Over four seasons of The Sopranos, two radically different versions of retirement have been portrayed. Both of them involve water. In a wistful swansong, "Big Pussy" Bonpensiero tells Tony and crew: "I always wanted a house by the ocean. Maybe in another life." It's a nice dream but one that will elude Big Pussy. Soon he sleeps with the fishes. It's early retirement Sopranos style—a permanent pink slip for FBI rats, rivals, and informants. A one-way boat ride that concludes with a gunshot and a loud splash.

Tony would prefer to spend his Geritol years in a house on the Jersey shore. To that end, he buys Whitecaps, a beachfront property where he can take the kids today and retire tomorrow. Understandably, Carmela wants security—a rainy-day fund and control over her own financial future.

Okay, nobody watches The Sopranos for retirement advice. But because Tony and Carmela Soprano want to reach their sunset years without getting clipped or arrested, they do follow, in their way, basic rules for retirement planning.

They consult experts. After much nagging, Carmela persuades Tony to meet with her cousin, a financial adviser. Afterward, she invests in government bonds, and Tony is inspired to get involved in a low-income housing scam. Tony focuses on making more money and stashes tax-exempt bundles in his garden and his lawyer's office. Carmela gets her real-estate license so she can start earning on her own, and she asks Tony for money to invest in stocks.

They do their research. "CNBC is a very interesting channel," Carmela says when her daughter finds her watching the financial news. At neighborhood social events, Carm eavesdrops when the talk turns to stock picks. She learns about different financial vehicles and exactly how much she can deposit before a bank is required to notify the IRS. Tony is equally methodical. Before signing off on a planned robbery, he figures out if it's a federal crime or violates interstate commerce laws. And before he buys Whitecaps, he brushes up on escrow rules.

They diversify. Tony knows it's unwise to put too many eggs in one or two baskets. So he invests in the Bada Bing strip joint and gets involved in airline ticket scams, brokerage fraud, and exporting luxury cars. He adds traditional savings accounts and wads of cash hidden in bags of birdseed. Carm is more a savings-under-the-mattress type. "I want something save," she tells one of her bankers. "Something 'old economy,' maybe treasuries."

Sadly, Tony and Carm, like countless others, go off the tracks. Uncle T is an inconsistent boss, father and investor. He often sleeps till noon and abdicates responsibility. His lawyer has a suitcase of cash for him or Carmela if things get really bad, but that's about it for long-term planning. For her part, it's taken Carmela four years to start building a nest egg, and she makes the mistake of thinking she can build it once and then ignore it.

Worse, they don't plan as a couple. They don't communicate about their financial goals, and their views clash about when and how to retire. Carmela wants to create a life insurance trust, but Tony's lawyer warns about a "big red flag" that might attract attention. Do they discuss it? Explore options? Fuggedaboudit. They simmer and brood.

Tony might not make it to retirement anyway. "There's two endings for a guy like me," he tells his therapist, "dead or in the can. Big percent of the time." Besides, at this writing, Tony and Carmela are in Splitsville. They may not be together if and when they retire to compare planning strategies. Still houses on separate beaches wouldn't be bad for the godfather of New Jersey and his wife. If they keep investing, communicate better and stay alive, it's possible. Stay tuned.

US News & World Report Retirement Guide 2004