The economic gut punch of the COVID-19 pandemic is being felt by retirees. Even those who have savings and other resources now fear that the financial stability they had envisioned for their post-working years is gone.
With the U.S. economy staring at a recession and the stock market having plunged more than 25% from its peak in February, retirees have seen the value of their retirement funds badly eroded and are looking for ways to generate cash for their living expenses.
Here are three retirees who explain how they’re coping with the crisis:
‘Never seen something this big’
Randy Smythe, 60, retired last September after a career in e-commerce sales and soon took off to spend a year visiting the national parks while renting out his home in Lake Arrowhead.
Now, he’s stuck at home in Lake Arrowhead because of the pandemic and — still two years from eligibility for Social Security — Smythe is hoping income from his six-figure investment portfolio and lower living costs can see him through.
“I’m a single guy so I typically eat out, but I’m not eating out now” with all the restaurants closed, Smythe said. “So, I’m saving money there.” He also no longer has his traveling costs.
Smythe said he also pays his bills as soon as they arrive. “I’ve always used that as my first line of defense against being laid off or something else,” he said. “I’m good until the first of May.”
As for his investments, Smythe said he actively trades stocks but when the market began gyrating wildly several weeks ago, “the first week I just didn’t look at it” as prices plunged into a bear market, he said. “I’ve been doing this a while, so I’ve been through multiple downturns, but not this big. I’ve never seen something this big.”
So far, he hasn’t sold stocks heavily to raise cash. Smythe said the value of his portfolio — which is 90% individual stocks and 10% cash — has dropped only 5% since February, thanks in part to the market’s rebound from its recent lows. “I do like risk, but not this much risk,” he said. “I know the market has always gone up over time.”
And if it doesn’t again anytime soon? “I could still work until I’m 67 or 68, if I need to,” he said.
‘Lucky to be in this position’
At 64, Marty Foster was in the process of moving to Las Vegas from San Francisco a month ago when the pandemic hit the United States. Living in Nevada is saving him money because the cost of housing is lower, as is being holed up in his one-bedroom apartment that rents for $944 a month.
“There’s nothing to do, there are no places open,” Foster said.
Born and raised in Los Angeles, Foster said he was a prop maker in the movie business for 25 years, then spent 11 years as a cabinet installer. A back injury sent him into retirement seven years ago with Social Security Disability Insurance, which provides him “a decent fixed income,” he said.
“There’s nothing to spend money on,” he said. “I used to love to go to the movies because I worked on them. But now, anything other than a grocery store is out. I wouldn’t want to go out right now if they were open.”
Foster also is looking for ways to trim expenses. When his car battery died last week, he didn’t replace it, and instead left the car parked and suspended his car insurance. “That saved me another $50 a month,” he said.
Foster said he did splurge $130 for an exercise bike to stay active. He hasn’t yet canceled some cruises that he’d already paid for, despite harrowing stories of infected passengers on some ships, in part because the cruise lines are offering him credits toward items he buys on the ships when he’s finally able to travel.
For now, though, “I see the horror” of the pandemic and “I read the stories about the people it’s affected,” he said. “I’m not that religious, but I’m blessed to have this apartment, and I’m not going out of it.”
‘Incredible sense of fear’
Two weeks ago, Charles V. (he did not want his last name used) arrived at his apartment in San Juan, Puerto Rico, to stay while his new house is being built in Rehoboth Beach, Del. Now the 56-year-old doesn’t know when he’ll return to the mainland.
Charles was a marketing executive with “a major consumer-products company,” which he declined to identify, for 29 years until he was laid off two years ago. He said he received a “generous severance” of a continued salary that, coincidentally, ended just as the coronavirus crisis hit.
Now, he’s making changes to his seven-figure investment portfolio to raise cash and cut his exposure to the stock market while also looking to reduce his living expenses.
“The value of my retirement account has dropped by 25%,” Charles said. “The only thing I could control at this moment was to perhaps get a little bit more safety in my financial situation. And immediately you start to think of things you can cut back on, whatever they might be.
“Let me be clear, I fully recognize I’m in a better situation than the majority of retirees,” he said. “But if there’s one thing we all share, it’s a sense of concern and worry that the prospects of a comfortable retirement are in jeopardy.
“There is an incredible sense of fear about your future,” he said. “Hopefully the market will rebound more than I’m having to deplete [my investments] on a monthly basis.”