Bart Astor's "aha" moment came as he was listening to author Gail Sheehy give a speech about caring for her ill husband several years ago. Sheehy told the story of a doctor asking, "What are your goals for this stage of life?" That question struck Astor as a profound one, and one that he didn't have an answer to himself.
"Most of us who are 50-plus don't have an answer," Astor says. "I don't think we've thought much about goals since we were asked, 'What do you want to be when you grow up?'" So Astor started asking other people in their 50s and up about their goals, and he started writing about how baby boomers can achieve them. His new book, "Roadmap for the Rest of Your Life," grew out of those discussions. Astor, a writer and eldercare expert, recently spoke with U.S. News and shared these six tips for boomers looking to take control of their lives:
Embrace the opportunities of the boomer generation. Boomers grew up during the economically vibrant post-war years, and many of them had unprecedented access to top-notch education, health care and career options. "Our parents created a new middle class that didn't exist before the 1950s," Astor says. "There are so many effects of being in a generation that was the largest and richest this country has ever seen," he adds.
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Women and minorities also broke new ground. "We really did change the world. ... My wife growing up could be a nurse, teacher or just get married. [Those limits] don't exist anymore," Astor says. Boomers also have more of a chance to reinvent themselves and their careers over the course of their lifetimes, he says, and technology makes it easy to launch a small business or telecommute, for example.
Spend some time with a spreadsheet. It might not sound as fun as going for a sunset walk on the beach, but sitting down with a spreadsheet and crunching numbers is an important part of planning for the future, Astor says. Once or twice a year, he says, he plugs his own financial numbers into a spreadsheet to take a close look at where his money is and where it's going. The habit helped him and his wife recently decide to unload a rental property that was becoming a hassle for the couple to handle. "It's a huge relief off of our shoulders," he says.
Astor recommends dividing expenses into those that are mandatory versus discretionary, and he cautions that those categories will vary by person. For him and his wife, for example, travel is an essential and much-valued part of their lifestyle. They take pains to mitigate the cost of their adventures by using hotel points, cashing in on frequent flier miles and planning ahead. "The earlier you plan, the more options you will have," he says, adding that he frequently books trips almost a year in advance. Astor and his wife have visited Bali, Australia and South Africa in recent years; they have plans to take a cruise to Borneo in November.
Spend on what makes you happy. While Astor and his wife splurge on travel, someone who enjoys spending more time at home might spend on a big-screen television or the latest smartphone, Astor says. His wife loves going to the gym, so they reserve money for that monthly expense.
Save more than you think you'll need. According to Astor, saving enough money to replace the often-recommended 70 percent of one's income doesn't provide enough leeway for one's later years. "You still have 20 to 30 more years, and your lifestyle isn't going to change unless it has to," he says. He recommends saving to replace closer to 80 to 85 percent, which takes into account the fact that retirees are no longer contributing to retirement accounts, as well as reduced taxes.
Reject physical limitations. Boomers who stay active as they age open up new possibilities for themselves, from engaging in charity bike rides to pursuing adventure travel. Astor writes about his friend Mitch, who had polio as a child and discovered in his 50s that he could be more physically active by using a wheelchair, something he had long resisted doing. But in his new set of wheels, he can more easily attend baseball games, social events and movies. "That's reinventing yourself," Astor says.
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Similarly, relatively new medical breakthroughs, from open-heart surgery to prosthetics, allow boomers to continue pursuing their goals when they might have been stymied a generation ago.
Plan to live another 30 years. Astor, who's now 65, says he anticipates living another 25 to 30 years. "I have to plan for it that way. What will keep you going?" he asks. His book, he says, is an attempt to help people answer that question for themselves.