Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Retirement? On Track. Current Bills? Not So Much.

I compulsively read articles about women approximately my age (give or take a decade) to see how my finances compare. The Kansas City Star ran an interesting one on Mary Petrosky, a 51 year old Kansas production worker, part-time supermarket clerk and single mom to college age kids.

Mary has $256,385 in retirement funds. That's good.

But she grosses only $34,100 a year while she spends more like $41,000 over the same period. She owes, among other debts, nearly $76,000 in parental loans for her oldest son in college.

I'm assuming she was awarded some of those retirement funds in her divorce. If not, she's done a terrific job of saving for her own future. But $76,000 for her son's undergraduate degree? Didn't he take out any student loans in his own name? Apparently, he is going to help her pay them off, but personally, and much as I do want my children and grandchildren to attend college, I would have to think long and hard before I would go into that kind of debt for them.

And what of her two younger sons? From the article, it appears that they have enlisted in the military, intending to use GI benefeits for college afterwards. I don't begrudge anyone who chooses a military life, but I don't think I'd want my sons (if I had any) facing death in Iraq or Afghanistan just to get a subsidized college education.

I also wonder about some of the advice she's being given, particularly when the financial planners suggest boosting her bond portfolio to more than 30% of her 401 (k). I just have never seen the point of bonds. I understand that they are intended to soften the blow if stocks lose their luster, but stocks always come back around, something bonds never really do. I may change my mind on this as retirement looms but at Mary's age, I would never have considered that advice. Come to think of it, at Grace's more advanced age, I still don't.


JW said...

This is a very timely post. Our oldest son ( who is also serving in the military) just expressed to me how unhappy he was that we didn't provide and college savings for he or his other siblings.

And, regarding bonds. My wife has been advised against them. (She is the only one with retirement savings currently, only $32k)

JW said...

By the way thanks for all the great advice you've shared with us at our blog! :)