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What Is Your Retirement Story?

Retirement readiness was the last thing on my mind until two years ago, when I was stopped dead in my tracks with a retirement awakening. Hard to believe that at forty-six years old, for the first time in my life, someone was asking me if I was prepared for retirement. I thought, What’s the big deal? I have more important things to worry about like bills, mortgage and car payments, and daycare costs.

But then here I was in a conversation about the fact that retirement should have also been on my list of priorities. Out of this conversation, I decided to write my retirement story. I would urge you to do the same: put on paper how much money you think you will have to live on when you retire. Take a hard look at what your life looks like at retirement time.

I have to admit a big part of why I did this was to prove this other person wrong. I never could have predicted doing this would change my life for the better. I have learned there is a huge retirement readiness gap in America—and I believe it is really a retirement knowledge gap.

It has been proven that when people are challenged to use a retirement readiness calculator, it changes how they plan for their retirement and as a result, they are much better prepared for retirement when the time comes. After gathering the facts between what my husband’s retirement looked like combined with mine, I could see my golden years looked pretty bleak. Most financial planners will tell you need to replace 80 percent of your current monthly income to retire comfortably. We didn’t even come close to that.

If Social Security is still around, it only covers 40 percent of your income. That was an eye opener for me because I always thought you could live comfortably on just Social Security. I really had to confess I lacked the knowledge I should have had in regards to my retirement.

I have recently seen my mother try to live on just Social Security. Like many women her age, my mom lived a very nice life, but she did not work much and did not save for retirement. Then she went through a divorce and experienced some unplanned medical bills. Like my mother, many of us set goals for our lives, but few of us make planning and saving for our retirement a goal. I don’t want the last years of my life to be about penny-pinching and government housing.

I took this as a wakeup call and am now on the path to having the type of retirement that I have dreamed about. But it doesn’t stop with me. With 64 percent of households in America at risk of being able to maintain their standard of living at retirement, there is a lot of work to be done.

Today I am dedicated to helping bridge the retirement readiness gap in America. As a mother of six, I can tell you that I am deeply concerned about my children’s future. What will their retirement look like forty, fifty, or sixty years from now if nothing changes?

I have the privilege of being on an advisory team with a national college contest called “The iOMe Challenge.” The 2009 Challenge asked college students to answer the question, “If nothing happens to the current retirement system, what will your retirement look like forty years from now?” Students had to write an essay and create a thirty-second call-to-action video. In early February, the winners of the inaugural contest attended a reception in Washington DC, where they got to present their ideas to policymakers. The goal of the challenge is to stop young people in their tracks and get them engaged in talking about and being proactive in providing solutions to the retirement crisis. I am currently gearing up for this year’s version of The iOMe Challenge.

In February of 2010, I had the honor of becoming Mrs. Wisconsin United States. My platform is “saving/retirement readiness.” It is a message I am taking across the country and in July, I will compete for the national title in Las Vegas. I am on a mission to get families talking about tomorrow—today—in the hopes that all of us will be able to enjoy a dignified retirement.