefits at age 62. Defer claiming until age 70, when benefits reach their maximum levels, and you might receive $1,980 a month.

Still, most older Americans are like you—they can’t afford to wait. Some 43% of women and 38% of men claimed benefits in 2012 at the age of 62, according to a Social Security report. Another 49% of women and 53% of men took benefits between ages 63 and 66. Just 3% of women and 4% of men took benefits at ages 67 and later, when payouts are highest.

Why are people taking Social Security early? The report didn’t ask people why they claimed benefits. But academic research suggests that the reasons are pretty much what you might expect—retirees need the money, and they also worry about leaving benefits on the table if they defer them. There is also strong evidence that most Americans are not fully aware of the advantage of delaying benefits. A study last June sponsored by Nationwide found that 40% of early claimants later regretted their decisions.

So before you quit working, it’s important to understand Social Security’s benefits formula. To calculate your payout, Social Security counts up to 35 of your highest earning years. It only includes what are called covered wages—salaries in jobs subject to Social Security payroll taxes. Generally, you must have covered earnings in at least 40 calendar quarters at any time during your working life to qualify for retirement benefits.

The agency adjusts each year of your covered earnings to reflect subsequent wage inflation. Without that adjustment, workers who earned most of their pay earlier in their careers would be shortchanged compared with those who earned more later, when wage inflation has caused salary levels to rise.

Once the agency adjusts all of your earnings, it adds up your 35 highest-paid years, then uses the monthly average of these earnings (after indexing for inflation) to determine your benefits. If you don’t have 35 years of covered earnings, Social Security will use a “zero” for any missing year, and this will drag down your benefits. On the flip side, if you keep working after you claim, the agency will automatically increase your benefits if you earn an annual salary high enough to qualify as one of your top 35 years.

The figures below show how Social Security calculated average retirement benefits as of the end of 2012 for four categories of worker pay: minimum wage, 75% of the average wage, average wage, and 150% of the average wage. (The agency pulls average wages each year from W-2 tax forms and uses this information in the indexing process that helps determine benefits.)

  • Worker at minimum wage: The monthly benefit at 62 is $686 and, at age 66 is $915.50. The maximum monthly family benefits based on this worker’s earnings record (including spousal and other auxiliary benefits) is $1,396.50.
  • Worker at 75% of average wage: The monthly benefit at 62 is $975 and, at age 66 is $1,300.40. The maximum monthly family benefits based on this worker’s earnings record (including spousal and other auxiliary benefits) is $2,381.20.
  • Worker at average wage: The monthly benefit at 62 is $1,187 and, at age 66 is $1,583.20. The maximum monthly family benefits based on this worker’s earnings record (including spousal and other auxiliary benefits) is $2,927.40.
  • Worker at 150% of average wage: The monthly benefit at 62 is $1,535 and, at age 66 is $2,047. The maximum monthly family benefits based on this worker’s earnings record (including spousal and other auxiliary benefits) is $3.582.80.

In short, claiming at age 62 means you’ll receive lower benefits compared with waiting till full retirement age. But given a lifetime earnings history and Social Security’s wage indexing, receiving a lower wage for your last few working years will not make a big difference to your retirement income.

Philip Moeller is an expert on retirement, aging, and health. His book, “Get What’s Yours: The Secrets to Maxing Out Your Social Security,” will be published early next year by Simon & Schuster. Reach him at moeller.philip@gmail.com or @PhilMoeller on Twitter.

Related:

How does Social Security work?

When can I start collecting Social Security benefits?

Why should I wait past age 62 to start collecting benefits?

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