A Friendly Reminder

Dennis Friedman

WHEN I RETIRED, I thought a successful retirement was primarily about money—about making sure I had enough income to fund daily expenses for 30 or more years. But now that I’m in my 70s, my investments don’t seem quite so important to me.

Indeed, other things in my life strike me as just as crucial as my investment portfolio’s size. Some say retirement is like a three-legged stool. No, not the traditional three-legged stool of personal savings, Social Security and pension income. Instead, this new three-legged stool stresses the need for money, health and social relationships if you want to have a satisfying retirement.

I feel pretty good about the money part. Our fixed expenses are low enough that our Social Security benefits can easily cover them. But I’m not quite so sure about my health and relationships. They seem more elusive as I get older.

I’ve written about my health before. I’m concerned about being able to manage my own affairs in my later years. I was reminded of that again the other day.

I took my car in to get it serviced. I’ve been to the dealership before. This should have been an easy task. But it wasn’t. On my way there in the morning rush-hour traffic, I missed my exit. When I finally got to the dealer, I misplaced my keys and I left my phone in the car.

When a rookie baseball player makes an error in a major league game, they sometimes say the game is moving too fast for him. Maybe my life is starting to move too fast for me, and I’m having a hard time keeping up. I’m starting to make too many mistakes.

That’s why, a few years ago, I consolidated our financial holdings at two financial institutions. It makes it easier to manage our money. Eventually, I’ll consolidate our investment portfolio into a single target-date fund or two low-cost, broad-based index funds. That way, we’ll have fewer decisions to make in our later years. I also like the idea of having one credit card because we’d have just one account to monitor.

Meanwhile, I’m beginning to realize how important my friends are to my well-being. Our house during the holiday season was full of friends and visiting family members. But I couldn’t help but feel a little lonelier during that busy time. As I mentioned in a previous article, I recently lost a close childhood friend. It was sudden and unexpected. When I was told, I was rattled.

This isn’t the first time I lost a good friend. Leo, my camping and fishing buddy, passed away a few years ago. But this time, it felt different. I saw Jeremy’s death as a warning sign that my social network will get smaller as I get older.

I still have a wonderful group of friends. But some of my friends have a bigger impact on my life than others. Jeremy was one of them. He was the glue that held us five high school buddies together all these years. Now, we’ll have to step up if we’re going to continue to stay together.

I read in the newspaper that friends are important for a healthy life, that they’re just as important as having a healthy diet or getting a good night’s sleep. People with strong friendships have better mental and physical health.

For instance, research in Australia found over a 10-year period that, among older people who had many friends, their risk of dying was 22% less than those with fewer friends. By contrast, having a robust social network of children and relatives didn’t affect the survival rate.

Maybe the reason friends are so important to our well-being is because we tend to do things we enjoy with our friends, while many of the things we do with family might be out of a sense of obligation. It may also be that people with many friends have more access to medical care because they have more folks who can give them a ride to doctors’ appointments.

When we retire, we sometimes don’t stay in touch with our friends. We’re too busy spending time with our spouse and other family members. That could be a mistake. We should embrace the friends we have and seek even more, especially younger ones.

Potential friends are everywhere. They’re at the gym, book club, local charitable organization and on our travel adventures. If we truly want to have a healthy and satisfying retirement, we should spend less time looking at our investment portfolio—and more time with our friends.

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.

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