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"Broken Eggs": What happens when your retirement is ambushed

A decade ago, Julia and Bob Beardsley were on their way to what they predicted would be a perfectly comfortable retirement. The San Francisco Bay couple (Bob was an executive consultant and Julia a retired art teacher) had diligently saved 10% of their income from day one of their 30-year marriage. But a perfect storm of events — three job layoffs in eight years for Bob, a costly cancer diagnosis for Julia, and the financial crisis — all but obliterated their nest egg.

When Bob celebrated his 66th birthday this year, he and Julia, 71, were no longer planning for retirement. They were barely scraping by. Their 401(k)s, reduced by half when the financial market crashed, were suddenly their main source of income. Bob estimates they spent one-third of what was left in their accounts simply covering their household expenses.  

“We were very typical middle class boomers who thought that we were fine but we weren’t,” says Julia. “And I know we’re not the only ones in this situation.”

Broken Eggs: The Looming Retirement Crisis in America

The Beardsleys are among a half dozen people featured in “Broken Eggs,” a new documentary highlighting the plight of workers struggling to prepare for retirement in the wake of the Great Recession. The surveys and figures that tell the story are well-documented and almost taken for granted at this point. Ten thousand baby boomers reach retirement age every day , 40% of boomers say they plan on working through retirement, and more than one-third of workers say they have saved less than $1,000 for their golden years.  

The film was the brainchild of executive producer Chad Parks, a long-time financial advisor and president of The Online 401(k) In 2012, Parks spearheaded a six-week road trip across the America, during which he, a film crew, and two co-producers filmed conversations about retirement with dozens of individuals and families in 12 cities across the country. The film consists of a selection of those interviews.

“You read stats all day and they just go in one ear and out the other,” Parks says. “We wanted to tell the story and humanize the issue.”

In addition to the Beardsleys, the film features younger generations struggling to save for retirement. Jeanne Jaubert, 42, is a single mother from New Orleans working two jobs (as a professional cellist in the city’s Philharmonic Orchestra and as a private music teacher). She was relying on receiving a $1,000-a-month pension from the American Federation of Musicians when she retires. But her safety net is in jeopardy. Like many pension plans, AFM’s fund was walloped by the collapse of the financial markets in 2008, resulting in a $900 million loss.

“For better or worse, I am banking on my pension existing and continuing to exist for me when I retire,” she says. “I do not know how I am going to retire, but I intend to one day.”

Bob and Julia Beardsley lost half their nest egg after the financial crisis. (Source: Broken Eggs)

Repairing a broken nest egg

For the Beardsleys, making up for lost ground has been a continuous effort. To get some help with their mortgage, they invited their son John, 46, and his family to move in for about a year while they tried to sell their house. The home eventually did sell in May, and by moving to a more affordable town, the couple were able to cut their monthly housing costs by $3,500, not to mention the hundreds of dollars they are saving on lower utility bills. The last couple of years of strong stock market returns has also given their ransacked retirement accounts a much-needed boost.

They each receive Social Security benefits, but even after downsizing, it isn’t near enough to cover household expenses, Julia says. Now that Bob is working again, they are facing another hurdle before they can begin saving for retirement. After struggling to get by for eight years, they amassed $60,000 worth of credit card debt.

“We’re slowly getting out of this,” Bob says. “The economic upturn has helped a lot and of course, being employed helps, too.”

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Is your retirement in jeopardy because of unpaid medical debt? We’d love to hear from you: yfmoneymailbag@yahoo.com.

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