Pictures don't lie -- growing old isn't for wimps

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(MoneyWatch) My father, who continued pole-vaulting into his late 70s, appeared in the 1986 book, "Growing Old is Not for Sissies: Portraits of Senior Athletes." This groundbreaking and inspiring book profiled seniors who didn't let their age stop them from being as active as possible. The book also offers important lessons about how to face aging with confidence, not fear.

A few weeks ago, I reported on some innovative software from Merrill Edge, called Face Retirement, that digitally ages your photo to encourage you to save more money today so that your future self will be financially secure. This software enabled me to literally see how the next few decades might play out for me. Let's take a look.

Me at age 59

At my current age, 59, I pursue a range of activities that are important to me, such as writing and giving public presentations on how baby boomers prepare for their retirement years. My wife and I take care of our health. We enjoy traveling in the U.S. and abroad, gardening, hiking, yoga, and ballroom dancing; we're also active in the lives of our adult children and relatives. Most of our income is from my self-employment activities and my wife's salary from her full-time job. Here's the photo that the Face Retirement software started with:

Me at age 67

By the time I reach 67, my wife and I will most likely continue to pursue the same activities we do today, although my wife will have retired from her job by then. Our grandchildren will be less than 10 years old, and we plan to be very active in their lives. We'll continue to travel -- these might be the "golden years" where we still have the health and energy to be engaged in our many interests and causes. Our income will be a mix of interest and dividends on our retirement savings, pension income and self-employment income; to maximize our lifetime income, we won't start our Social Security benefits until age 70.

Me at age 77

We still plan to continue most of our current activities, and I'll hopefully still have some modest self-employment income. Our grandchildren will be in their teens, and I'm sure we'll still be active in their lives, attending their graduations and special activities. We might not travel abroad as much, but we'll still be doing yoga, gardening, ballroom dancing and hiking. By now, we'll have started Social Security and will be drawing down principal and investment income from our retirement savings. We might take part of our savings to buy an immediate annuity, if at that time we want to be worry-free financially in the years to come.

Me at 87

Even in our late 80s, my wife and still plan to hike, garden, do yoga and ballroom dance (although we might not do the swing and cha-cha as vigorously as before). We'll continue to be active in the lives of our grandchildren, maybe even attending a few weddings! We'll most likely be fully retired by now and will continue to take steps to secure guaranteed income from our retirement savings without needing much hands-on attention.

Me at age 97

My wife says that she'll still love me at this age. Our goals will be to remain vertical and keep smiling. Bring it on!

I have to admit I cheated a little. The software's instructions told me to use a neutral face, but I thought the results looked better if I smiled.  Picturing your future can be a powerful experience. Try it!

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    Steve Vernon helped large employers design and manage their retirement programs for more than 35 years as a consulting actuary. Now he's a research scholar for the Stanford Center on Longevity, where he helps collect, direct and disseminate research that will improve the financial security of seniors. He's also president of Rest-of-Life Communications, delivers retirement planning workshops and authored Money for Life: Turn Your IRA and 401(k) Into a Lifetime Retirement Paycheck and Recession-Proof Your Retirement Years.

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