I’m 50, divorced with no kids, have an MBA but am ‘afraid’ of working until 70

I’m turning 50 this year divorced, no children, and have struggled the past few years with job loss starting with COVID-19. I also have an MBA which I thought would change my life, but I have not benefited and I need to start paying my loans soon.  

I do have a decent job now and I make about $46,000 and will be up for a salary review this September. I currently have a 401(k) with my new job. Also this job qualifies me for possible loan forgiveness after 10 years. I do not own a home but my father’s home will be willed to me (I don’t look forward to that because I’ll lose my dad). 

I do want to be married but that’s not in the picture right now. I do want to retire at some point but it’s seeming like it’s a ways off. I also plan to teach undergraduate courses as an adjunct once I leave my full-time position. I currently do work with a state medical college. I’m just afraid of being like my mother who is turning 70 next year and still working with no sight of retirement.

Help and thank you.

See: I’m 52, single with no kids and only $190,000 in 401(k) assets. ‘I don’t want to die alone and forgotten in my home.’ What should I do?

Dear reader, 

I understand your fear of never retiring — there are so many challenges associated with saving enough for retirement and feeling comfortable to actually jump into that next chapter. One of the greatest things you can do for your future self is to plan, plan, plan. 

For some people, the idea of sitting down and thinking through every single necessity for retirement is absolutely daunting. That’s understandable, too! But it can be a helpful exercise, and you don’t need all of the answers overnight. 

There are two main parts to this, and both involve starting with what you have now. First, look at what you currently have for your retirement, in the perspective of where you need to go to get to what you want. Check your 401(k) plan and see what your balance is and how you’re invested — a qualified financial planner can help you structure your portfolio in a way that gets you a good investment return with your risk tolerance in mind. 

Use a good retirement calculator to play around with various figures. For example, can you boost your contribution now without affecting your everyday spending? And if not, when do you think it may be feasible to do so? Based on your current and projected contributions, how much is the calculator saying you’ll have at a desirable retirement age? Factor in Social Security in one scenario, and then exclude it in another. Estimate when you’d switch away from a full-time position, and what you’d contribute when you did so.

Account for the unexpected expenses that may pop up in the years between now and retirement, since anything can happen and surprises can be a real retirement killer. Above all, just keep calculating. You need to see various projections, some of which are ultra-conservative, so you have a basis for what you need for the bare minimum, the ideal situation or the beyond expectations.  

MarketWatch has a nice retirement visualization tool, which accounts for your future income and retirement spending. 

Your retirement may not be right around the corner, but you can still start to envision it. Take where you live, for example. Where you live is a huge factor in your retirement security.

You mentioned you’ll receive your father’s home as an inheritance, but we don’t know when that will be and you should have a back-up plan anyway. Expected inheritances are never guarantees, and not only for some dramatic reason like an argument among family members. Your father may end up needing to tap into his home equity, so it’s better for you to have a plan that excludes this. 

Your residence, in the future but also now, will impact your taxes, including how your current income and retirement income is taxed, and of course property taxes. Never forget the impact taxes will have on your retirement spending and saving. And health insurance — be sure to have a plan for how it will play into your retirement preparation, especially if you intend to switch from full-time to part-time work.

Also see: I’m 54 and the primary earner but ‘professionally, I am exhausted’ — we have $2.18 million but what about healthcare?

Take advantage of every benefit available to you. For instance, if you have access to a Health Savings Account through your employer, consider it. They are attached to high-deductible health plans, which may not be an affordable option, but if it is, you’d have access to a triple-tax advantaged account where your contributions, earnings and distributions are all tax-free for qualified health expenses. The best part is you can save now for health expenses that occur in retirement (as opposed to in the current year, like a Flexible Spending Account). 

Read: Americans can now put a lot more in health savings accounts. Here’s how much they can invest.

Now for the second part of this: look at what you have now, for the now. The present has a huge impact on your future, and optimizing your finances now will pay off. Break down your salary and make sure you know where your dollars are going. Are you spending them the way that you want? And if not, stop spending in that way; look for ways to cut back, such as canceling subscriptions.

If you have extra cash, try putting it towards your loans. Balancing student loan debt and retirement savings with everyday spending is hard — millions of Americans are facing this problem — but if you can whittle that debt to nothing in a timely manner, it will be a freeing feeling.

I know you mentioned you could get loan forgiveness in 10 years, so consider working with a qualified financial planner who specializes in working with people within your career to help you determine how much you should pay down. Student loan forgiveness is not guaranteed, either, even within programs that promise it. 

Maybe what you’re doing now isn’t using your MBA skills, but earning your MBA is an incredible achievement. If you have the time, try finding a side hustle that takes advantage of your education. Can you do some consulting work? Or teach classes in an MBA program too? Or tutoring — that may not be what you had in mind, but it does help pay off those loans and keep you flexing those MBA muscles. Eventually, you may find you use your education in a different way. 

Don’t compare your situation to anyone else’s. Keep an eye on the future, of course, but focus on the now, since that will really help you prepare for the long-term. 

Readers: Do you have suggestions for this reader? Add them in the comments below.

Have a question about your own retirement savings? Email us at HelpMeRetire@marketwatch.com

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