Sunday Mailbag

April 29th, 2012 | Posted in Mailbag

Q: I work a 40 hour week, 50 weeks a year, and have been since 1978. I see actual retirement in the next ten years. As a artist and freelancer, what does retirement look like for you? No plan at all, freelance part time, or continue present pace until last breath is exhaled?

A: Freelancer artists face the same challenges to retirement that any self-employed person does. You have no employer who is providing a pension plan for you, so sou simply have to plan ahead for it . . .¬¨‚Ć and the younger you are when you do it, the better. Social Security is almost guaranteed to be long gone by then, so it’s up to the individual to make sure they have some kind or financial security when their working lives come to an end. It’s never TOO late to start doing that, although it’s hard to put money away for tomorrow when you can see many uses for it today. There are many resources out there for figuring out what to do with your money, but really it boils down to two things: How much you have to put away and how long you have before you need to start taking it out. Obviously the more you have to put away the better, but more importantly how long you have for it to earn interest/capital gains/dividends is the real key. The $100 invested at age twenty will be worth many times more at age 65 than $100 invested at age 50. The rule of thumb is that the longer you have to let the money work for you, the more aggressive and higher risk investments you should put the money into, gradually shifting to less volatile and safer but lower yielding investments as you grow older. After that it’s dumb luck with the timing and economy.

When I was in my 20’s I started putting money away in mutual funds and some stocks ostensibly for retirement, but also in preparation for my kid’s college educations. Fortunately I was in a position, with a healthy business owning caricature art concessions in various theme parks, to put a fair amount away each year at an age where I had a long time to let it grow and weather economic ups and downs. Sadly, the last 6 years has seem some massive “downs” right when it was time to start taking some of that money out for the college thing, and the theme park concession business is a shadow of it’s former profitable self thanks to several factors, so anything approaching easy retirement doesn’t look too likely.

Fortunately I do not have a career where once I hit my 60’s I will get downsized or replaced by a younger, cheaper employee…one of the benefits of being self-employed. Nor do I dig ditches or do some other physical work where age will prevent me from doing my job. I love what I do and will only continue to get better at it as the years go by. I am still relatively young (I will be 46 this Friday in fact) so I have at least 25 years of high productivity still in me, which is basically about as long as I’ve been in the business so far. . . so that’s a long time to still be working and (hopefully) continuing to earn a living. Over the next 6 years I will finish paying for the college educations of my three children who will be attending college, which unfortunately will more or less clean out the savings I had accumulated.¬¨‚Ć When life settles down and it’s just myself, The Lovely Anna and our autistic daughter The Animated Elizabeth, expenses will also settle down and perhaps I can build that nest egg back up a bit for the day when I have trouble drawing or keeping up with deadlines. God willing that is still a long way in the future, but it’s over-late to start planning for that day when it is almost upon you.

So, the short answer is I plan to keep working as long as I am able and clients want to buy my work. I subscribe to the Al Jaffee philosophy, in that work and keeping active is what keep you young. At 91 Al is a marvel of health and still doing incredible artwork. I would love to be able to have someone say that of me at that age.

Thanks to John G. Kase for the question. If you have a question you want answered for the mailbag about cartooning, illustration, MAD Magazine, caricature or similar, e-mail me and I’ll try and answer it here!


  1. MDW Belgium says:

    Here in Europe, specifically Belgium, we say that “it was the age one to give”. But we say also that “it was the age of our arteries.”
    For these two reasons, I wish you good luck and long life to you and your family. We love your cartoons, but your family needs you.

  2. Richard says:

    What are the reasons for the theme park art concessions being down?


New profile pic courtesy of my self-caricature for the Scott Maiko penned article “Gotcha! Mug Shots of Common (but Despicable) Criminals” from MAD 550

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