Life and Money With Helaine by Helaine Olen

How to Fund Retirement With Little Savings

Dear Helaine: I need your advice on my financial situation. I am married, in my early 70s, and still at work. I earn $100,000 as a hairstylist. My husband is retired with no pension or any other means of income besides $1,500 monthly in Social Security. I am receiving $1,600 from Social Security monthly.

We owe about $5,000 on two car loans, but other than that, there's no debt and no mortgage. We own our home outright, and it's worth about $500,000. The issue: We only have about $50,000 in savings.

I would like to retire as soon as possible; my job is physically demanding, and I know I can't keep up the pace much longer. I also know we won't be able to live a good life on just Social Security, especially living in the relatively expensive region that's our home. Can you please help me? -- Ready to Retire

Dear Ready to Retire: Perhaps it will make you feel better to know you are far from the only person in this position. Pollsters regularly find the vast majority of us think we can work as long as we are alive. That's just not true, sad to say. In many cases, including your own, our bodies just can't keep up.

So what should you do now? I wish I had magic powers and could spin gold out of straw for you. But I can't do that. There is no way you aren't going to experience a significant cut in your income when you cease work. That, in turn, will all but force you to cut back on enjoying the "good life," as you put it. But there are ways to mitigate it.

You could sell your home and move to a less-expensive area of the country. This, especially if you trade a home for a one- or two-bedroom condo, will likely allow you to bank a few hundred thousand dollars in savings.

I get that you might not want to relocate. In that case, you should consider a reverse mortgage, which will allow you to use the equity in your home to live on, giving you and your husband a set amount monthly. But reverse mortgages are difficult to navigate, and you'll need someone expert and trustworthy to guide you through the process of finding the right one.

Finally, you might want to consider -- if you are physically able, that is -- continuing to put in even a few hours a week on the job. If you are earning $100,000 annually, you are likely working a full-time schedule. That's hard in your 70s. But it's possible a part-time schedule will be doable. That will allow you to gradually reduce your expenses and build up more in the way of savings.

(To ask Helaine a question, email her at

(EDITORS: For editorial questions, please contact Sue Roush at