With the population of retiring baby boomers growing, the Forward reached out to someone in the belly of the beast: a financial manager in Florida. After all, the image of Jews retiring to Florida is so ubiquitous that it’s been fodder for more books, TV shows and movie scenes than one can immediately recollect, from Seinfeld to Dr. Seuss to “Jane Austen in Boca.”
Margery Schiller, a personal finance manager at the Sarasota accounting firm Goar, Endriss & Walker, works with retirees of all backgrounds — so much that she considers 65-year-olds “young and healthy.” She has been in the financial management business for three decades in five states (Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire, Minnesota and Florida), and has witnessed the shifting economic landscape. Schiller’s approach is as much about life planning as finances; she says care must be taken when creating a nest egg and when considering where and how to spend it.
SARAH SELTZER: Who are your clients?
MARGERY SCHILLER: In Florida, the majority of our clients are either already retired or close to retirement. It is a unique opportunity when I get a 30-year-old; when 65-year-olds walk in we consider them middle aged. We also see people who’ve relocated to Florida and want a local plan.
You recommend planning for more than the financial side of retirement. Why?
It’s important to spend time in the area in which you want to live. Understand the job and volunteer landscape. You also need to review the cost of all the important things in your lifestyle. How many times a year do you want to see the grandchildren? It can look like [life is] less expensive somewhere else, but if you’re on a plane monthly the overall cost may not be lower. We have seen people who retired to Florida and missed friends and family so much that they went back. Others are able to relocate to where a whole group of friends are within a few miles. It can make a difference. Then there are other details like kosher food — it’s not available everywhere! My nephew is a rabbi in Manhattan; I never hear him complain about not being able to keep kosher there, but if he leaves the area it becomes an issue.
What are you surprised that people don’t know when they come in to see you?
The big question mark is “‘How much can I afford to spend?” — particularly after the 2008 calamities in the market, which changed the accumulated wealth for many and shifted views of the investment marketplace. Some who were comfortable with a moderate risk portfolio got very frightened. If they failed to return to the market, they may be behind. Interest rates are historically low, and there’s no real clear vision of when they’re going to go up. It’s added considerably to the stress of those that retired young, trusting that their portfolio would continue to grow and provide that extra income.
What other hurdles have emerged since 2008?
There are unique challenges for older retirees living longer than they expected. I see it all the time — a five-year CD matures that was paying 5% and now they can’t even get 2%. Then, those who are lucky enough to legitimately spend their savings, not just their interest, are reluctant because they want to keep it as a legacy for the next generation. They face difficult choices.
What about for younger retirees? What has changed in our modern economy?
One of the other challenges for boomers and younger retirees is that fewer people have lifelong pensions. They can’t just plan to live on a stream of income. In the 1970s and 1980s, when inflation was high, people with pensions were falling behind in purchasing power — while employers said they couldn’t afford cost-of-living adjustments. Back then, that opportunity for a lump sum instead of a pension was welcome. But the reverse of it is you can outlive it.
What is your best advice for baby boomers, even those who are younger?
If people are borderline on affording retirement, I would encourage them to work longer, even if it’s part-time, and build a bigger cushion. It shortens the period you need to be financially independent and allows assets to grow. Clients say, “If my expiration date was stamped on my wrist, I could plan.” Nowadays people are living so long, retirement could be a 30-year period!
What aspects of retirement planning go beyond finances?
People are so focused on planning financially that they forget to occupy themselves creatively. Everyone has time, energy and talent. These are resources beyond money. We frequently see people whose finances are no problem, but they’re still having adjustment issues. Finding your niche is the same if you’re looking for Jewish charities and volunteers as if you’re looking for something secular.
This interview has been edited for clarity and style.
Sarah Marian Seltzer is a writer in New York and a contributor to the Forward’s The Sisterhood blog. Find her at www.sarahmseltzer.com.