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Biz & Books review: Planning for retirement sure isn’t like it used to be

“55, Underemployed and Faking Normal: Your Guide to a Better Life”

Terri Schlichenmeyer

Special to the NNBW

Author Elizabeth White.
Photo: Mig Dooley
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  • The book: “55, Underemployed and Faking Normal: Your Guide to a Better Life”
  • The author: Elizabeth White
  • The details: c. 2020, Simon & Schuster, 272 pages, $17
  • Buy online: amzn.to/32PfONZ

Your last regular paycheck has come and gone.

That was awhile ago, back before you were downsized / laid off / reassigned right out of a job and you’re not sure what to do. Your savings are nearly gone, your retirement funds are next, and you’re too young to get Social Security. In “55, Underemployed, and Faking Normal” by Elizabeth White, you’ll see how to make this new life work.

At 35 years old, Elizabeth White had a solid job at the World Bank, she owned a house, and she was heading to Harvard to get a PhD. There, she “caught the entrepreneurial bug” and, in partnership with her mother, she became a business owner; when the business failed, she was resilient and landed some consulting gigs that put her finances back to where they were before.

And then the Great Recession hit. Suddenly, White was exactly where the title of this book indicates: too young, too old, and suddenly “totally out of the loop.” Shortly afterward, when an essay she penned went surprisingly viral, she learned that she wasn’t alone.

Experts say that, to retire successfully, Americans need “fifteen to twenty times their annual salaries” in some sort of savings or program but White points out the realism: very few new retirees have achieved that. The vast majority haven’t.

What’s more, rosy retirement pictures are painted of island getaways, long walks in Paris, and palatial homes, when the reality is that a very high percentage of Americans age 55+ don’t know where they’ll be living this fall. Some of America’s seniors are trying to get by on less than $500 per month.

“55, Underemployed and Faking Normal: Your Guide to a Better Life”
Courtesy Photo

If this is your new reality, there are things you can do.

First, know that “the cavalry ain’t coming” and you’re more-or-less on your own. Learn to “small up” in your housing and your possessions by knowing exactly what’s important to you. Re-think your priorities. Ignore your pride away and take the dang food stamps. Take care of your home. Take care of your relationships. Take care of yourself.

So, here’s what you need to know about “55, Underemployed, and Faking Normal”: what you get out of this book will depend on how old you are now.

Regardless of what the title indicates, this book is absolutely for new college grads or those entering the workforce this year and are serious about their futures. Younger readers, throw away those horror novels that line your shelves; for you, this book is a cautionary, real-life, terror-filled memoir that doubles as a hardcover warning for your elderhood.

For anyone who’s facing a retirement that’s not necessarily on their terms, author Elizabeth White has frights for you, too, but they’re tamer. You’ve met those terrors already, and the advice she offers helps make them less scary, more attackable, more survivable.

“55, Underemployed, and Faking Normal” is useful, even enjoyable, but it’s serious stuff with no fluff. For readers who are facing a new reality for their Golden Years, reluctantly or otherwise, reading it might pay off.

Terri Schlichenmeyer is the reviewer behind “The Bookworm Sez,” a self-syndicated book review column published in more than 260 newspapers and magazines in the U.S., Canada and the Caribbean. She can be reached for feedback, ideas and links to reviews of books on a broad range topics at bookwormsez.com.


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