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The Guide to Retirement

The Golden Years

What you need to know at every age.

By Greg Saitz

Photo: Meiko Arquillos

Oh, sweet retirement. Just saying the word puts most people in reverie, thinking of luxurious dinners with friends, a summer house on Cape Cod, and cooking lessons in France.

Then the third-period class bell rings and it’s back to reality. That’s not to say those dreams won’t eventually come true. But barring a lucky lottery ticket, you’ve got to start planning right now and keep taking steps throughout your working life to ensure those golden years aren’t iron pyrite years. If you do it right, you might retire with the peace of mind enjoyed by Joy Dennis, 65, a retired educator from Enid, Oklahoma, whose husband is also a retired teacher.

“I started an IRA early on and put money in that,” Dennis said, noting they now have that savings, their pen-sions, and Social Security. “Actually, my husband and I are doing better now than when we were teaching.”

How I...

Fight GPO/WEP!

When Kentucky teacher and school administrator Jim Sproul retired after 28 years, he might have liked to spend some time in his garden. Instead he’s working 40 hours a week as a bookkeeper for a local tire shop. The problem? Because of two little-known provisions to the Social Security Act, Sproul is taking home $283 a month in federal benefits, instead of the $897 that a non-public schoolteacher with his former income would have earned. The provisions, called the Government Pension Offset and the Windfall Elimination Provision, need to be eliminated, Sproul says. And he—and many other retirees—are working with NEA to make it a top priority for lawmakers. “First of all, we need to tell our stories,” Sproul urges his colleagues. “Keep the pressure on them to do something. Most agree it’s unfair, but they don’t come up with a solution.” For more information and to share your story, go to


YOUR 20s

You have a great advantage over your older colleagues: Time. Financial advisers and retirement experts say if you start saving money now, it will accrue exponentially over the course of a career.

Christopher Cordaro, a certified financial planner with RegentAtlantic Capital in Morristown, New Jersey, recommends that beginning educators thoroughly understand all the details of their defined-benefit plan (pension). It’s also crucial to open a 403(b) or other tax-deferred savings plan an employer may offer, especially if there is a matching contribution.

YOUR 30s

A new house. A new spouse. Some children. It’s easy to lose track of retirement planning when you’ve got so many other obligations piling up. But don’t lose focus by diverting too much savings toward college funds or other accounts.

“You can borrow money for college,” says Ilana Boivie, policy analyst for the National Institute on Retirement Security in Washington, D.C. “You can’t borrow for retirement.”

YOUR 40s

You’ve been working long enough to build up some earning power—put it to use by socking away more cash in retirement accounts. But now is also the time to consider adjusting how you invest that money.

While having all your savings in equities or stocks during your younger years may have helped increase returns, in your 40s it’s probably a good idea to start moving to a more conservative asset allocation, according to Boivie and Cordaro.

That means bonds or other fixed-income investments.

YOUR 50s

Start meeting with your state Association’s retirement experts or district’s human resource specialists about retirement options. Do your pension benefits continue accruing or do they max out after a certain number of years on the job?

For those with part-time summer jobs, make use of whatever perks that position may offer.

If you have your own side business, take advantage of benefits such as starting your own retirement plan.

YOUR 60s

Make a budget for retirement, Boivie says. Decide what you’ll require for needs and wants.

If your pension and Social Security payments cover your monthly living expenses, you should be in good shape. Be aware though— roughly 30 percent of public employees aren’t eligible for Social Security because of two little-known provisions to the Social Security Act, called Government Pension Offset/Windfall Elimination Provision. And, if you don’t like the sound of that, go to for the full story.


A view of the bay? Or maybe a cottage in the woods…

You’ve seen those “best places to retire” lists in other magazines and thought, “Well sure, if I had the 401(k) of a tech-industry tycoon, then maybe I would like to retire to Hawaii’s South Shore…” Consider these options instead:

Ann Arbor, Michigan
This university town is a perennial favorite on the “best places” lists for its rich cultural resources and extensive public transportation. That’s all good, but consider this, too: Michigan is also home to MEA-Retired, the largest retired affiliate in the nation, making it a great place to stay involved in NEA’s efforts to make great public schools.

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
You may have stopped teaching, but you haven’t stopped learning. For that reason, consider a state, like Connecticut or Delaware, where retirees can attend public universities for free. Also, take a look at the 121 Osher Lifelong Learning Institutes across the country, like the one at the University of Pittsburgh, where retirees last fall learned about the wines of California, the architecture of Arabian Gulf cities, and “sex, lies, and handwriting.”

Scottsdale, Arizona
Not quite ready to leave the classroom? Keep your toes in the water through an intergenerational mentoring program, like the one cosponsored by AEA-Retired, that matches retired educators with new teachers. (Eight states have such programs, including Illinois, Kentucky, and Oregon.) It also doesn’t hurt that the sun shines year-round here!



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