Sage advice for burgeoning boomers

Published May 15, 2007

The new kids on the retirement block are arriving amid much fanfare and generous helpings of folderol.

From the standpoint of 87 years on this minor planet, it appears to me nothing is new about these so-called "baby boomers" except their sheer numbers. That, however, has been enough to set off a tidal wave of predictions of rough waters ahead for government entitlements and sky-is-falling forecasts of the boomers' sociological impact.

Meanwhile, we octogenarians and our elders, the nonagenarians and centenarians, are feeling a bit ignored these days as the boomers take the spotlight. We are, however, selfish enough to relish the fact that, according to the experts, the boomers may wreak havoc in the system because of their numbers and therefore will never have retirements as "comfortable" as ours.

The economists and the bean counters are saying our generation is, in general, enjoying the most secure retirement in U.S. history, and the retirement slope appears to be all downhill from here.

Still, the media tend to glamorize the now-turning 60-ish boomers and all the great things they are going to do. One gets the impression the new arrivals are about to remake the retirement scene.

As a member of the "older" generation, I have to caution all the younger folks to slow down the hype and remember that the boomers are just like the rest of us, after all. When they retire, they will do everything from playing golf to exploring Antarctica. I know, because I did the latter while quite a few of our neighbors did the former.

Trips to the Antarctic are rather expensive, but I figure that, over the years, the neighbors spent even more in pursuit of a little white ball.

I went south to the Great White Continent at 73 and thought at the time that I might be the oldest guy in the group, but I wasn't. I made friends with a 78-year-old Californian who also was shooting a video of the trip. As it turned out, I swapped him some of the articles I wrote about it for a copy of his video, which turned out to be well done and quite extensive.

If my generation is feeling generous and cooperative, they probably will give the boomers they meet a few tips and advice on the strategies of retirement.

We could, for example, teach them about those kind-hearted folks who send them luncheon invitations once or twice a week that include not only lunch (sometimes, even dinner), but advice on how to invest their nest egg - in whatever the meal-giver is peddling, of course.

Usually, you're better off to eat at home and Google all you ever wanted to know about protecting your nest egg and learning about investments.

Dining out, of course, will require boomers to learn the strategies taught in Early-Birding 101. It may be more complex than they think, since not all early-bird dining is created equal.

Then, there's the matter of coupons, from two-for-ones to percentage-off types and how to use them to your best advantage. There are little tricks restaurateurs play with these, which it doesn't hurt to know about.

Watch out for "free vacations" also, as they often turn out to be anything but. Free is a word with many gradations and complexities and should always be a warning signal for the unwary.

The boomers, of course, because of their numbers, will do all the things we've already done, but they will do them on a bigger scale. They will spoil more grandchildren and they will travel more. Some of them will become serious travelers while others, often forced aboard cruise ships by the wishes of a spouse, will come back from voyages and forget the name of the ship they were on.

Boomers, like the rest of us, will learn that time appears to speed up as they slow down. This is not true under the laws of physics, but the view from Codgerland often seems that way.

If I were "young" and a boomer just easing into the retirement world, my chief concern would be: Will we or will we not bankrupt our federal entitlements? Only time and the federal budget will tell.

Meanwhile, see that your nest egg gets your special attention.

Retired journalist James Pettican lives in Palm Harbor. Guest columnists write their own views on subjects they choose, which do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper.