Posted by: nickgerlich | July 1, 2008

Baby Baby

What a difference a year can make. The high cost of gas (relatively speaking, of course) has become a near-constant theme in my blogs this summer. It has affected everyone, rich and poor. And now I am changing my prognostications about how the Baby Boomers will live out their golden years.

After all, if your RV only gets 8mpg, Social Security might not even be enough to cover the gas.

BoomersAs we all know, the Boomers have been the most adored cohort ever to populate the US, and if Gen X and Gen Y are any indication, probably the most despised as well.

So how will $4 gas (or more) affect our soon-to-be-retirees? In a huge way. I once thought my gang would drive around the US in 40-foot buses, piloted by folks doing well to see the dashed white lines on the road. Scary thought, eh?

But I am now revising my guesses. I think we have truly found the break point with gas, the price at which people blanch and begin to cut back. And if your generation is one that has been spending itself to death the last few decades, it’s not going to be easy settling into a more mundane existence.

That’s not to say the Boomers are all going to gather at the dumpster for a freegan convention. It just means they will have to tweak some things. Maybe a lot of things.

I see Boomers hanging on to their houses, the ones they spent the last 30 years paying off, rather than pulling up stakes and heading south. And I see a lot fewer of them hanging out at the RV dealership.

Boomers will probably never retire, either. Many will be forced into a “second career” of part-time jobs to help make ends meet, or, if they are lucky, will work until their company finally kicks them out. I have already revised my retirement plan upward from 60 to 67…and maybe later. The market would have to perform some incredible heroics in the coming 11 years for me to check out early.

The Boomers, though, will never give up their quest for the fountain of youth. If an all-purpose Viagra comes along, we will be popping those things out of Pez dispensers. Bald? ED? High cholesterol? Tired? Take this Milk Dud-size pill and cure it all.

If Boomers do move, I see them wanting to be in tightly clustered communities in which they can walk or take their golf cart to the store, bank, and barber. Anything to reduce dependence on oil will be seen as a plus. Population densities will increase, but that’s the price we will pay for saving gas money.

Boomers will continue to want a blend of the tangible and the digital. While we embrace the technology that brought us iTunes and iPods, we still want to hold the CD. While we all use debit cards, occasionally we want to count the cash.

More importantly, I see Boomers having to learn a lesson their parents learned about 80 years ago. Maybe it is poetic justice for my generation to have to dine from the pot of frugality, but unless we return to the days of cheap oil, the ramifications of new market realities are going to make our golden years anything but gold.

And maybe it is just too bad we didn’t learn this lesson a little earlier. It’s hard making adjustments at the end when you’ve had it so good all along.

Dr “Deferred Gratification” Gerlich


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