Grand Lifestyle Travel and Culture

Peering over the Fence: Retirement in the USA – Part 2

Jane Robertson, copywriter, Grandmother, and animal lover allows us to peer over the fence (the Pacific Ocean) and gives us an insight to her retirement in the USA.

You can read part 1 here.

For a few years we lived in San Leandro, just across the bay from San Francisco.

Now there were hedges galore to trim! It seemed anything would grow in the lush climate of the Bay Area. The bougainvillea that had gasped in the oven-like heat of Arizona climbed the fence in rosy splendor. In every way this was a different environment from a retirement community, as signaled by the fact that we could hear over the back fence the shouts of children at recess. Yes, whereas in Sun City there had been no schools—since no children could live there—we now had a school as a neighbor.

All around us lived people of varying ages and varying backgrounds. There were retirees, of course, but a much richer cross-section of humanity at every stage of life. The neighbors on our left were, as I recall, from Thailand, caring for a newborn, and diagonally across the street lived a career woman from New Zealand.


Golden Gate Bridge. Photo: Supplied

By now we had grandchildren, and they were a long day’s drive away in Utah. The job hadn’t proved to be all Tom had hoped, and the lure was just too strong. We picked up and relocated again, this time into a house just around the corner from the children we adored. The years following that move became a delightful blur of visits to the park, walks with at least one dog and at least one child, movies, and regular production of a delicacy our family has always known as cookie candy. I tell myself it’s a fairly healthy, if sugary, treat because of the oatmeal and peanut butter. The younger crowd has always begged for it.

Now we’re 1300 miles away from that portion of the family, and the story of how that came to be requires some explaining. First, I need to note that our frequent moves don’t reflect the lives of typical retirees. True, we hear of an occasional couple who sells the family home and buys one that rolls—a recreational vehicle complete with bedroom, kitchen, and bathroom. For them retirement is a constant road trip, seeing America, maybe even Canada and Mexico. On the other hand, we know some couples who have never left the house where their children grew up, and they never intend to do so. Others, not fortunate enough to have owned their own homes, may be able to live in houses or apartments where rent is subsidized by the government.

As these examples show, personal finance rules retirement in America as it does every previous phase of life. Almost all of us welcome monthly Social Security deposits into our bank accounts, but the payments are based on what a person earned during his or her working years, so the imbalances of those years remain. In fact, if retirees have no other resources—extensive savings, pensions, or personal wealth—Social Security alone is usually not enough to cover basic needs.

That’s why many so-called retirees still remain in the work force, and within limits the Social Security Administration has no problem with this. Not many, however, still have jobs in the fields where they built up years of expertise; those usually go to younger workers. Retirees may have to compete with teenagers for various kinds of part-time jobs.

As people age, there’s another financial hazard that often stalks them—medical bills. The United States offers help with those in the form of Medicare, which is a medical insurance plan that the government itself runs. It’s available to all Americans, with few exceptions, once we reach 65. Tom still isn’t there. Now and then I hear of someone throwing a party to celebrate reaching Medicare age. When I signed up, the agent consoled me for my advancing years by assuring me, “It’s okay—65 is the new 30.” There is a monthly premium, which most people, me included, choose to have deducted from their Social Security payment each month. Medicare offers about 80% coverage for a wide range of illnesses, diseases, and accidents, and many live their later lives with no other medical insurance. Some—here, again, me included—add plans through private insurers to take care of some, or all, of that other 20%, or to cover extras like vision or dental care.

Now that I’ve qualified for Medicare, the road looks a little less rocky for us. There was a point at which health problems rather dominated our lives and decimated our bank accounts. We rented out our Utah house to cover the monthly mortgage payment, and we, yes, moved again, this time to Wisconsin, where prices are lower and where most of Tom’s family lives. We arrived just in time for a winter that broke records for snow.

From desert heat to near-arctic cold—that’s a fair summary of our retirement thus far. For us older Americans lifestyles are as varied as the geography, and who knows what we might experience next?


Jane Robertson and some of her extended family. Photo: Jane Robertson

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