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Money Makeover

The Zinns' Plan

Going on Instinct

The Zinns don't fret much over money

They have some savings, a home, and almost no debt

They anticipate a worry-free retirement

But do they really have enough to last?

John and Sandy Zinn's basic philosophy is displayed on a slip of paper posted on their refrigerator door: "If you don't intend to do anything about it, worry is silly. If you do intend to do something about it, worry is unnecessary." Even in these turbulent times, the couple's serenity extends to their finances. "We're from the Midwest," shrugs John, 61. "We were raised to be sensible about money." And they have been. With a nearly paid-off home and no other debt, they're counting on their $200,000 in savings, plus at least $2,300 a month in Social Security benefits, to support an untroubled retirement within a few years. John will pursue his prize-winning woodcarving. Sandy, 60, will garden and read. They'll take long nature hikes, travel, contribute to worthy causes, and visit family and friends scattered across the country.

Yet whether and when the Zinns can really pursue such a life is an unanswered question. They're hoping that a little planning now will allow them to continue the free-spirited life together they've pursued since they wed in 1969.

Back then, during the Vietnam conflict, John was a conscientious objector to military service. Sandy was a psychology major in college. Once John's two-year alternative service at a Chicago medical center was done, the duo set off on their 700cc Moto Guzzi motorcycle to tour the United States. They got all the way to Juneau, Alaska, where they stayed for a while, and later hitchhiked through Europe. By 1973, they were ready to plant their Midwestern feet firmly on the ground. A cousin of Sandy's in Elkhart, Indiana, mentioned a local maintenance job that came with free housing—plus there was a receptionist spot for Sandy. The deal was "too good to refuse," says Sandy, so they settled down.

Over the next 26 years, they bought a house and raised two sons. John held several positions as a maintenance supervisor and Sandy worked with at-risk high school students. They stashed money in various retirement accounts and steered clear of credit card debt.

Ten years ago, kids grown, the Zinns moved to Fountain Hills, Arizona, near Phoenix, where they plan to remain. "We were sick of Indiana winters," Sandy explains. John found a job in maintenance management; Sandy began a career coordinating data collection for social research firms.

Even though Sandy's income has sometimes been irregular, they've always kept their spending well within their means. "We cut back when we have less," says Sandy, who takes the lead on tending their money. Sandy would like to retire in two years, at 62. John gives work another five years, till he's 66 and eligible for a full retirement benefit from Social Security.

The Zinns aren't worried that their leisure might not be lavish. "We'll live happily on whatever we have," insists Sandy. "We don't ever want to be a burden to our kids."

The Main Problem

The Zinns face two typical challenges: their savings are limited and much of their wealth is in their home. In 2009 the couple earned more than $90,000 but, after paying down an extra $4,560 on their mortgage, saved only about $6,000. If Sandy were to retire at 62, as she would like to, their spending might drop to about $60,000 a year; and in five years, when their mortgage is paid off and John can retire, their expenses might shrink to only $46,000 a year. Still, without some changes, the Zinns' peace of mind in retirement probably won't last long, warns certified financial planner Matt Buckwalter of MJB Financial Planning in Lincoln, Nebraska. He notes that Sandy's mom is 94 and John's parents lived to 88 and 89. With such longevity in the family, "it's likely they'll run short of cash," he says. "Exactly when depends on what they choose to do."

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