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The Short Game

Dennis Friedman  |  October 5, 2020

I WOKE UP ONE morning, looked in the mirror and didn’t recognize the person looking back at me. Who is this person? It can’t be me. I’m not the same person I was five or six months ago. I don’t know if it’s the pandemic that caused me to behave differently or if I’m going through some kind of midlife crisis.

No, it can’t be a midlife crisis. I’m almost 70 years old, plus I don’t feel my life is boring, empty or meaningless. In fact, I actually feel good about myself and my life.

Instead, what I don’t understand is why I have a different attitude toward money. All my life, I’ve been a supersaver. It was the main reason I was able to retire early. It sure wasn’t because of my investing skills. I was, at best, just an average investor. But recently, I’ve been spending gobs of money in ways I never would have in the past.

I’m doing a complete remodel of my house. Of course, some of the work needed to be done, but not everything. If it didn’t involve a mountain of building permits and other paperwork, I’d probably have added on to the house, too. Oh, did I tell you I bought all new appliances and furniture for the house? If I were my younger self, I would say it was wasteful spending. But I’m not my younger self anymore. I’m someone else.

I’m not just spending money on the house. I bought a car and I’m planning to buy another vehicle later this year. If it weren’t for COVID-19, I would be on my way to Europe for a month or two. In fact, I charged so much on my credit cards that I received a notice my credit score has dropped. I don’t care. That won’t stop me from spending.

I got a list of things I want to see and do when this pandemic is over. It’s going to take more money, but I’m not stressed about it. I’ve got all these retirement accounts to finance my new spending habit: a traditional IRA, rollover IRA, Roth IRA and an old 401(k). And don’t forget Social Security, which will kick in next year at age 70.

It’s baffling. I don’t know what suddenly brought on this impulse to spend without hesitation, but I have no regrets about it. My wife is right there with me, spending left and right, so it can’t be just me going through some sort of crisis. She, like me, was always a cautious spender. In fact, that’s one of many reasons we get along so well.

I have a theory about why I’m behaving the way I am. When you’re young, you play the long game. You save and invest for your future, knowing you may live another 40 or 60 years. But when you’re older, you play the short game. Your timeline is condensed and you’re more willing to spend down your savings to live an enjoyable and comfortable retirement. I’m playing the short game. I’m in spending mode.

There’s no reason my wife and I should adhere to our past behavior of saving and pinching pennies for the future. The future is now. Why not spend in a way that’ll allow us to enjoy life to the fullest? We have no family obligations, except for a son who doesn’t need our financial help. Still, we’re planning to leave him some money.

We saved our whole life to get where we are. We aren’t irresponsible spenders aiming to die penniless, but we’re going to make sure we enjoy the rest of our life as best we can. If that means spending down our retirement savings, so be it.

Dennis Friedman retired from Boeing Satellite Systems after a 30-year career in manufacturing. Born in Ohio, Dennis is a California transplant with a bachelor’s degree in history and an MBA. A self-described “humble investor,” he likes reading historical novels and about personal finance. His previous articles include It Sure Adds Up11 Remodeling Tips and Trust but Verify. Follow Dennis on Twitter @DMFrie.

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jjj87
jjj87
8 months ago

Good on all of you for spending your hard earned money! I’ve never understood the mindset of the seniors who keep living like it’s the Great Depression and then leave a huge endowment to their families. Why live like you’re suffering and then leave a huge endowment for family to fight over? And for the estate to pay huge taxes?
I’ve golfed with many seniors, most retired with big fat company pensions plus other retirement incomes. Many of them quit golfing when prices went up $1.00 per round, from $13.00 to $14.00! Many seniors criticized spending $2.00 for a cup of coffee. My MIL had a huge fit over 25 cents…no joking.
My plan is to die as broke as possible, with no regrets on spending and gifting my money. And before diapers are needed…..

R Quinn
R Quinn
8 months ago

As I am very near age 77 I can relate to your “condition.” Suddenly I too am spending money I would not normally. We recently bought my wife a new Jaguar and we are remodeling our vacation home and like you we would be traveling and spending the winter in Florida if it weren’t for the virus. But we are not spending down our assets, just some of the cash portion and from what would have been our travel budget.. That’s where I draw the line. There and not using credit cards except to get to the end of the month and reward points. We are trying to keep a balance between spending and leaving something for our four children and eleven grandchildren and their college expenses. Then there is making sure my wife has sufficient income and resources if she survives me.

Kristine Hayes
Kristine Hayes
8 months ago

Thanks for some helpful insight into something I’ve been pondering for awhile. My husband is already retired-he’s 13 years older than I am. I’m still working and, until recently, was very much in super-saver mode. When we first married, it scared me to watch how he would spend money even though he wasn’t irresponsible about it. He doesn’t carry any credit card debt, and has a house and new car completely paid for. He was simply enjoying spending money on things he enjoys. I kept thinking, “why doesn’t he save all his money?” but, over time, realized he didn’t need to (or want to).

Now, after two years of marriage, we seem to have reached a nice balance where neither of us worries too much about money. I’d by lying if I said I didn’t worry at all. I’m realizing the two of us are just in different phases of our financial lives. He’s adopted a retirement money mindset while I’m still in a pre-retirement money mindset.

Rick Connor
Rick Connor
8 months ago

Dennis, thanks for the well written article. At what age did you start to feel comfortable spending your retirement savings? I was just discussing this with a friend – I still don’t like the idea of touching any retirement accounts. I’m 63 and have a good pension and my wife is still working full time, probably for another 6 months. We plan to wait to 70 for SS, so we will have 5-6 years of gap where will need additional income. My analysis says we have plenty, but it just doesn’t feel right yet.

Dennis Friedman
Dennis Friedman
8 months ago
Reply to  Rick Connor

Hi Rick, We felt comfortable spending our retirement savings about six months ago when my wife and I realized we had no immediate family members who are financially dependent upon us. We also felt at our age, I’m 69, it was time for us to enjoy ourselves.

Roboticus Aquarius
Roboticus Aquarius
8 months ago

Some things lose their value if you wait too long. I realize you are talking about a different mindset that comes with security and a shorter runway, but it’s true in other ways also.

In our first house, we lived there for 6 or 7 years before we hired the backyard landscaped. It wasn’t cheap, and it wasn’t “necessary.” However, now I have great memories of playing with our toddlers back there, and of them going around the path we built that rambled around the backyard. Also, backyard grill-outs with family and friends. A great place to relax. Worth every penny.

In our second house, a backyard filled with thorny bushes. The boys were in grade school by then. We had it all ripped out and redone with a big grassy area for the imagination and a separate play area with swings, a slide, stuff to climb. Absolutely worth it.

windsun33
windsun33
8 months ago

I am over 70 recently also, and my attitude this year has also totally changed. I no longer care if I have a big pile of money – my goal now is to die broke :). Even a couple years ago I would not have considered buying a $1,000 camera – much less the $9,000 one I just ordered.

fallond
fallond
8 months ago

Not sure I would hold to the “guilt free” outlook; wisdom through years of smart investing shouldn’t give way to the irresponsibility of excessive consumerism in retirement (e.g. a second car?). There are ‘plenty of reasons’ to adhere to aspects of past behavior with regard to environmental savings while enjoying the fruits of your retirement. The comments here all seem to be what shiny things prudent planning for retirement can bring when the environmental side-benefits of that prudence are cast aside once retirement is reached.

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