Save. Spend. Splurge.

When did we start thinking that retirement was a right?

I did a little research on the history of retirement because I was curious as to how long this system has been in place, and I found out the following:

A German chancellor back in 1883 (Chancellor Otto von Bismarck), instituted the idea of “retirement” or a pension plan that would be paid out to workers past the age of 60.


Now, Chancellor von Bismarck was brilliant with his little plan to quiet the masses because almost no one lived to the age of 60 before the discovery of penicillin.

He managed to get workers to continue working, with a faraway carrot dangling in front of their faces that they’d basically never get to eat.


Fast forward to 1935, and we have the Great Depression, with exactly the same problem happening as in 2008 – 2011.

The Great Depression lasted 10 years, and this particular recession is still feeling the effects, so I can’t say that in 5 years (2013), it’s completely done.

Anyway, during the Great Depression, older workers (past the age of 60), were NOT about to give up their steady, secure jobs working in plants or factories to let the younger workers in.

They simply couldn’t afford to retire.

It wasn’t that they didn’t want to, they COULDN’T.

They would literally be out of a job, with no money coming in, and unable to provide for themselves and their own families.

Not to mention that this was back in 1935 when women didn’t really work, so it was all on the shoulders of the men to bring home that bacon to be cooked.

(Well, potatoes, as it were.)

This caused 2 problems:

  1. Younger workers couldn’t provide for their young, growing families
  2. Companies couldn’t take advantage of these more productive, faster, quicker, shinier workers

It even got to the point where they started speeding up the assembly lines in an effort to make the older workers quit on their own, but some tough nuts were not willing to throw in the towel, and continued to drag down productivity.

A plan to give $200 a month to each worker that would retire was proposed, and immediately rejected by President Franklin Roosevelt who decided it would be smarter to make people pay for their retirement instead.



Gosh, that has worked out well for everyone, didn’t it? 😛

Enter: The birth of Social Security as Americans know it today.

Fast forward 78 years, and we are experiencing similar problems:

  1. Older workers can’t afford to retire, because their pensions aren’t enough
  2. Younger workers can’t get jobs because older workers won’t leave

…except this time, it’s mostly due to SPENDING that caused all of this to happen.


Spending beyond what you earn, and not saving a good chunk of it.

Consuming foreign imports, and not producing enough to export, causes a country to basically… spend more than it makes.

It’s happening everywhere, and it’s a problem.

So how do we fix it? It’s not like the government can say:

Hey let’s tack on another Social Security boost to this program and let the older workers retire, by ushering them out.

That just isn’t a viable option any more.

The only option available to people, is to cut back on spending, working more and working harder, and start getting that economy back on track again, by buying less, namely less FOREIGN imports.

Retirement has never been a right. Retirement has always been a privilege.

People who start thinking they SHOULD retire at 65, but haven’t saved a dime for it, are starting to realize it a little too late.

Just look at the people I saw in China who were working well into their old age.

They can’t afford to retire, but they sure aren’t bitching to the Communist government about how they should provide for them.



Photograph I took of senior food cart owners working in Beijing

They already know that they’re on their own and no one can help.

So they trudge on and keep working to stay afloat, doing what they can.


Photograph I took of an elderly senior working to make food-to-go

And if your kids turned out to be unable to help you AND their own families, you have no choice but to continue working to feed yourself.


Photograph I took of an elderly senior in China collecting recycling to eke out a living


At the end of it all, this is what it boils down to:

If you haven’t saved for your retirement, you can’t afford to retire.

It sounds so simple right?

If you haven’t given it a second thought throughout your entire life while you were out taking splashy vacations you couldn’t afford, you cannot afford to retire.

If you haven’t tried to figure out how much you might need when you retire because you figured that money would magically appear, you can’t afford to retire.

If you have spent your whole life spending and not saving, saying to yourself: “Tomorrow, I’ll start.“, before you know it, tomorrow will be your 65th birthday, and you can’t afford to retire.

So. The million-dollar question (literally) is:

Can you afford to retire?



  • Sue Burpee

    Thanks so much for this breath of fresh air. My husband I I could afford to retire because we have always saved, invested, etc etc. And that doesn’t mean we didn’t enjoy our pre-retirement life… it’s just that we enjoyed things we could afford.

  • NZ Muse

    Ah, interesting!

    At work I am involved in a project around retirement income policy. As with many countries we have an ageing population and are facing affordability issues with our universal, non means-tested superannuation scheme. We have little elder poverty compared to high child poverty, and our housing crisis is going to have a real impact when my generation comes to retirement. There is a real expectation I see among a lot of people of their entitlement to super and not enough, I feel, around taking personal responsibility. Of course that also ties in to wider issues around the likes of living wages, taxation of investments, etc…


      I personally would like a defined retirement plan like in Singapore. They have it right, it is tied to your social security # and you can see the balance any time you want, guaranteed to be yours.

      Canada just has it in a big random pool.

  • Heather H

    My husband and I (49/46) will be able to retire because we’ve been savings in our retirement accounts since our 20’s, will hopefully have social security to get our money back, and my husband is military so will also have a pension that starts at 60.

    I crunch the numbers a lot so I have a sense of where we are and where we think we need to be for a nice but not crazy expensive retirement and I feel pretty good about it if we can get to another million by age 60, not sure sometimes if that is realistic though all calculators tell me it is. We try to instill the save early mentality in our kids, my 19 yo gets it but 14 yo is a pretty frivolous guy so we shall see with him.

  • Taylor Lee @ Yuppie Millennial

    I’m not really sure why people rag on social security so much. The program is quite successful and mostly solvent (or could at least pretty easily be made so). And actually if you are concerned people spending too much they are failing to save for retirement, expansion of SS would be one way to ameliorate the issue of delayed retirements (increased tax, lower individual spending, higher individual savings, better payouts).

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