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Don’t Delay

Dennis Friedman

I’M GOING TO BE 70 next year and I think I’m in pretty good shape. I do 25 pushups before bed, along with some stretching. I usually go for a long walk in the morning and, once in a while, I might head out for a hike. On top of that, I do strengthening exercises three times a week.

I don’t take medication or have any chronic ailments. Of course, you can never be sure what’s going on with your body, because so many things can go undetected. Still, I think I’m okay physically.

Instead, what’s been on my mind lately has been my mind. I know I’ve been slipping. I’m reminded when I head out in the car with my wife and she uses her finger to point which way to go. She knows from experience that I sometimes head off in the wrong direction, even when we’re driving to places that I’ve been countless times.

We can be lying in bed and she’ll whisper, “Honey, did you leave the keys in the front door?” I’ve done that on multiple occasions, too.

My wife is the best judge of how well I’m doing health-wise. Who could be a better judge than the person who knows me best? She doesn’t have to say anything, because I can tell by her actions that she, too, knows I’m slipping mentally.

I know it could be an overreaction on my part, because I can still function like a normal person. But the question is, for how long? That’s also on my mind.

The first time I realized that I might have lost a few too many brain cells was when I was the trustee for my mother’s estate. As I was filling out all the paperwork, I realized I was making too many dumb mistakes, such as not signing documents. I’ve come a long way from the guy who made a career by paying close attention to detail.

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Now that I’m approaching age 70, I feel a sense of urgency to get on with my retirement. Sometimes, I feel time is running out. Some of this urgency could come from COVID-19, during which many of us feel like our life is on hold.

If there were do-overs in life, I’d probably have taken time away from work in my early 50s to do some of the things I planned to do once I was fully retired. Instead, I waited until I quit work to do those things—and that might have been the wrong decision.

Almost immediately, I had caregiving responsibilities for my parents and now we have this pandemic, and together they’ve kept me from doing the things I planned on doing in retirement. It’s been 11 years and counting since I quit work, and I’m still waiting to experience fully what retirement life is all about. Hopefully, when this public health crisis is over, I can start enjoying my retirement more.

If I had reduced my hours at work at age 50, I’d probably still have been in pretty good shape financially. Why? Thanks to compounding, all that money you invested early in life is far more important than the money you invest later.

It might not be ideal for everyone to cut back on their workload in their 50s. But if you have your house almost paid off and the kids are no longer at home, it could be a good time to enjoy life more.

You might frown at your coworker who took off from work for a couple of months to travel and visit long-lost friends. But the joke might be on you if you wait until retirement to start enjoying life more. You never know what lies ahead. Putting off your retirement wish list until you can fully retire is a risky proposition.

I don’t say you should necessarily quit work and retire early. But I’d encourage you to spend more time enjoying life, instead of accumulating more wealth that might not be needed.

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 Try Not to SlipGo Long and The Short Game. Follow Dennis on Twitter @DMFrie.

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R Quinn
R Quinn
10 months ago

Bravo, words of wisdom for us to heed. I just turned 77 and while I started retirement almost eleven years ago with a routine similar to yours, I have slowed down as well. Still try and walk a mile or more a day and I play golf, but not much more.

I started working for the company from which I retired at age 17. I truly can say I enjoyed my work. I had control over my job, in later years I had the ear and good working relationship with the Chairman. And then it began to change. The point being, I think you will know when its time to retirement. The job just doesn’t click any more and as you point out other things start drawing you away. People who retire simply because someone else tells them it’s time sometimes face a disappointing future.

There is no telling our future, so not going for ones goals is risky. I managed retiree benefit plans and worked with thousand of retired workers. I can tell you for sure that for some things go down hill very fast, while others enjoy decades of retirement.

I was able to use a phased retirement for 18 months which let me work in my old job part-time and to experience retirement, including travel. It also let my wife and I experience a little of what life would be like spending a lot more time together day after day. Good training for 2020, including quarantined in a cruise ship cabin for a month.

We need to plan for the “I married you for better or worse, but not for lunch.” Syndrome.

A large part of an enjoyable retirement is just good luck, but even that won’t be enough without a plan, goals and the money to make it all come together.

John Yeigh
John Yeigh
10 months ago

Time is everyone’s most important asset, not money. Covid’s forced hibernation has similarly led me to sometimes lament foregone travel and exploration opportunities at the expense of work. It is the haunt of the old adage that no one on their death bed wishes they had spent even more hours at work.

medhat
medhat
10 months ago

Great read Dennis, and sound advice. For me it’s analogous to “putting all your eggs in one basket”, which in this case is TOO much emphasis on delayed gratification. It can be a delicate balance at times, and for better or worse the only accurate scorecard to say if we got it right is after the fact.

Also, and I hope this will apply to me when the day comes where I walk away from a day job, having something, another job/hobby/passion/etc…, that keeps you engaged mentally (and perhaps physically) is something I cross my fingers that physical and mental health will allow.

Rick Connor
Rick Connor
10 months ago

Dennis, thanks for your honesty. Its a topic many of us have lived through with our aging parents, and worry about. Best of luck.

mrgypsyblues
mrgypsyblues
10 months ago

Great insight anout Senior age living! I’m 68 and have repeated “placebo” Covid19 aches and pains
Derrived from do much media and try to change my daily living with different daily diversions.

parkslope
parkslope
10 months ago

Have you had a cognitive evaluation by a neurologist? Your symptoms are probably simply due to aging but early diagnosis of dementia is very important, both for future planning and for possible immediate treatment. Acetylcholinesterase inhibitors are often very effective in reversing the symptoms of early stage dementia.

Roboticus Aquarius
Roboticus Aquarius
10 months ago

Thanks for sharing your experiences with us; the decision to retire is so fraught, and also so very important. I’m struggling with the same question… I’d like to downgrade my job within the next 5 years, but probably need to work in some capacity for up to 10 years, while our youngest finishes college and we pay off (hopefully) most or all of our remaining debt.

John C
John C
10 months ago

Very good article and advice. Thanks for being so forthright with your retirement journey. Many of us have put things off until tomorrow all the while our circumstances can change beyond our control.

PatD88
PatD88
9 months ago

Great advice and leaves a lot to ponder about. I’m only 32 but I know enough to realize that time goes by fast! Articles like this help formulate some type of a plan.

Steve Spinella
Steve Spinella
9 months ago

You provide a good example of how we can still be wise in some ways, while also losing our mental acumen in others. However, what you are describing is very possibly not normal age-related decline, but rather incipient dementia. It may be time, or past time, to take that into account in your life planning. The possibility of further decline is very real! (In the stage you describe, probably “mild cognitive impairment,” it is very common for nobody to notice but those closest, and for those closest to rationalize that this is just the way he’s always been, etc. But you point out that your wife has adjusted the way she treats you and also that your parents went through a period of decline.)

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