Many workers have pensions and retirement savings plans through their employers, but many don’t—especially if they are freelancers, self-employed, or part-time workers.
In this installment of our week-long series on retirement, Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson speaks with Bessie Lyman and her daughter, Andrea Lyman.
Bessie is 87, and when she retired years ago from teaching, she had a pension and substantial savings. Andrea is 61, and as an actress and a singer, she doesn’t have much retirement savings at all.
Interview Highlights: Bessie and Andrea Lyman
You describe yourselves as the “ant and the grasshopper” when it comes to retirement. Why is that?
Andrea Lyman: “Well, my mom lived the life where she looked at what kind of job she was going to have and looked into the savings and saved all along and lived a life where her retirement would be set and settled and good and having pensions and all that, whereas I chose a career in show business, which bounces all over the place and it’s more a thing of surviving and, maybe there’s a little bit of money and I’ll probably be at a Big Bucks store saying, welcome to Big Bucks store when I’m 90.’
Because you have to think about now and tomorrow rather than years in the future.
Andrea: “Yeah, and ironically when I have taken the, what would be a straight job, we call it in our business a ‘day job,’ when I’ve taken the day job and even thought about staying and going full time, then something happened with the economy and this one happened with this job and they all of a sudden said, ‘we need to cut you back to two days a week,’ and the irony is, on the other hand, my music and film business are doing very well but they don’t give me pension and retirement.”
Bessie, as you were working at the public schools, how were you saving for retirement?
Bessie Lyman: “I was thinking a lot about it. My husband and I, from the very beginning, thought ahead because I looked forward to retirement even, let’s say, 50 years ago. But I’d wanted to be able to do some of the things I was still doing, and you have to plan, not just financially but also plan for your other life - the social life, your whole life for retirement.”
How much were you saving all along?
Bessie: “I don’t give a dollar amount, but we had a certain percentage that we put away every payday, every time and didn’t touch that. Looking forward to not just saving for our retirement but we had two children and, you know, wanted to put them through college and wanted to do some travelling and wanted to live comfortably.”
Have you been able to do that? Did you save enough?
Bessie: “I think so, yes. I’ve had to dip into it for other reasons because one of the things I like to do is help people who need help and it's family and friends and myself. I still like to travel and I’m able to do that, and that’s a part of what I was thinking of the entire time I was working.’
How much have you had to rely on social security?
Bessie: “It’s a big part of my income, my mark of the income, and it’s not the whole thing and not even half of it I think but it’s very helpful.”
Andrea, did you not want to imitate your mother’s strategy or did you not have the opportunity because of your career?
Andrea: “Oh, I wanted to do it, and of course my parents both encouraged me to do that.”
So what is your plan for when you want to retire?
Andrea: “That’s another thing, when you talk about want to retire. I don’t see myself as ever wanting to retire, I really love what I’m doing. If people don’t want to hire me, then I’m in trouble.”
So you’re saying as long as people are willing to hire you, you will work?
Andrea: “Yes, in the showbiz.”
Bessie, did you think at any point about working longer?
Bessie: “I didn’t. When I retired I was really ready to retire. I felt that I had enough to do, outside my job, and that’s one of the things in preparing for retirement. In addition to having money, you should have something to do, and something that you like doing.”
Andrea: “Her social life’s busier than mine. I mean, she and her friends are movers and shakers, some of them are docents at museums and things. They did it right.”
Do you think that you are one of the lucky ones because of the savings you have?
Bessie: “I feel very lucky about that, but I also – I couldn’t live the life Andrea lives. I have to know where my next check is coming from, I have to be able to budget. I plan far far ahead.”
On raising the retirement age
Andrea: “I’m torn about that, because I see people, like I have a cousin who just simply got sick and so she had to retire a little bit early. So if she had to wait until 70, she’d be in all kinds of trouble. What I think is they shouldn’t have a mandatory retirement age because some people want to work later but, I don’t know, some people really need it at 65.”
Bessie: “I’m with you on the non-mandatory retirement age. I was ready to retire and wanted to retire, but had I not been ready I would have resented having to be pushed out at say 65 or 60 or whatever it happened to be. I don’t think there should be, as long as people are able to work, do the job properly and enjoy the job.”
- Bessie Lyman, retired public school teacher in Newton, Massachusetts.
- Andrea Lyman, actress and singer based in Newton, Massachusetts.
This segment aired on March 30, 2016.