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Cornered Office

with Mir Kamin

I'm a freelance writer and mother of two working from home, which theoretically means I can set my own schedule so as to best accommodate my family. In reality, "flexible hours" often equals "working too much." Yes, I'm my own boss; no, that doesn't mean life is easy. It's hard to leave the office when you live there. But I love what I do and feel very lucky. And not just because I get paid to work in my pajamas.

To learn more about Mir, check out her profile on Work It, Mom! or visit her blog at

Can freelancers ever afford to retire?

Categories: My boss is an idiot, Now I'm free(lancing)


There are many, many things I do not miss from the years I spent in the corporate world. Anyone who’s read here for any length of time knows that I am very well-suited to solopreneurship; I enjoy the solitude in my office, I like setting my own hours, I’m (relatively) organized and motivated, and being my own boss has significantly reduced the amount of rage I feel on a daily basis. But… there are a few things I sometimes think about, wistfully.

Fortunately, I’m married to a guy with decent employer-provided health insurance. That’s helpful, because to get a comparable policy on my own would probably cost me a kidney. But I have to tell you, I have a big birthday coming up (it, um, starts with “none of your business” and ends with a zero), and I guess I’m feeling my own mortality. I miss having a 401k with an employer-contributed match. Because the truth is that when I worked for IBM and money magically appeared in my 401k (okay, it wasn’t magic, but I was young and impressionable) I never worried about retiring.

Now, I wonder if I’ll ever be able to afford to stop working.

The reality is that I enjoy working and my job doesn’t require any heavy lifting or anything, so chances are excellent that I will continue working well into my twilight years whether I “have” to or not. But the question is, will I have the option to stop working?

Honesty time: At this very moment, the only retirement saving I’m doing is the max $5,000 contribution to my IRA every year. I rolled over my previous 401k to that account, and then—like everyone else in this country—lost most of it when the stock market tanked. The bottom line is that I don’t have a lot of money in that account, and even though the earliest I can picture retiring is still 25 years away, I worry.

I fooled around with this retirement calculator to get a sense of what I’m looking at for the future. It scared the hell out of me. I’m guesstimating on a lot of the numbers, of course, but with what I input, the calculator informed me that I’m around a million dollars short for a worry-free retirement. One million dollars. Ack!

Now, there’s lots of variables not figured into that equation; I can input my retirement savings, for example, but none of my other savings. There’s no way to account for spousal income or insurance money if he predeceases me, social security, or potential inheritances. And I’m totally guessing on the amount of money needed for yearly expenses because once my house is paid off and my kids are out of college, I’m not entirely sure what we “need” to live on. (Can you even imagine a world with no mortgage and no children needing snacks, clothing, and activities fees? Ha!)

All of those unaccounted-for issues aside, I worry. I don’t think $5,000/year is enough.

Now that I’ve incorporated my business, I’m eligible for a company 401k again… it’s just that I’m the company. So guess who just made an appointment with her accountant to talk about setting this up? It’s not that simple, of course; part of me feels like but I need that money now, I can’t afford to set any more aside!, but the long-term planner in me knows that I’m more likely to be able to make up the difference now than later. Somehow I need to figure out how to be putting more of this money away, or I’m still going to be blogging when I’m 100.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that. It’s just that, you know, I might have arthritis by then and typing could be painful. And I’d probably rather be playing with my grandkids.

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8 comments so far...

  • Ummm.. But you didn’t SELL your holdings when the stock market tanked, right? Because a peek at the DOW via Google Finance shows that the market has already regained about 75% of the value lost in 2008 and the surrounding months… So really, blaming the so-called “great recession” for a low balance is starting to look a bit silly…

    That said, this whole retirement idea is a very strange one. I’m still in the “money magically appearing” stage of my 20s, but I can’t begin to figure out how to really calculate what I’ll have and what I’ll need. So. Many. Variables!

    Rini  |  June 28th, 2011 at 12:44 pm

  • Rini: No, I didn’t sell, but recovering 75% after 3 years still means I’m down 25% from 3 years ago, PLUS all the money I put it in the meantime.

    There were a lot of years when I contributed nothing at all, so I certainly don’t mean the market robbed me or anything, just that for a while there I had a good balance going, and now… not so much.

    Mir  |  June 28th, 2011 at 12:47 pm

  • Hey, by the time you’re 100, you probably won’t need to type - someone will have invented a direct brain-to-blog interface and all you’ll have to do is think!

    But I hear ya…I have a regular day job and still don’t think I’ll ever be able to retire…

    Liz  |  June 28th, 2011 at 2:19 pm

  • If it helps: my dad never trusted company/government retirement plans, because you can’t control what happens to your money (i.e., who manages it, what stocks the fund has, and when you can have the money - not sure if this is the same for 401k?) So he’d put in what he legally had to, but never anything more, and then looked after his other savings himself.

    Also, according to an investment article I once read, the single-best thing anyone can ever do money-wise is get out of debt… so it recommended paying off a mortgage before making any investments.

    I know I know nothing about your situation (or even, to be honest, current mortgage rates in the US, although I suspect they are not an insignificant expense), but just to float the idea that maybe paying the mortgage more quickly is a better route than increasing 401k payments? And if you imagine what you pay as your mortgage, and then you imagine saving that amount once the mortgage is paid for, does that make you feel a bit more secure?

    Also just to say… yes, this financial planning stuff is hard!!

    Emma  |  June 30th, 2011 at 10:15 am

  • Emma, in a different market that’s probably good advice. Right now my mortgage is at 3.75% and I’m earning about 8% on my IRA, so paying the mortgage down is actually not the better choice. As much as my debt-hating self would like it to be. ;)

    Mir  |  June 30th, 2011 at 6:25 pm

  • I have no idea how retirements/ pensions work in the USA. Is there such a thing as a state provided pension? I’m clueless as to how things work over there, is there always a chance you could lose your 401k money on the stock market if you set one up now? Apologies for the simplistic questions, I’m just curious.

    Lou  |  July 1st, 2011 at 2:00 pm

  • Lou, we have Social Security, which is a federal program folks pay into and then receive a sort of pension out of at retirement age, but the program is in trouble and most people my age sort of accept that although we’re paying in, it may no longer exist once we retire. Even if it does, SS is generally not a “living” wage, but a supplement.

    Most 401ks and IRA accounts allow allocation between various mutual funds of varying risk. The idea is that you manage the “riskiness” of your investments as you age. The company that holds my IRA actually offers bundled options according to projected retirement age, and then manages the investments accordingly; more risky when you’re younger, less risk/return as you near retirement.

    Mir  |  July 1st, 2011 at 5:15 pm

  • Ah then, sorry for my not relevant idea re paying off the mortgage. I’m actually in the same situation in the country I live in, which was very hard to wrap my head around at first. It would be much simpler if paying down the mortgage was the best choice - as it is, I know I can do better by putting my savings elsewhere, but agonize endlessly about whether I’m putting them in the right places.

    Hope your meeting with the accountant made you feel more at ease, and not less!

    Emma  |  July 7th, 2011 at 6:20 am