[Part 2 of the final season of AMC's Mad Men begins Sunday, April 5, so Next Avenue is republishing this imagined version of Don Draper's retirement written just before the first part of the final season ran.]
Now that the seventh and final season of ‘Mad Men’ has begun, longtime viewers will be watching for clues to how the series will end. In particular, what will become of whiskey-guzzling, chain-smoking, philandering antihero ad man Don Draper?
That Draper may be headed for a bad end has been foreshadowed for years, starting with the show’s animated title sequence, which shows him tumbling from a skyscraper. Will his guilty conscience cause him to jump? Will an angry husband give him a shove? Whatever happens, he seems unlikely just to die in bed — his own, anyhow.
If 'Mad Men' Writers Let Don Live
We’ll have to wait until 2015 to know for sure, since the “final” season will be split over two years. But suppose that instead of bumping him off like Walter White in ‘Breaking Bad’ or ending ambiguously like ‘The Sopranos,’ the writers do something totally unexpected and let him live to the present day? What would Draper’s 21st century retirement be like?
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In 2015, when the series ends, Draper would be pushing 90 (by no means impossible if he gave up a vice or two) and would’ve likely retired in the ‘80s. Here are some educated speculations on what retired Don Draper has been up to since then, based on the experience of other retirees of his vintage.
Don Draper’s Retirement: The Early Years
Draper’s retirement planning would have been a little more complicated than most people’s — except for those of us who also have two identities.
If you haven’t followed the ‘Mad Men’ storyline, “Don Draper” is an assumed identity (his real name: Dick Whitman), borrowed from a fellow soldier killed in the Korean War. A further complication is that the dead Draper was born roughly nine years before the imposter. So in 1982, the Don Draper we know is 65 on paper but only 56 in the flesh.
This is something of a mixed bag from a financial standpoint.
Though he’d be able to collect his Sterling Cooper & Partners pension and full Social Security benefits way ahead of schedule, he’d have had fewer years to put money away as “Don.”
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He might, of course, have decided to keep working and postpone claiming Social Security in exchange for a bigger benefit later on. (In those days, you could wait until age 72 to start receiving benefits; today it’s 70.) That would get him to 1989 and a real age of 63, by which time he might have been ready to retire anyway. His actress wife, Megan, if she stuck with him that long, would then be 48.
The 1980s, you may recall, was still the quaint era of the three-legged stool in retirement planning — those legs being a company pension, personal investments and Social Security.
Draper’s pension might have started out reasonably rich, but it’s unlikely to have been indexed for inflation, meaning its value would have declined considerably over time. In 1982, a monthly check of, say, $2,000 would have bought a lot of sirloin. Today, that $2,000 check would be worth roughly the equivalent of $805.
As to his investments, if Draper followed the conventional wisdom of the day, he probably held a diversified portfolio of bonds and blue-chip stocks such as IBM, Philip Morris, Xerox and Chrysler. His stocks would have taken a drubbing through much of the ‘70s, then come roaring back in the ‘80s, only to crash in October 1987 when the market lost more than 22 percent on one day.
But if Draper kept his cool and stayed invested (seems probable given his demeanor), he’d have made it all back in about two years.
Meanwhile, he would have had to put at least three kids through college, without the benefit of tax-sheltered 529 plans, which didn’t come along until the ‘90s. Still, college costs in Draper’s day look like a bargain now. If his eldest child, Sally, had wanted to go to a four-year private college in 1972, her tuition, room and board would have cost him roughly $3,000 a year, on average.
Flash Forward to 2015
In 2015, Draper will be 89 and Megan, assuming she’s still with him, will be 74.
They probably sold their Upper East Side apartment years ago — either making a small fortune or losing one, depending on the year. They might then have moved to one of the hot retirement destinations of the day, such as Scottsdale, Ariz., or Hilton Head Island, S.C.
Megan’s acting career would most likely be behind her, but she might still work part-time, selling real estate, for example. That way, she’d earn some extra money, get out of the house and wouldn’t have to hear Don go on about the Glo-Coat floor wax campaign for the umpteenth time.
And Don? He’d likely be puttering around the house or hanging out at the country club, sitting under the wide-brimmed hat his dermatologist insisted on, all but oblivious to the women strolling past in their swimsuits and tennis whites.
A man finally at peace with himself, he’d no longer be tormented by his lusts, lies and betrayals. If he did have any regrets, it might be not buying gold at $35 an ounce.
As to the show’s familiar image of Draper silhouetted in freefall, that could be an omen or might mean nothing at all. He probably wouldn’t have to worry about skyscrapers in his retirement home. But he might want to invest in some good grab bars for the shower to maintain his balance.
Greg Daugherty is a personal finance writer specializing in retirement who has written frequently for Next Avenue. He was formerly editor-in-chief at Reader’s Digest New Choices and senior editor at Money.