I KEPT THE LANDLINE number that my mother had when she was alive. I thought there might be friends I wasn’t aware of who would try to phone her. Indeed, I received calls from people like Helen who lives in Arizona, Cheryl in Colorado and Jan from Michigan. Eventually, however, the phone went silent, except for those annoying sales calls.
But I still kept the phone number. I just couldn’t give it up. It was costing me an extra $50 a month, but I didn’t care. I would happily pay $500 to talk to anyone from my mother’s past, especially those who kept her company in her later years. They were an integral part of my mother’s retirement.
Maybe I’m too sentimental, but on my cell phone I still have three voicemails from my mother. I can’t bring myself to delete them—and yet I can’t listen to them, either. It would be too painful to hear her voice. Maybe one day, but not today. Since I was her primary caregiver, she was a big part of my life. I’m lucky to have been able to share the early years of my own retirement with her.
I got a phone call one day from the wife of one of my best friends. Leo, whom I’d known for 35 years, had passed away. He had been battling a chronic illness. As retirees, we used to have lunch every week, and sometimes we went fishing and hiking in Big Sur and Big Bear. I’ll miss our getaways and conversations that usually started with, “Do you remember when we….”
Just recently, Greg—my auto mechanic—called and informed me he was closing his business. He was emotional and said, “I wanted you to hear it from me since we’ve been friends for such a long time.” We would sometimes talk for hours while he worked on my car. We had many things in common. We both married later in life and recently that became our main topic of conversation. I’ll miss hanging out at his shop, but we’ll still remain good friends.
Why am I telling you this stuff? What does this have to do with retirement and money?
When I read articles about retirement, plenty of them focus on money. How much should you save? What mutual funds or exchange-traded funds should you invest in? Should you use the 4% rule when drawing down an investment portfolio? There are also a lot of articles about the best places to retire.
I think most of these articles miss what retirement is all about. It’s about more than money and where you live. Instead, it’s about the people in your life. You can’t put a price tag on them, but these folks can be just as valuable as your investment portfolio.
They say two of the most precious commodities that money can buy is financial independence and time—a chance to live in the moment, to do the things you want to do when you want to do them. Isn’t that the essence of retirement? Isn’t that the true reason we save for retirement?
Problem is, those experiences aren’t nearly so valuable if you don’t have someone to share them with. I can tell you for certain that the wine you drink and the food you eat in retirement will taste better if you’re sharing them with friends.
You might feel there’s less need for friends because you have a large family. But having a supportive network of friends in old age has greater benefits. You tend to do things you enjoy with your friends, while many of the things you do with family are out of a sense of obligation.
While you’re planning your retirement, it would be wise to contemplate who you’re going to spend it with. That’s especially true if you don’t know what you’re going to do in retirement, because your friends and family can help you find your way.
I’m lucky to have a wonderful wife and a core group of friends who I would do anything for and who I believe would do the same for me. If you have enough good people in your life, you have the makings of a great retirement.
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. Check out his earlier articles and follow him on Twitter @DMFrie.