Forget the myth of the Greatest Generation retirement, a carefree, pension-fueled three decades of golf in the Florida sun. As a financial planner, Nunzio Cernero has seen both his parents’ generation’s retirement and that of his own generation, the Baby Boomers. He declares that, as a whole, the Baby Boomers are far ahead — at least financially.
“We have something unique, something new,” he says. “We have 401 (k)s, and, second, we have the house.” For the first time in history, he declares, average workers have been able to build sizable estates through their workplace savings plans. “I see ordinary workers, not CEOs, who have several hundred thousand dollars — and more — in their 401 (k)s,” he says. Add that to the value of a paid-off house, and the Boomers he sees in his practice and among his friends and neighbors are well positioned for retirement.
Cernero, whose consulting firm, Nunzio E. Cernero LLC (609-896-1158), is located in Brick, leads a two-session course in “Retiring with Attitude: Getting Started,” beginning on Tuesday, September 12, at 6 p.m. at Mercer County Community College. Cost: $50. Call 609-570-3311. This course is the kick-off segment of a whole new MCCC curriculum on retirement. It includes classes in financial strategies, retirement possibilities and mind maps, life planning for a creative retirement, retirement jobs and starting a business, and volunteering. Start dates are consecutive, and run through December 7. Fees range from $28 to $50.
Cernero was in early on self-funded retirement. Nearly two years ago he retired from a 30-year career at MCCC, where he now works as an independent contractor. When he began at the community college, while still giving substantial attention to his own financial consulting business, he was given a choice of a state pension or an employer-matched 401 (k). “I was in the pension program for about one week,” he says.
Does he have any regrets over choosing the self-funded option? Please! “With a 401 (k) you have the money,” he says. “It’s yours. You can draw down the principal, you can live off the interest, you can leave the money to your children. With a pension, when you die, it’s gone.”
This early choice, made back when a company-funded pension was a cherished entitlement enjoyed by a large majority of the workforce, makes Cernero the face of retirement, Baby Boomer style. But it is far from the only thing that makes him a candidate for poster boy of retirement circa 2006.
“When people become 60 or 65,” he says, “they start to think about how they want to live their lives.” One nearly universal conclusion: “They do not want to work full time.”
But, increasingly, they do want to work. His clients, admittedly people who have planned for their retirement, do not need income from work, but they continue to work anyway. Many, like him, own small businesses. Others, like his wife, Deanna, who is also retired from MCCC, work part time. “She’s a proofreader for a local publisher,” says Cernero. “She also an artist, and right now is involved in a project.” Still others apply their expertise to temp assignments.
“I have one client who takes on projects,” he says. “Sometimes it’s one week, sometimes it’s one year. The assignments are in different parts of the country.” This high-level temp takes his wife along and the pair enjoy the opportunity to see what it is like to live in constantly changing environments.
Cernero isn’t quite sure why so many Boomers are continuing to work. But he does so because he enjoys it, and because he has long-standing relationships with so many of his clients. There is a good chance that this is the reason that others continue to work, too. It is also possible that they do so because post-official-retirement work does not carry with it so many of the stresses and constraints of full-time work.
“Now my wife and I fit our work into our lives,” says Cernero. “The two are much more integrated. I don’t have to worry about how many vacation days I have. We look at the calendar, decide what we want to do, and fit our work around it.”
Demonstrating a work ethic that is associated with the Boomer generation, Cernero quickly adds: “But I am very serious about my responsibilities to my clients, about meeting deadlines.”
He works about four days a week, and somehow, although he lives only 15 minutes away from the beach, he rarely finds time to get there. Still, he knows that the option is always open, and that makes all the difference.
“It’s the only time in life when you are able to plan,” Cernero says of retirement. Sure, people plan which college to attend, what career to prepare for, and what jobs to take, but, he points out, “opportunities come up, circumstances tend to take over.” This is generally not the case for older adults, though, and particularly not for those who have planned for retirement. They are free to live how and where they want to, and to work on their own terms. They no longer have to worry about finding good school districts, plotting a route to the corner office, or saving for their children’s college education.
The ability to make retirement plans a reality, relies, logically enough, on prior planning. Building up a nest egg is an important part of this process. “But it’s not the most important part,” says Cernero. Thinking about how one would like to live must come first.
He currently has three clients who have just bought $1 million houses on the beach. If this is the lifestyle to which a worker aspires, all of the attendant costs must be figured in. Can they be covered through savings? through the sale of the family home? through continued participation in the family business?
Someone looking forward to living in a modest home in rural Mississippi and turning a passion for photography into a business would take a different approach to retirement planning. How can he find a town with neighbors he will enjoy? Does he need to make the shift to digital photography? And, if so, where can find help in learning the new technology? Figuring it out is what the next generation of retirement is all about.
“My goal is to get people thinking about the possibilities,” says Cernero.