Just returning from a two-week vacation on an island off the coast of Sarasota, FL, I got a peak of what boomer retirement is and will be all about. Boomers still dream of taking it easy in places that are warm, sunny and near open water.
Some boomers will happily buy into the golf-and-cocktails lifestyle, too. After all, there are 77 million of them, so a few should be interested in just about anything you could name. But most boomers will never see themselves in the current crop of retirement ads. There are two reasons why.
The first is the Great Recession. When the bottom dropped out of the U.S. economy in 2007, millions of middle-aged Americans were knocked off the path to retirement. Most working-age families in the United States are no longer on track to retire at age 65, according to Boston College’s Center for Retirement Research—a big change from a few years ago. Even among high-income households, 42 percent were falling short in 2009. And most households that do have enough assets to retire will not be able to move until they sell their houses. So even though home prices are low, don't expect all boomers to move in the next few years from markets where houses aren’t selling.
Most baby boomers will need to stick to a tight budget to make it to retirement. And once they do achieve it, their lives as retirees will be very simple.
The other thing that makes boomers different from those chuckleheads in the retirement ads is their brains . If the world doesn’t offer them what they want, they will figure out a new way to get there. They started doing this in the 1960s, and they’re still doing it. So look for growth in cooperative ventures like home sharing, cohousing, buying clubs and barter; inexpensive forms of recreation that also promote health, like bicycling and yoga; and anything else that uses creativity and community to attain a fun, fulfilling retirement without spending a lot.
The biggest trade-off is that many boomers will never completely retire . About 1.6 million people aged 51 to 65 have postponed their retirement as a result of the bust, according to economists Eric French and David Benson of Chicago’s Federal Reserve Bank. That’s bad news, but boomers are already finding the workaround. Many of those who are compelled to work past the age of 65 will find ways to merge their paid activity with their personal interests, so their days can be relaxing and enjoyable even though they’re still earning money. This often means starting a business or being self-employed .
So what will retired boomers do for fun?
The lifelong learning community is going to get a lot bigger, because it is an early ripple in a wave of new retirees. People who will move in the next decade will be more educated and healthier than previous generations were. They will be more focused on realizing specific, personal goals, and they will usually succeed by relying on a lifetime of good habits—things like networking , flexibility and an eagerness to embrace new ideas.
Boomers are exceptional for their numbers, but also for their training. Most of them attended college, making them the most educated generation in American history. They have been creating consumer markets and redefining every stage of life they pass through since 1947, the year they made Howdy Doody a star.
Fortunately, there is still a colossal amount of wealth in the United States. Boomers already control a fair amount of it, and they are in line to get it all. So even if the average boomer will be retiring on a budget, researchers at Boston College estimate that the wealthiest one-tenth of U.S. households can expect to receive an average inheritance of about $1.5 million when their parents pass on.