It’s Never Too Late To Start Saving For Retirement

If you’re worried about starting your retirement savings too late in life, this article is for you.  I just got off the phone with an amazing 82-year old woman, who had nothing saved for retirement at Age 49.   She told me a real life success story, and it’s a strong encouragement for those who may be getting a late start on saving for retirement.  With that….here we go.


Last week was an amazing week.

For the first time ever, a reader contacted me to buy me lunch.  I had never met Stan, but he was going to be near my office, and asked if we could get together.  Of course I said yes, and soon we were meeting for the first time:

Even old guys can take selfies!       

We had a wonderful time chatting about personal finance, retirement, children and parents.  I really appreciate Stan reaching out, and hosting me for a very enjoyable meal.  This guy’s really interesting, with a fascinating life story (he even flies planes over forest fires to do retardant dumps, as a hobby!).

Take time to buy someone lunch, you never know where it may lead. Click To Tweet

Then It Got Even Better

Over the course of our lunch, Stan joked that he was “giving me assignments”, as ideas flowed between us for various topics I could write about.

But One Idea Stuck More Than The Rest…


“It’s Never Too Late To Start Saving For Retirement”


As Stan and I talked, I mentioned that some readers have expressed discouragement to me that they didn’t start saving for retirement at an earlier age.

“I’ll Never Be Able To Retire”,  is a comment I’ve heard numerous times over the past few years.

Stan replied with the following, and this blog post was born:

It's Never Too Late To Start - You Need To Hear My Parent's Story! Click To Tweet

Stan told the story of being raised “dirt poor” in West Texas, with his parents struggling to cover the bills and unable to save into their 50’s.

But I’m Getting Ahead Of Myself

Stan told the story, but I’m not going to share it (yet).

Why?

Because this story gets even better.  After telling me the story, Stan perked up and said:

“You HAVE To Talk To My Mom!”

And so it happened, that at 8:00 pm that evening, I was talking to his amazing mom.

Betty is a charming, energetic and intelligent woman, and we had a wonderful 30 minute chat.

I can still hear her 82 year old, sweet West Texas drawl, as she told me the story:

Betty & Gordon hadn't saved any money by Age 49. How did they manage to retire? Click To Tweet
Betty (82) and Gordon (89)

The Story Of Betty & Gordon

Gordon first saw Betty in a local newspaper he received via mail while serving in Korea in the 1952.  She had been chosen to go to a prestigious “Girl’s State” convention in Albequerque, and the paper had written an article about her selection.

He wrote her a letter.

She wrote back.

He returned from Korea, and they first met in September, 1952.  The courting stories are hilarious, and could fill an entire blog post. (She really is a charming woman, and I loved the sound of her laugh as she told me those stories).  

They were married on August 9, 1953, and have been happily married for 63 years!

Betty & Gordon, with Stan (who would end up buying me lunch ~50 years later).

The Keys To A Happy Marriage

Yeah, this is a personal finance blog, but I couldn’t miss the opportunity to ask someone who’s been married for 63 years:  “What’s the secret?”.  After all, life’s about much more than money, and I felt they must have some lessons we could all learn.  How often do you get to speak to someone who’s been married for more than 6 decades?

Betty was happy to share.  “To be giving and forgiving”, she said first.  As we talked, she encouraged married couples to “Hold the other one up, don’t put them down.”  “Work together.”  “We’re more dependent on each other now than we’ve ever been.”  She shared that as you get older, your dependency on each other grows.  Sometimes it’s the simple things, like remembering those names that aren’t quite as easy to recall.  Sometimes it’s the serious things that you face as you age.  Foster the relationship with your spouse, it’s a key to a great retirement.

A great story of love, and an example we should all aspire to.

63rd Wedding Anniversary  August 9, 2016

But I digress…back to the story


From $0 To Retired In 14 Years

Raising 4 children on a pastor’s (Gordon) and substitute teacher’s (Betty) pay didn’t leave anything for savings. They met their needs, but little else.  “We didn’t do without”, said Betty, but you can appreciate the challenges of raising 4 kids on a modest income.  Or, as Stan says, a bit more bluntly, “We were dirt poor, but we had what we needed.”

Stan started college in 1973, and every three years after the next sibling left for school.  1977, 1981, and 1984.

Then, the nest was empty.

In 1983, Betty and Gordon has essentially nothing saved for retirement, but they’d been successful in raising their children. The band director at the school where Betty worked was selling life insurance, and suggested to Betty that they should attend a personal finance class being taught at a nearby college.

Getting Serious About Retirement Savings

And so it was, that in 1983 they found themselves attending a class taught by a representative of Edward Jones at West Texas College.  They learned about investments, and they learned about personal finance. They learned a lot, and struck up a friendship with Tim, who would become their financial advisor as they started their journey.

Working with Tim, they made their first investment that year, taking the very small savings they had in a local credit union and investing it in stocks.

With their nest empty, they took the money previously used on raising their children, and began diverting it into investments.  They automated the savings, setting it up so the money came directly from their paychecks into their investment account at Edward Jones. They never saw it in their checking account, and were never tempted to spend it.

Gordon heard Betty telling the story, and piped up from across the room:

“If you get it, and hold it in your hands, it’s harder than if you never see the money.”

They got aggressive, and started saving hard.

Increase Your Income

Betty was promoted to secretary for the High School principle, and increased her take home pay.  Gordon moved on from preaching into child welfare.  With increased incomes, and lower living expenses (empty nest), they continued to direct those additional funds into their investments.

Live Modestly

Betty and Gordon realized they had to make up for lost time, and maintained a very modest lifestyle.

“We’re kinda tight”, says Betty, “and we don’t spend a lot of money for extra things.”

They debated about getting more aggressive on paying down their mortgage, but decided the money was best used getting the gains that stock investing had to offer.

They continue to live modestly to this day, though they contribute to their church and “a few various things”.

Retirement in 1997

14 years after attending those classes with Tim at the local college, Linda and Gordon retired.

Betty was 63 years old.

They’d made it.

They shared some of their financial numbers with me, which for the sake of privacy I won’t share in the post. Suffice it to say, they had saved enough in 14 years to provide a comfortable and modest retirement, and maintain a healthy nest egg to see them through their final years.

“Social Security alone isn’t enough”, said Betty.  You need to save while you can.

“The Lord has blessed us tremendously”.

Indeed.

And you, Betty, blessed me with our wonderful phone call.

I’m glad your son offered to buy me lunch.


Lessons Learned

As we wrapped up our phone chat, I asked Betty what pieces of advice she would give to a 50 Year Old who may be reading her story.  Keeping it simple, she boiled down their learnings into two key pieces of advice:

  1. Get a good financial advisor, you don’t know those things by yourself.
  2. Be consistent with saving and putting money away.

Ironically, after I had talked with Betty, but before I had completed this story, a very relevant article came out in Forbes.  7 Ways To Get Ready For Retirement If You’re 50 And Haven’t Started Saving.  It’s worth a read, and the following steps from the story are spot on.  Notice the similarities to the story of Betty & Gordon:

  • Understand Time Is Not On Your Side
  • Save More
  • Protect Your Income
  • Create Multiple Income Streams
  • Get A Roomate
  • Use Technology to Save & Invest More
  • Track Your Spending Using Technology

Conclusion

Sometimes, life doesn’t give you the luxury of saving for retirement from a young age.  If you find yourself in that situation as you read these words, have hope.  Others have been where you are, and they’ve made it.  More than ever, it’s time to get serious.  Really serious.  The time for procrastination is gone. If you take the right steps, you can make it.  You can live a happy life.  You can survive comfortably in retirement.

Don’t believe me?

I have proof.

Just ask Betty.

41 comments

    1. AE, indeed, “real” stories can make things so much more tangible. I’m very appreciative of Stan for introducing me to his parents, and will always cherish that wonderful phone call! I suspect they’ll read your comment, so they’ll see the “Thanks” directly from you!!

  1. Sounds like Betty and Gordon have a lot of wisdom. I really like how Betty talked about marriage and leaning on each other more over the years. Suck a beautiful sentiment!

    And if people can start working at 21 and retire in their 30s, there are certainly plenty of people who can start saving at 50 and retire at the traditional retirement age. It’s good to hear about a tangible example in action!

      1. Great story Fritz. Kinda reminds me of my parents married for 58 years till my dad’s passing last year. To your and Ellie’s example, it’s easier in some ways to start in 50’s and retire in traditional retirement age rather than start in 20’s and retire in 30’s because the former case has fewer life variables. The 30’s retired cohort may make a great blog story but despite their decades of compounding ahead, they also have decades of life uncertainty ahead which can make their actual retirement far different than their SWR model.

  2. Thanks for the inspirational piece that proves it can be done! I’m happy for Betty and Gordon that they pulled it off, but even more so that they put themselves in a position to get help and learn. It’s beneficial to have an open mind at any age.

  3. Fantastic story. Thanks for sharing this. I hate hearing when people take the woe is me approach and say they’ll never be able to retire. Betty and Gordon took responsibility for their own situation and did what it took to retire. And it didn’t take them that long either. Fantastic job!

  4. Awesome story – very motivating. It shows the power of saving and investing. If I save and build wealth for the next 14 years, I can get to their level as well!

    Glad you got lunch out of it as well. I love connecting with like minded individuals!

  5. What a great article, Brings to mind setting on the porch with some lemon aid and talking with loved ones. The wisdom on a successful marriage is spot on I believe and very relevant in today’s world.

  6. Love this story! Thanks to Betty, Gordon, and Stan (and, of course, Fritz) for sharing their story. This goes to show it can be done. I think so many people just get discouraged and give up, thinking they won’t be able to do it, but this is one of many success stories out there that prove it really is doable. Maybe not always easy, but doable.

    My parents didn’t really start until their 50s and they are doing it too. My dad retired at 65 and mom is working 3/days a week until she gets on Medicare (she’s 64). They’ve never been high earners, but they kept their debt in check throughout the years and paid it off to make retirement possible.

  7. Being near 50 and wondering if it were really possible, this gives me hope. My wife and will be married for 25-years next month, so not only is their hope for retirement, but a fun retirement, together!!!

    Thank you to Stan, Betty, Gordon and Fritz for the great post.
    cd :O)

  8. A wonderful and inspiring story. Being over 50 I know many people who are now realizing they are behind on retirement savings. This story serves as an example of what can be achieved with discipline and a plan.

  9. SO funny you posted this today. I just interviewed my grandma yesterday and had no intentions of posting about it until I realized I should be recording her stories as we went. She had some good nuggets to share but this one is what started the whole conversation. “We’ve been married 67 yrs because we don’t combine finances. Grandpa gets allowance for booze & gambling. He hasn’t had a raise in years!” My Grandpa then retorted with, “I’ve been meaning to talk to you about that.” They are hysterical!!

    Betty and Gordon sound like a lovely couple. I really like that she pointed out that their dependency on each other has grown over the years. That is a true partnership! Raising 4 kids on those salaries couldn’t have been easy but it definitely made them stronger. Good for them for kicking it into high gear. 14 years isn’t a bad payoff! 🙂

  10. Amazing story from Betty and Gordon! I agree that social security will not be enough in the future and it’s better to have your own nest egg set up!

    It’s awesome how life can lead you to meet interesting people like Stan, Betty, and Gordon if you open up your schedule and let them in. Very cool of you to share the story!

  11. Awesome post. This goes to show that the whole FIRE approach is not just for the turbo-saver 20 or 30-year olds. Folks at any age will find this useful.
    Of course, they had a bit of a tailwind from a very nicely cooperating equity market. The 1983-1997 had some volatility (October 1987!!!), but if you kept your cool and kept saving those were the golden years for the stock market. And the bond market as well. Very nice average returns! Not sure we’ll repeat that over the next 14 years, though. But still, an awesome achievement!

    1. Big ERN! Love your wisdom, and great add to the discussion. “Early FIRE” and “50-FIRE” should use a lot of the same techniques. Brilliant connection, and true. Also, they had GREAT tailwinds, good for Betty & Gordon (they’re nice folks, they deserved a boost). The warning for us should be the reality that future returns will, in all likelihood (Reversion To The Mean) fall below historical averages. We should plan accordingly.

      Be conservative in your assumptions, and focus on saving more.

  12. What a great story! I’m so glad Stan contacted you. Sharing the stories of others is so incredibly important. Some people say it is best way to learn is from your own mistakes. I make enough mistakes to learn from, but I sure am happy to read the stories of how others have succeeded too! We learn from one another! This is my favorite line – “If you get it, and hold it in your hands, it’s harder than if you never see the money.” I totally agree with this! Congratulations on your success Betty & Gordon, and for sharing their story Fritz!

  13. Thanks to Betty, Gordon and Stan for sharing their story. I hope it serves as inspiration for many others.

    And thanks to you Fritz for putting their story together for your readers. Really good writing and story telling.

  14. Wonderful story! I think too many people put off retirement preparations then get to a certain age and think it can’t be done, so why bother. But it’s never too late to change your approach and improve your situation. I hope their story inspires others to make a change.

  15. I always love these kinds of stories Fritz. Betty and Gordon were real people who had real obstacles to overcome. Instead of sitting around and hoping that social security or the lottery would save them, or complaining about how since they had four kids it was impossible to retire, they took charge and did what they could when they could. And with that, they were able to successfully retire. I think these stories

  16. Thank you Betty for sharing your story, and Fritz for sharing it with the rest of us. I’m 38 and in the FIRE blogosphere I sometimes feel behind. I can only imagine how hard it must be to be in your 50s and to be just starting out.

  17. Longtime reader, first time commenter, as I just loved this post! Fantastic that Stan reached out to you Fritz and then to also have the opportunity to share the story of Betty & Gordon – just awesome. It’s great to hear a positive story from this starting out later. My Mom managed to retire comfortably at 65 after being a solo parent on one income – I think it’s about time I interviewed her too 🙂

    1. Hey Village! Thanks SOOOO much for being a “First Time Commenter”!! I love it when readers leave comments! It is a great story, and I suspect your Mom’s would be, as well. Take the time to talk with her about it, it’ll be something you never regret. And, it’ll mean the world to her.

      Thanks for stopping by.

  18. Great story. A real booster for anyone on the road to FI. Sometimes it is a bit long and lonely, but if you keep at it, you eventually get there. No matter your age.
    Thanks so much for this story.

  19. That was heartwarming. How many people who have tens of millions and power careers just wish they had a marriage like that? Mine has only made it 38 years so far, but we are definitely aiming at 63 plus, like my parents did.Thanks for your consistently great material, education and insights.

  20. Great story! It’s awesome to see people move the needle that much in such a short period of time! Love how this is so much more than just a pf article too! It’s awesome that you jumped at the opportunity to find out more about a successful marriage too! Such wisdom there!

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