Economic crisis has retirees rethinking lifestyles, plans

Don Wheeler retired from his telecommunications sales job three years ago and had been looking forward to his wife, Nancy, joining him in retirement when she turns 62 next year. But now they're having second thoughts, because the investment portfolio they are relying on has, in Wheeler's words, "taken such a big hit."

"She's getting ready to retire, she's wanting to retire, and now we're asking ourselves, can she afford to retire?" said Wheeler, 65, who lives in North Raleigh.

Certainly the events of the past week -- the demise of Lehman Brothers, the emergency sale of Merrill Lynch, the federal bailout of insurance giant American International Group -- upped the anxiety level of investors of all ages.

But for those who are retired and relying on their nest eggs to pay their bills today, or who planned to tap into their savings soon, a tumbling market really hits home. Even after the rallies of Thursday and Friday, the Dow Jones industrial average is off 14 percent this year.

"The most frequent question over the last few days is, 'What is going on, and when does this end?' " Raleigh financial planner Frank Smith said Wednesday.

"The biggest fear for a retiree is running out of money," he said. "That's the overall issue with almost everyone."

Smith has one retired client who postponed plans to buy a new car -- even though he has the money -- and others who have trimmed their daily expenses.

Wheeler and his wife returned to their penny-pinching ways after splurging this year on remodeling their home in preparation for putting it on the market in a year or two.

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