The Unretired

Rocking chairs and gold watches are the stuff of yesterday’s retirees. Today, the rules are different.

In the mind of a working man or woman, the word retirement starts a spiral of fantasies: long days on the green at Ko ‘Olina, traveling across Europe, rediscovering neglected hobbies. Though we may all dream up ways to indulge ourselves during our golden retirement years, many people at that age are finding a different reality. In fact—they’re still working. Some can’t afford to retire and some just aren’t ready to call it a day. We spoke with one of each to see what it’s like being unretired.

Working Hard for the Money

About eight out of 10 Baby Boomers plan to work during traditional retirement years, reports the AARP. Teacher Jere Pennell, 73, would like to retire, but has had to keep working. photo: Robbyn Peck

Like many retirees, Jere Pennell retired too early, but not for lack of planning. “I was paying into my pension, paying into Social Security and setting money aside in my IRA. I hoped all three would take care of it,” says Pennell, a career school teacher. “But usually whatever you think is enough, isn’t.”

Over the past 12 years Pennell has retired three times, only to find circumstances pushing him back into the classroom. Since his first retirement, a series of medical issues hit him, piling on medical costs he hadn’t factored into his financial plan. “At 65 I was taking one multivitamin a day. Here I am now, eight years later, and I take 32 pills per day.”

“Even if you plan to the best of your knowledge,” says Barbara Kim Stanton, state director of the American AARP, “health care costs are rising exponentially.” Health care is the wild card, she says. “All it takes is one dire situation to knock you off your feet and put you in a situation where retirement and your golden years change overnight.”

After 30 years of teaching EVERYTHING from AP math and science to English and shop class, Pennell retired for the first time two years before leaving Washington State for Japan. With the cost of moving mounting, Pennell found income by teaching at the American School in Japan and working for Interact, a company training U.S.-bound businessmen in English language and pronunciation.

After four years teaching in Japan, Pennell moved to Kona, his favorite vacation spot, for what he thought would be his last retirement. Though Pennell acclimated socially to his new home, volunteering full time with the AARP and meeting his wife of two years, he found himself struggling financially. “When I first moved to Hawai‘i, there were too many expenses while I was getting used to living here. I had to augment my income,” he says. Pennell returned to the classroom as a substitute teacher at Kona Waena High School.

“I figured if my wants were smaller, I could survive on retirement pay and Social Security,” Pennell says. By adding cooking to his list of hobbies, entertaining friends at home instead of eating out and postponing trips, Pennell’s one-year teaching stint paid for his third retirement.

Even with this scaled-down lifestyle, the rising cost of health care and the need for a new hearing aid pushed Pennell back into the work force this past fall. Pennell serves as a floating, on-call substitute, teaching various subjects at Kealakehe School.

“I’m going to work as many days as I can,” says Pennell, “but there’s going to be a point where I don’t have the energy to teach.”

The Reluctant Retiree

Chester Dods’ 4 a.m. alarm is not rousing him for a dawn-patrol surf session. It’s not waking him for an early tee time. He’s not rushing to grab his poles to see what’s biting before the sun comes up. Instead, the ‘Ewa Beach resident squeezes in a quick workout and shower before his 5:30 a.m. bus takes him into the heart of downtown Honolulu. He’s been coming through the doors of the Bank of Hawai‘i tower for 20 years, working in the investigation department, delving into frauds such as counterfeiting, ID theft and forgery, all, technically, as a retiree.

At 71, Dods is on his second career after 25 years of service with the Honolulu Police Department. He retired at 50 as a lieutenant of the criminal investigation division, where he supervised the forgery and white-collar crime units. “Before I decided to retire, I crunched the numbers,” he says. “It looked better if I retired from the state and looked for employment in the private business sector.” Collecting retirement pay on top of a salary from BOH for 20 years has moved Dods closer to real retirement.

A shortage of workers may prompt more companies to hire seniors, such as Chester Dods, 71. Dods works for the Bank of Hawai‘i and is shown with his granddaughter, Miki. photo: Cory Lum

“My financial adviser has been guiding me toward this end for several years. If I had to retire tomorrow, it’s do-able,” he says. This past year Dods took a huge step by selling his home of 43 years in Hawai‘i Kai and relocating to ‘Ewa Beach. As a mortgage-free man with friendly neighbors and shopping nearby, Dods and his wife are happy with their new, downsized lifestyle.

Although Dods can afford to retire, he’s found another reason to keep working: his granddaughter, Miki, who now lives with him part-time. Recently Dods began to pay for her private-school education at Island Pacific Academy. Although this commitment to his granddaughter takes him further from retirement, “Our goal is to get her the best education we can,” he says. “Whatever it takes, we’ll do.”

According to Stanton, Dods’ situation is common, especially in Hawai‘i. “Older workers are looking at the family unit, not just themselves and their partner,” she says. “They’re looking at how to make sure there’s enough money for education. They’re looking at the financial security of their parents, their children and their grandchildren.”

But the “oldest man at the bank,” as his colleagues tease, doesn’t see retirement in the near future. “I love to work. It’s a good feeling, getting up early, going through the daily assignments,” he says. “My schedule at work in a few words is ‘go, go, go,’” Dods says. “That’s the nature of the game.” He works closely with investigators to give fraud presentations to BOH branches and departments. In addition, his department investigates just under 200 fraud cases each month.

Dods says his busy schedule keeps him going. In addition to the work week, Dods helps at his granddaughter’s school and with the Elks Lodge over the weekend. “Whenever there’s a function, I’m the resident parking lot attendant,” he says.

As someone who’s never been very interested in travel and has never set foot on a golf course, retirement has little appeal to Dods. “I know sooner or later, I’ll have to retire. If my health gives out or I feel nonproductive, then I’ll know it’s time for me to go. But I keep my finger in a lot of things so I don’t get stale,” he says. “And as it is now, I’m not ready to retire.”

The Long View

Even as the first of the baby boomers approach retirement age in 2008, life expectancy is on the rise—and you can bet retirement age will follow suit. “If you make it to age 65, you can expect to live an additional 18 years,” says Stanton. Additionally, people in Hawai‘i live the longest of anyone in the United States by about four years, she says. After a lifetime of work, interacting with coworkers and clients on a daily basis, can you keep yourself occupied without a daily job? For others the question becomes: Do you have enough resources to live on for another 18 years?

Whether it be want or need, Stanton recommends Hawai‘i residents plan to work longer than anticipated. “Most people are optimistic, they think they have enough money for their retirement, but it’s really sad when they find that they underestimated what it would take to maintain their lifestyle until the end of life. This is one area where it actually helps to be a pessimist,” she says. “I think it will surprise them how long they live.”

Funding Retirement

20s and early 30s: Time Is on Your Side

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Now that you’re out of college and in the work force, the time has come, believe it or not, to begin saving for retirement. Whether it’s brewing your own coffee in the morning or steering clear of the mall, saving a little now will help you a lot in the future. The AARP recommends that workers in this age bracket put away 10 percent of their annual income into a 401K plan. And be aggressive with your investments; at a young age, you can afford to take risks in your stock portfolio. In addition, open a tax-deductible Individual Retirement Account (IRA). With compound interest working for you, saving for five years in your 20s will create a larger nest egg than if you save for 30 years beginning in your 30s.

30s and 40s: Keep Building

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At this stage in life, you’re likely throwing a mortgage, kids and school tuition into the mix and suddenly, saving for retirement hits the back burner. Don’t let this happen, recommends Barbara Kim Stanton, state director of the AARP. “You can take out a number of loans for most situations, but you can’t take one out for retirement. That is why we strongly encourage people to continue to save for retirement.” Keep feeding your 401K and IRA accounts.

50s and 60s: The Final Push

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Retirement is a stone’s throw away, so this is the time to boost your retirement savings. Aim to put 20 percent of your income into your 401K. You have fewer years to recoup any losses, so plan to lower your investment risk. Shift investments into less volatile accounts such as bonds.

60s and beyond: The Sweet Life

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You’re here. Traveling around the world, working in the garden, taking some much-needed “me time.” As you relax and unwind, be careful not to overspend. The AARP recommends withdrawing just 3 percent to 6 percent from your nest egg each year. And remember, you still have a good 20 years ahead of you, so don’t abandon your stocks, though you’ll want to invest conservatively.