7,000 Days

John Yeigh

MY LAST CLOSE relative—other than my kids—recently experienced major health issues. That prompted me to reflect on my own potential longevity. I’ve got 7,000 days to go, more or less, or at least that’s what the Social Security Administration’s life expectancy calculator tells me.

It seems like a big number, but it’s less than 20 years and just a quarter of a U.S. male’s average 29,000-day lifespan. Each day in retirement, we get to decide how to utilize one of those precious remaining days—whether to use it wisely or possibly fritter it away.

Of course, my actual number may differ greatly from 7,000. On the plus side, I have good health, a regular exercise routine, a decent diet and access to solid health insurance. But none of my family has lived a long life, so I may be DNA challenged. Some life expectancy calculators, with more individualized lifestyle inputs, give me a solid shot at notching an additional 4,000 days, for 11,000 total. But I’m not counting on it. Besides, the more relevant number is how many days we’re able to live an active lifestyle—walking, traveling, swimming and so on—and that’s likely considerably less than 7,000.

The upshot: Every retirement day effectively becomes its own critical, time-management challenge. Time and health are truly our most precious assets, rather than the financial assets on which we so often focus.

The implication? I regularly find myself debating whether to do something:

  • That frees up or improves later time. In this category, I’d include doing chores, maintaining my home and cars, exercising, managing financial assets or planning future activities.
  • Fulfilling or engaging. That might include interacting with family and friends, traveling, working, reading, walking, exploring a hobby or writing another of these articles.
  • Frivolous or somewhat wasteful. I’m talking about things like watching TV, surfing the internet, playing video games, having a few drinks or stuffing myself with bon-bons.

Everyday life—category No. 1 above—tends to consume a majority of our time. That means we aren’t constantly forced to decide between activities that are fulfilling and those that are wasteful. That’s probably a good thing. It would be tough to spend all day choosing between worthy and unworthy activities.

To be sure, some activities may be fulfilling for some folks, while seeming frivolous to others. My wife finds shopping engaging. I don’t. TV is the area that provides perhaps the greatest variations in time invested. I’m among the minority who have never seen a single episode of Game of Thrones, Seinfeld or Friends. I’d rather do almost anything than watch something.

In fact, I’m off to have a drink and eat a bon-bon, which might strike you as a bad use of time. But I’m also going to call my kids—because you never know what day 6,999 might bring.

John Yeigh is an engineer with an MBA in finance. He retired in 2017 after 40 years in the oil industry, where he helped negotiate financial details for multi-billion-dollar international projects.  His previous articles include Window DressingCreeping Costs and Cashing In.

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