Books for grown-up baby boomers If you've been watching closely, you've noticed that members of the generation born between 1946 and 1964 are often now simply called boomers rather than the more formal baby boomers, as they used to be known. Sure, the simple boomers is snappier and hipper-sounding. It's also a lot more accurate. That's because the generation whose size, influence, and self-referential world view has altered every aspect of American life is certainly not babyish anymore. (A note of disclosure: I'm a card-carrying member of the boomer group.) The boomers are now finding (often to their utter surprise) that they are all grown up and not fully prepared to finance and emotionally weather such important life milestones as their children's higher education and their own approaching retirement. Some new books are here to help.
The generation that keeps on tickingDon't Stop the Career Clock: Rejecting the Myths of Aging for a New Way to Work in the 21st Century by Helen Harkness (Davies-Black Publishing, $17.95, 0891061274) is a blast of optimism for 40-something boomers and those even later in life who think they are on the downhill slope. Harkness, a career counselor, successfully bursts many of the stereotypes of aging that equate the addition of years with mental and physical deterioration and a loss of value in the work world. She tells people to focus on their functional ages, not their chronological ones. At one point she writes: The greatest of all remedies for the fear of age and death is a burning desire for achievement, backed by useful service to others. Busy people seldom have time to worry about dying. Harkness spends time in this book examining medical studies that refute myths about age and links to mental and physical decline. She also offers practical advice, with checklists and exercises, for people interested in a mid-life career switch or a chance to go into business for themselves. In an interesting note on the age 65, still considered by many a magical number at which time people should close up the working portion of their lives, Harkness writes: In the 1930s, when the U.S. government was establishing the age for receiving Social Security benefits, 65 was adopted as the age for retirement. This was a time when life expectancy was around 45 and the unemployment rate was 25 percent. How mindless can this be for today's work force, with life expectancy at 78 and rising rapidly, and unemployment at its lowest level in 25 years? Finding financial securityOkay, so your retirement won't be as traditional as that of your parents. Still, you'll need some extra financial security as you grow older to give you greater flexibility and allow you to slow down your work schedule if that's what you want. Don't know where to start on that complicated trail? A good place is If You're Clueless About Financial Planning and Want to Know More by Seth Godin and John Parmelee. The book lives up to the promise inherent in its title in that it doesn't assume much prior knowledge and does provide good basic instruction. The range of subjects is quite wide, from different types of stock and bond investments to life insurance to college financial aid and more. Given the subject range, none of the topics gets in-depth treatment, but there are many referrals about where to find more information in other books and via the Internet.
Retiring comfortablyIt's become an accepted axiom that people retiring in the next quarter-century will need a lot more than Social Security payments to comfortably support themselves. The demographic swell of boomers hitting retirement age around the year 2015 will put unprecedented pressure on the Social Security system. Debate is already under way in Washington, D.C., about ways to save or reform the system. Meanwhile, surveys of younger people reveal deep skepticism about what will be left for them when they reach retirement age, despite lifetimes of contributions. While urging people to assume that Social Security will not form the lion's share of their retirement income, John F. Wasik, author of The Late-Start Investor: The Better-Late-Than-Never Guide to Realizing Your Retirement Dreams (Henry Holt, $14.95, 0805055029), makes interesting points that should serve to dispel the worst doom and gloom about the future of Social Security.
Wasik writes: Why does anyone in Washington think the 77-million-strong baby boom generation will want less from these programs after they worked so hard to make retirement a pleasant, more financially secure experience? If anything, given the selfishness traditionally ascribed to the me generation, they will want more out of retirement programs, not less. And as this generation gains power in politics, you will see a huge decrease in the political ill will toward big government programs. Wasik, special projects editor for Consumers Digest magazine, provides a balanced, common-sensical approach toward finding a New Prosperity as one approaches retirement. He urges reduced spending to increase the amount of money available for investing; an inventory to make sure you know exactly what you have and what your sources of income are; and growth-oriented investments that take advantage of any tax deferments available. Wasik goes beyond the purely financial and offers advice on how to make later life more balanced and rewarding.
As for investments, Wasik is not afraid to get specific. In a section on mutual funds, he offers recommendations for portfolios for people at different stages of life, including those with as little as five years remaining to retirement. Wasik takes the widely held view that the closer one is to retirement, the less risk he or she should carry in their investments. For those interested in their own investment decisions, Wasik offers specific individual stock recommendations.
Homeward boundPerhaps your later-in-life plans don't include a total cessation of work, but you would like to shift gears, or, at a minimum, reduce your daily commute. The trip to work doesn't get any shorter than when you work at home. It's a growing trend likely to gain even more momentum in the 21st century as technological advances allow people in more occupations to work from home. Work at Home Wisdom: A Collection of Quips, Tips, and Inspirations to Balance Work, Family, and Home by David H. Bangs, Jr., and Andi Axman (Upstart Publishing Co., $9.95, 1574101005) takes a look at the human side of at-home work. Light on the practical aspects of working at home such as tax implications and equipment needed (that's left to countless other books), the authors instead focus on how to stay sane and prosperous while going it alone. Among the salient pieces of advice offered in the book: Keep your work confined to your home office and don't let it spread around the house. That will give you a better chance at maintaining the separation between the personal and professional when both cohabit the same domicile. The authors also urge stay-at-homes to set clear guidelines with those they live with about when they are allowed to be disturbed during working hours. (They offer: a fire, a flood, blood, and so on. ) The book is also good on ways to fight the loneliness that can plague the at-home worker. (The authors know the territory from personal experience; both are writers who run their own at-home shows.) They suggest ways to increase human contact that can also be productive for business and personal growth. Staying at home is increasingly a route to business success. Consider this fact offered by the authors: An astonishing 45 percent of the companies in the Inc. [magazine] 500 list were started in their founder's residence . . . Neal Lipschutz is managing editor of Dow Jones News Service.