Roll With the Changes

The years leading up to retirement are full of challenges, but some smart planning and financial discipline can smooth the way for baby boomers

Remember REO Speedwagon, one of the bands that formed the holy trinity of arena rock (Journey and Styx being the other two)? REO elevated the power ballad to unparalleled heights during its Carter Administration heyday. One of the group's best-known songs is a hard-driving number exhorting the listener to Roll with the Changes. (I think I had it on a long-lost 8-track cartridge.)

A chance hearing of that tune on the radio inspired the theme of our latest Investing Survival Guide . After all, many of the folks who were hoisting their disposable lighters in tribute to the hirsute Midwestern rockers as they stormed their way across the U.S. in the 1970s and 1980s are now facing some big changes themselves: namely, retirement, and what to do about the wealth they've amassed.

In previous editions of our Survival Guide, we've addressed the concerns of those who are just setting out on their financial journey (the 25 to 35 age group); those who are starting to build their bank accounts and their careers (35 to 45); and those who have put together a solid foundation but are juggling a bewildering array of financial worries (45 to 55). In a sense, we've been building up to our last featured age group, the 55 to 65 set.

Yes, we're talking about you, baby boomers. The first wave of boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) will become eligible for Social Security early retirement benefits in 2008, according to a GAO study.

What can the boomers expect as they join the ranks of the retired? According to a National Center for Health Statistics study cited by Standard & Poor's, as of 2007, the average American can look forward to about 77 years of life. By 2040, among individuals who reach age 65, average life expectancy is projected to rise from 81 to 85 for men and from 84 to 88 for women, according to the NCHS.

This is when you can finally start to harvest the fruits of your labors. But like the other life stages we've chronicled, it has its share of risks—and opportunities. In this special report, we cover some of the key issues facing the first wave of boomers: retirement, real estate, family finances, and relocation, to name a few.

I won't go into detail about the various stories we've prepared (that's what index pages are for), but I'd like to share a few key themes contained within:

Preparation is Everything

Of course, retirement is Topic A for this group. At the cusp of retirement, it's a good time to evaluate your situation. How much money do you have? Will it be enough for your life span? Just how long a life should you plan for anyway? Spending some time doing your homework—or consulting with a financial professional—on these matters will pay off in the long run.

Keep Talking

Communication among family members about financial goals and desires is essential. That's especially important if you plan to relocate during your retirement years, or if you have financial decisions that involve your adult children. Try to set aside a regular family gathering to talk things over. (Thanksgiving might be a good time, but maybe not at the dinner table.)

Get Ready to Make Adjustments

This is where the Roll With the Changes refrain should get stuck in your head. Amid a riskier real estate market, consider a less grandiose abode if you're relocating. If financial markets remain volatile, check with a professional to see if you should adjust your allocations.

Wait For the Payoff

If you can stick it out financially, consider deferring receiving Social Security past age 62, as the dollar amount of monthly benefits can increase dramatically if the payments start at a later age, at 65 or 67.

The members of REO Speedwagon, who are squarely in the 55 to 65 age group, are still barnstorming state fairs and casinos, playing to graying and balding diehards who like to boogie. They probably get a charge out of seeing their fans, who now raise glowing cell phones while demanding to hear REO's best known hit, Keep on Loving You.

What will you do for your encore? With some savvy planning and sound financial discipline, the music will play on well into your golden years.

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