Retirement in America

9 Jun 2017 Karina S. Henkel

I never thought about retirement before I moved here. In Germany I knew I would not have a lot of money when I am old, but I would get by somehow. I never earned a lot of money and refused to put money aside for retirement, although this has been strongly recommended by all kinds of government agencies. I refused to think about it.

When I moved here I didn’t earn much money during my first years. It was just enough to cover my monthly expenses and my trips to Germany. But saving for retirement is a much bigger topic here than it was in Germany. After a while I couldn’t ignore this anymore – especially because I would not get a lot of Social Security when I am retired. Social Security is based on what you have earned in the past 30 years. They take an average of your earnings during the past three decades and you are eligible to receive a portion of that for retirement.

Since my work life started here when I was 46 years old (and it was a part-time low salary job at first), I don’t think that I will get enough Social Security to survive. Even Andrew, who has worked his whole life in the US, thinks that he won’t have enough for retirement to pay all his bills. He foresees that he has to work part-time for the rest of his life. So will I. But I don’t think that this is necessarily a bad thing.

My mother in Germany, for example, is desperately looking for a job (she is 74). Although she likes the freedom that her retirement gives her, she also misses working. She would like to have colleagues, do something, and feel useful. Moving to the US and seeing so many old people still working (and finding that natural and even satisfying) changed my mind about retirement. And I started asking myself if it is really so good to force people, who worked their whole life, out of their jobs and leave them without a purpose, without challenges, without growth? That’s what usually happens when people have to retire in their sixties in Germany.

But even if I am prepared to work at least part-time until I drop dead, I also have to save money that will help me later to live off a part-time job or pay the bigger bills. We all know that medical costs are abhorrent here and usually people have health issues when they get older. How can I pay my bills if I haven’t saved money for that?

I am a good girl now. I have a 401K at work, and just started a Roth IRA. I regularly put money aside that I won’t touch until my retirement. I have no clue if  what I save now will be enough. But I have to try.