If You were to accuse Tony Gittens and his wife, Jennifer Lawson, of being obsessive when it comes to saving and investing, you would probably be right. The couple illustrates that you don’t have to be “rich” to assure yourself of a prosperous retirement.
Gittens, 65, insists he and his wife have always planned ahead because they expect to live long, healthy lives; devising a budget that allowed them to build a financial cushion for their golden years. “Before we got married we talked about money,” says Lawson. In the early ’80s, the couple would spend their nights soaking up money management tips from public radio show host and financial expert John Ferguson who helped the couple map out their future shortly after marrying in 1982.
Gittens spent most of his career as a professor for the University of the District of Columbia for 20 years. In 1996, he left academia to become the executive director of the District of Columbia Commission on the Arts and Humanities. He retired in 2008 but still devotes time to directing the Washington, DC International Film Festival, an organization he founded in 1986. This part-time pursuit provides Gittens with an annual income of about $60,000—added to about $23,000 he receives from Social Security benefits.
Lawson, 64, has been a general manager at WHUT-TV in Washington, D.C., since 2004, earning about $175,000. Lawson also runs a small business, Magic Box Mediaworks, a production company she has owned since 1995.
An innate drive to be prepared for the future explains how the Washington, D.C., couple has been able to amass a retirement nest egg of about $4 million. “I started my retirement savings shortly after completing graduate school back in the 1970s,” says Lawson, who realized that she could have a comfortable lifestyle while saving for retirement. So, she got into the habit of socking away money. In the mid-1970s she invested in a 403(b) plan through her employer at the time and Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association College Retirement Equities Fund (TIAA-CREF). “Eventually, I split my TIAA-CREF contributions evenly between fixed income and equities and invested in an additional Schwab retirement account,” she says. She invests about 10% of her salary from WHUT into her 403(b) each month. Lawson also puts the maximum allowable amount into a tax-saving annuity. Her portfolio includes low-yielding stock and secure mutual funds.