Life doesn’t occur in a bubble. Rarely does a move in one aspect of our lives not affect all the others to some degree or another. Why is it important to consider building strong relationships, creating a purpose for yourself and looking beyond today for your retirement? Because just as staying healthy costs less money and preparing legal documents today protects against a crisis tomorrow, actively planning for your future provides a measure of safety for the worst case scenario while providing a means of stability in the best case scenario. Finally, engaged people create less work for their loved ones, are more fun to be around and they live longer.
1. Recognizing that retirement is not strictly a math problem.
Retirement is full of decisions. You have to decide when to retire, when to collect Social Security, where you’ll live, which Medicare plan to go with. In fact, the list can seem endless. Many of those decisions bring with them the responsibility of choosing the right plan, time etc. or spending the rest of your life paying for your decision. There’s a lot of focus on getting the right amount of money into a retirement account before you make the big move. We do a lot of that focusing ourselves on this site but of the people who have retired, many say that they would have liked to have worked longer. According to one survey, six out of 10 respondents listed non-financial reasons for wanting to have worked longer. Work for many people provides a means for staying physically fit, mentally active and socially engaged. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to continue working after retirement age for a lot of reasons. Some equate working after retirement age to winning the lottery or retirement porn. One retirement lament sounds resoundingly like the familiar “I’m bored” lament of teenagers. There’s probably a reason for that. A Bureau of Labor Statistics study found that nearly two-thirds of retiree’s leisure time is spent watching television. To avoid returning to your teenage years at least in spirit, you need to proactively approach retirement with a plan. After all, retirement isn’t summer vacation so you shouldn’t pretend that it’s an “endless summer.” A successful retirement means developing and nurturing a passion when you are younger. Whether it’s a hobby, an activity or some other great love, find something you can do as a regular part of your day to bring you joy rather than waste it on something as innocuous as television. (Planning your retirement means recognizing some lifestyle changes and finding a purpose) According to the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) about 20 million seniors volunteered in 2013. In 2012, the Kauffman Foundation reported that the 55- to 64-year-old age group represented almost one-quarter of new entrepreneurs. Those are just two of the options available for retirees who are ready to retire from life.
2. Being intentional and not deferring living life.
We haven’t always had retirement. (See our white paper on the history of retirement.) And, there’s no guarantee that we will always have retirement in the future. In addition, no one is guaranteed a long, healthy life. Postponing some things for a pie-in-the sky day that may never occur makes no sense. There’s no guarantee that you’ll personally make it to a retirement day so decide what you want out of life and start building towards making that your reality. To get the most out of your life, live your life with a sense of urgency and take some risks. As Joe Hearn says in A Brief Guide to Retirement Bliss, “Choose yes over no, active over passive, and adventure over inertia.”
3. Simplifying your life. Letting go of the extraneous.
One day, while walking my dogs through my neighborhood I met a homeless man with the typical overflowing grocery cart. I was thinking how much simpler his life was from my own and while I wasn’t envious I was a bit introspective and then I noticed something. It took him ages to move down the block. Not because he wasn’t healthy although he probably wasn’t but because he owned two grocery carts full of stuff. Each time he moved half a block with one cart he had to go back and move the same half a block with the other cart. He couldn’t move further than half a block because he was worried about his possessions. Imagine, for every block he walked, he made six trips for an equivalent of three blocks. That’s a pretty simplified example but most of us have an “extra cart” full of things that are holding us back, costing us time and wearing us down. Whether it’s the too large mortgage payment that keeps us from retiring when we want to, our inability to close the Bank of Mom and Dad, or some other baggage, we are often prevented from doing the thing we want most by the decisions we make or fall into and then refuse to correct. (Financial planning after retirement)
4. Living with a sense of urgency, finding meaning and fulfillment.
Stress can make sitting around all day and doing nothing seem like a marvelous plan. If your career path burned you out, doing nothing can be rejuvenating. Still, hanging out all day and doing nothing will grow old. Find a retirement path to replace the vacuum created by leaving behind a job. Go back to school, start a business, volunteer, whatever your choice, make a choice rather than letting life make the choice for you. All the people I’ve ever met who were living successful lives in their ninth or tenth decade(or even older) grabbed at life with both hands, fought for the things they thought were important and chose to be active participants in this game we call life. (Starting a business instead of retiring)
5. Focusing on the essentials and discarding the irrelevant.
Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “Life is a journey, not a destination.” I don’t think humans are hardwired to really embrace this concept since we spend all of our lives focused on the destination. When you are a toddler, you can’t wait until you can go to school, then you are in school and you can’t wait until you graduate, then you can’t wait until you get your first “real” job and it just goes on and on. We fool ourselves into believing that at some magical age we can start a business, start a family, start something important just as soon as we hit that milestone, that age, that degree of competence. The reality is that truly successful people are the ones starting their first business while in elementary school, making their first million by the time they are 30 or inventing apps to change lives while they are still in high school. At the other end of the spectrum we see people who were middle aged or older who were side railed by children, careers or just life and then later in life switched careers and found their calling. Colonel Sanders was over 60 before he started KFC, Frank McCourt started writing books at 65, Peter Roget invented Roget’s Thesaurus at age 73, Laura Ingalls Wilder published her first novel when she was 65 and Anna Mary Robertson Moses (AKA Grandma Moses) was in her late 70s when she picked up a paint brush.
6. Working on your relationships but especially the one with your spouse.
Remember that expression, “To err is human, to forgive is divine?” Holding on to our disappointments, anger and frustrations with someone else hurts us. Oh, I’m not saying that it doesn’t hurt others too. For instance, Anthony Marshall, whose son turned him in for neglecting his grandmother, Brooke Astor, disinherited both of his sons to pay them back for turning him in. His sons lost out on millions of dollars that Marshall’s second wife and her children will inherit. More importantly, Marshall’s sons never reconnected with their father after he lost his criminal case. That might be a bitter pill for them to swallow later in life. For Anthony Marshall, of course, it’s too late. While the breakup of relationships between father or mother and children can be bitter and difficult, the bitterer pill to swallow is when it occurs between spouses. Not only is there the emotional baggage but divorce can cause both parties huge financial losses they may never recover from. Yet one study found that the more than half of all gray divorces occurred with couples who had been married for more than 20 years and had simply grown apart. Divorced people have fewer social supports, their relationships with their children are often compromised and they have fewer economic resources. Spending time working on relationships that aren’t breaking up from bitter acrimony but simple neglect can protect retirement for both individuals. (Gray divorce hurts retirement plans of both individuals)
7. Commit early.
Studies have shown that people who commit to a course of action earlier are better able to stay committed and make better decisions to support that course of action. Decisions about retirement made when you are in your 50s are far more likely to come to fruition than those you make at age 62. Having a plan also forces you to consider the consequences of actions that could potentially derail the plan, such as applying for Social Security benefits too early or retiring because you hit a specific age rather than a specific bank balance. (The multiple faces of planning for retirement)
Here’s a Next Avenue article that began this discourse with some additional decisions.
Attend a LifePlanning seminar and see what other topics tie together when we take up the topic of aging.