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What We Actually Look Forward to When We Retire

October 7th, 2010  |  by  |  Published in Uncategorized  |  2 Comments

Matt’s post yesterday laid out a nice prospect for old age, but it did get me thinking: Do you actually think you can, or will, retire? I once did, though it seemed like a stretch: I’d need a six-figure sum, and if I lived small, and compound interest did its thing, I could probably pull that off.

But adulthood brings expenses, and expensive-but-worth-it life choices. We own an apartment that carries a high mortgage and a big monthly maintenance charge. That means, though we do not live month-to-month, the amount we put away for our old age is nowhere near what it might otherwise be. Everyone in publishing knows that salary freezes and layoffs are the norm these days, and presumably that shakeout will eventually end, it’s not done by a long shot. And there will be a point, twenty years from now, when the math goes all kerflooey: our mortgage will not yet be paid off, our kid will be in college, and we will be in our mid-sixties, considering how much longer we want to (or even can) work.

The older writers and editors I know sort of ease into retirement: They drop back to working three days a week, or shift from the demands of daily deadlines to long-term stuff like books, which sounds like a pleasant late-career turn. But can I even count on that business being around in 25 years? Take it from me, because I am working on an actual book for an actual publisher: The research time alone turns your typical advance into minimum-wage work, and my advance was considerably less than typical. I sense that, for all but a lucky and hypertalented few, authorship is a tidy path to eating cat food out of a tin. (As is Dadwagon, by the way, except that it’d be dry pet food, not the fancy canned stuff.)

What I am reduced to counting on, or praying for, is some mysterious economic boom to come. We got one, out of the blue, in the Clinton years, when the Internet bubble quintupled everyone’s 401(k) accounts, and if any of you were smart enough to ride that train, then get off just as it went over the cliff, you did some serious earning. (I didn’t, not really.) It’s a hell of a thing to bet on another one of those run-ups happening between now and 2035, but you have to figure that the current doldrums are not forever, that they’ll go for two more years or four or eight, and then we’ll be in an upswing. It doesn’t have to be world-changing, like the Web-era boom; it just has to inject enough cash into the publishing business to keep me from getting laid off, and presumably anything that does that will generally lift the economy at large. When that day comes, we ride it as long as we dare, and then whatever we’ve saved goes into the least risky accounts imaginable. And we hope to God that it’s enough. (I suspect it won’t be.)

Also under consideration: A long-lost relative, some Greek third cousin I’ve never heard of, who leaves me $10 million. That would work, too.


  1. Matt says:

    October 7th, 2010at 2:11 pm(#)

    It’s clear to me, Chris, that when you retire you’ll become one of those guys standing outside B&H or the Met, taking old-timey photos of tourists and passersby with an antique Polaroid. Not that that’s a bad thing! It’ll certainly beat my future, frugal-traveling from Dumpster to Dumpster.


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