Retired field representative,
Automobile Club of New York
Personal savings, Social Security, and some careful
thinking about exactly how much he would need to retire on
have provided Herbert Friedman with an income on which he
lives modestly but contentedly in his senior years. When he
went to work for the Automobile Club of New York in 1948,
the age of ERISA protections was years away and the auto
club offered only an unfunded pension plan, with retirement
at 50% of the last year's salary after 20 years of service.
But in 1966, just two years shy of Friedman's twentieth
anniversary, the club terminated the plan and switched to a
new one that is tax-exempt and fully funded.
After calculating down to the penny how much income he
would need in retirement, Friedman elected to forfeit 6% of
his pension benefits annually and take early retirement at
62. He gave up another 25% of those benefits in order to
provide his wife Rita with 100% pension protection in the
event of his death.
He and Rita now live on a fixed pension of $8,688 per
year from the Automobile Club, a combined $15,446 in Social
Security benefits, and about $3,000 from interest on
certificates of deposit and a five-year annuity.
Friedman learned to count his pennies by example. He
came of age in New York during the Depression. "I watched
my father walk every morning about eight miles from our
apartment on 184th Street in the Bronx to the garment
district on 28th Street in Manhattan, and back again every
evening, because he didn't want to waste a nickel on the
subway," Friedman recalls with obvious pride and
He graduated from Evander Childs High School in the
Bronx in 1941, attended trade schools, and got a job as a
sheet metal worker before joining the Air Force as an
enlisted man at 21. With only a commercial high school
diploma, he passed the rigorous exams and training to be a
pilot. "I spent three wonderful years stateside," he
recalls happily. "I got to fly, I didn't have to drop any
bombs on anyone, and no one had to shoot at me."
After leaving the Air Force he worked in a gas station
in the Bronx until his mother asked him one day, "When are
you going to get a clean job?" So, in 1948, he took a job
as a telephone receiver-dispatcher for the Automobile Club,
where he stayed until 1983. In between he held 13 different
positions, the last 10 years as a field representative in
Brooklyn and Staten Island. Field reps handle complaints
from service stations and from club members, identify new
stations, and train their drivers.
The job was full of the unexpected. On one memorable
night Friedman was called to help out at a station in the
Flatbush section of Brooklyn that was overwhelmed with a
heavy volume of emergency road service calls. At about 7
p.m. the owner emerged from his office dressed to the
nines, and slipped away before Friedman could protest. "It
turns out he was madly in love with a belly dancer at a
Greek club down on the west side of Manhattan and no one
could keep him away from her," Friedman relates. "The man
was so crazy about her that he gave her a Mercedes. No one
knows where he got the money."
Along the way, the Friedmans raised three sons, and are
now grandparents. Living in retirement in Pearl River, New
York, since quitting the Automobile Club, Herb retains both
his New York City street smarts and his empathy for the
"average working stiffs" of this world. Thanks to their
careful planning, he and Rita, a Danish immigrant to whom
he has now been married for 48 years, live more than
contentedly on their modest $27,100 income.
That has been enough for them to manage two trips to
Europe and numerous excursions around the US and Canada.
How do they do it? Their mortgage is paid off, they own
their own car, and they never pay interest on credit card
debt. Beyond that, Friedman says, "We just watch what we
spend. And if we don't need it, we don't buy it. I guess
you could say our budget consciousness is deeply ingrained
in our brain cells."
- Susan Arterian