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How a Science Fiction Writer Plans for Retirement

If you’re under 40 today, chances are you’re not going to retire until you are well into your 70s.  And when you do, the planet may be a very different place than it is today.

While we might be blindly throwing our dollars into our 401(k) plans today (and it’s a good idea, don’t stop), the reality is that we have very little idea where and on what we’ll be spending those dollars in the 2060s.

Image with text 2060


To get a better sense of what that might be, we didn’t turn to an economist or retirement advisor, we turned to someone who really ponders the future for a living: a science fiction writer.

Filmmaker and science fiction writer Romie Stott recently published an essay called “A Futurist Vision of Retirement” in the popular money blog The Billfold. It struck a nerve, leading the New York Times to opine about her story in its article “Getting Older After the Apocalypse.”

Here’s the gist of Romie’s vision: The future is going to be dry, hot, and very entertaining.

Economics meets art.

The 35-year-old writer is a futurist, but she also represents modern young adulthood. After studying economics as an undergraduate at the University of North Texas, she took $54,000 in student loans to pay for her artistic passion: learning to be a filmmaker at the London Film School.

imageAll the while, she was getting more involved in the science fiction world, using her background in economics to draw on real data — plus a healthy dose of her own vision — to talk about what the future could actually be like.

“There is a lot of doomsaying [in media and books] right now and it’s a response to economic doldrums and the new millennium,” she says. “The end of the world makes you feel important because you are the last people to exist.”

But for Romie, a more accurate vision of the future is less apocalyptic.

“I am interested in finding ways to talk about the disasters that are coming, but also the technology that can improve things or make it livable.”

So what will the future look like for millennial retirees? Here are some things to contemplate as you sock money away for decades to come.

Save money today for your water bill tomorrow.

If you wonder what you’ll be spending your retirement dollars on, look no further than the kitchen sink. “I suspect water will be more expensive; I suspect energy will become cheaper,” she says.

Climate change is a biggie for Romie and she’s not just being an alarmist. She’s just looking at the data. “If your retirement dream includes a beach house, lake house, Florida, or New Mexico, add four to 11 degrees to the daily forecast; that’s the EPA’s best prediction for 2100 AD,” she wrote in The Billfold.

‘Big Pharma’ will help your work week.

If you’re working until 75, there’s a good chance you’ll have a variety of jobs. For example, you might be driving for an on-demand car service, renting out part of your home, doing some online data-crunching, and communicating through video — and that’s all in a 24-hour day.

Romie envisions that this kind of patchwork of personal and professional time — where at a moment’s notice you might be working or not working — means that we’ll need ways to wind down and wind up quickly.

“I could imagine a consumer drug that can instantly sober you up. Like the morning after pill for after two beers,” she says. “I think people would like that and they would spend money on that, even if the side effects were really unpleasant.”

Stash cash for your Oculus Rift.

Two trends will continue, says Romie: our fractured schedules (see above) and the quality of entertainment that can be delivered right to your own living room. So whatever you think about Netflix prices, expect more of that in the future.

“If I am watching movies at home, I have to pay by myself for all the equipment for my individual setup versus a dance club, where there are a lot of people, each paying a little,” she says.

“If we continue to push that direction and people want single-user, highly individualized entertainment, like an Oculus Rift headset for an immersive experience — or anything that’s just for one person where you are simulating a whole reality — that’s going to cost money.”

Make your student loans pay you back.

Valuing education for what is has provided — whether it’s in earnings or emotional returns — can put student loans into the right perspective over time. Romie went back to school at 29 to study what she loved, film, and will have finished her loan repayment in the coming year. That has meant deferring other kinds of spending, even making cost-intensive films, for now.

“My hope is that I can create something that would continue to pay me. It would be great to have something that was still paying me royalties in 50 years,” she says. “With movies, you keep making them until one of them takes on a life of its own.”

However, she’s quick to point out the more important return from her education. “I don’t regret [taking loans] even if they never make me money because it was something I wanted to know how to do.”

You’ll need your Facebook friends IRL.

As Romie wrote in her Billfold article, there’s a global demographic shift happening, and in the future, there may be fewer young people than older people.

To help aging millennials in 2060, we may need more personalized robots to help. For example, maybe these robots are programmed with information about your likes and dislikes via decades of your Facebook updates? But we’ll still need real people to deliver a real human touch — or at least lend a hand.

“A big part of planning for retirement is planning for having a community,” she says. “There are a lot of ways to move around and sort of isolate yourself as you pursue your solitary goals and visions, but what always draws me back is that I know I need people who have my best interests in mind and vice versa.”

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