Former air traffic controllers Sheila and Chris Korte, here with...

Former air traffic controllers Sheila and Chris Korte, here with a map showing their travels, both started saving well before retirement. Credit: Daniel Goodrich

You work all your life and dream about the day when your time will be your own.  The mere thought gets you through those days that everybody has now and again, when the 9-to-5 — or the 4-to-midnight — feels like a merciless grind.

Next thing you know, retirement is right around the corner. Saying goodbye to the commute is the easy part. The challenge: being sure you have enough cash to last as long as you do.

It’s no secret there's a retirement crisis. The average amount Americans have socked away for the future is just $84,821 — far less than the $1 million typically recommended by experts to supplement Social Security, pensions and other sources of income, according to a 2018 survey of 2,000 adults by Northwestern Mutual.

And for Long Island's 480,000 residents who are over 65, the area's high cost of living makes the challenge even bigger.

But while the statistics can be sobering, retirees can be a hardy bunch, creative and nimble enough to adjust to life with no paycheck and to make the most of their later years. Here’s a look at how three Long Island couples are making their money last in retirement.

The Kortes, Babylon Village

Chris and Sheila Korte thought a lot about retirement.  For more than 25 years the couple faithfully put money into their employer-sponsored retirement plans, often putting in the maximum. They both served stints in the Army and as air traffic controllers. He went on to become a treasury trader, and after an accident left Sheila unable to do her job as an air traffic controller, she worked in the travel industry.

Simon and Deanna Marshall of Wheatley Heights were forced into unexpected...

Simon and Deanna Marshall of Wheatley Heights were forced into unexpected early retirement but are making it work. Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

Sheila, now 63, retired in 2009 and Chris, 65, followed her two years later. They had always envisioned an active retirement. In 2010 the Kortes bought a Cruise Planners franchise. “The part-time business allows us to sell travel and travel at a discount,” says Sheila.

The business gives them income, something to focus on, and they enjoy interacting with clients. They view the business as one of their smartest moves in retirement. They also downsized five years ago, selling their big colonial and going for a newly constructed townhouse just five blocks from their old house.

“We cut our expenses by 60 percent when we moved. We save $10,000 just on taxes,” says Chris.

The extra income has made it possible to draw less from their retirement funds the last two years, plus they are now both getting Social Security. “We didn’t want to live off our nest egg completely,” says Sheila.

Danielle and Patrick Calvo of Miller Place earn extra money working...

Danielle and Patrick Calvo of Miller Place earn extra money working through a dog-sitting app.  Credit: Jessica Rotkiewicz

They drive 2003 and 2004 model year cars and keep them in good condition. They walk a lot for health and savings on gas and wear and tear on the cars.

The business also enables them to take the home office deduction and write off some expenses. Better still, while they work at least 20 to 25 hours a week booking cruises and resorts for clients, they have the flexibility to set their own hours.

“As long as we have an internet connection, we can do our work while we’re on a cruise ourselves,” says Sheila.

When they aren’t traveling they love spending time with their grandchildren who live on Long Island. The Kortes are loving retirement. Chris, who spent 20 years commuting to Jersey City to work, is especially content. “I love our lifestyle.”

The Marshalls, Wheatley Heights

There’s plenty to be said for retirement planning. But truth is, sometimes stuff happens, like the unexpected early retirement.

Deanna Marshall, the former director of Suffolk County’s Office of Women's Services, was laid off in 2011 when her job was eliminated. A year later she had a stroke/aneurysm bleed in the brain, and could no longer look for a job. She retired at 62. The next year her husband, Simon, her caretaker, had a car accident and was put in an induced coma at 63. He retired from his job as an alcoholism and substance abuse counselor.

They were blindsided.  Today, the couple, both 68, continue to adjust. “We were not prepared for the unexpected,” says Deanna.

They both get Social Security, and Deanna has two pensions. “We learned from budgeting that we could make early retirement work,” says Deanna. They spend less on clothes, lunch, gas and takeout food.

It’s not easy with their fixed income. “Our property taxes are more than $10,000 a year. We looked at moving south, because doing so would probably mean we could pay $8,000 less in taxes, at least. We could sell our house and buy a house down south and have no mortgage.”

The Marshalls haven’t made a definite decision to relocate. They have deep roots here. For now, they’re taking it one day at a time.

The Calvos, Miller Place 

Patrick Calvo is 73 and satisfied. In his 50s he stopped working as a self-employed master hair colorist. Until 2007, he worked at retailers like Century 21 and Home Depot.  But for nearly two years now he’s found his niche working part-time for Rover, a dog-sitting app. He loves dogs and, just as important, he loves talking to their owners. Patrick and his wife, Danielle, 72, have Roxanne, their mixed-breed dog, but there’s always room at their home on 2 acres of land.

Danielle works full time for a car possession company and hasn’t decided when she will retire. She handles feeding the dogs, and Patrick does the rest. “I like talking to them,” he says.

He likes, too, that through Rover he can work as much or as little as he wants. “I still have freedom, and Rover helps supplement my income, so I don’t have to deny myself things.” He also receives a set amount of money each month from his lifetime annuity.

Has retirement crimped their lifestyle? Hardly. The couple recently returned from one of their jaunts to South Beach, Florida, to soak up the sun. Jokes Patrick, “I’m spending it all. I’m saving for no one.”

Avoid these 3 money missteps

“We’re living longer and longer. Care must be given to protecting our assets, as well as our independence and dignity as we age,” says Jeffrey Greener, a partner in the trusts and estates practice group at Rivkin Radler in Uniondale.

That means there’s little room for financial mistakes when you’re retired. There’s plenty that can knock your retirement plan off course. Here are three critical missteps.

Keeping the bank of mom and dad open

It’s time Johnny and Jane grew up. Cut the financial umbilical cord. If your heart feels soft, remember, it’s your job as a parent to prepare them to stand on their own two feet; realize you won’t be here forever.

Underestimating the cost of health care

In a recent study, Fidelity Investments projected that a healthy couple can expect to spend more than $275,000 on health care in retirement.  Have a plan for how you will handle medical expenses and evaluate if you want to go a step further and get a long-term care policy.

Misunderstanding Social Security claiming strategies

Just because you become eligible for Social Security doesn’t necessarily mean you should take it. Talk to a financial adviser about when is the best time for you to begin drawing benefits. Tapping too early can have long-term negative consequences.

— Sheryl Nance-Nash

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