Wishing My Life Away

Jonathan Clements

WHENEVER FOLKS declare that their goal is to one day write a novel, or get in great physical shape, or learn to speak Italian, my immediate reaction is always the same: If these were things they really had a burning desire to do, they’d have done them already.

Which is why you should be skeptical of the article that follows.

Now that I’ve turned 60, I’m thinking about how I’ll divvy up my time in the years ahead. Today, my life is lopsided—nine or 10 hours a day devoted to HumbleDollar, plus an hour for exercise in the morning, maybe a 30-minute walk in the afternoon, and the evenings given over to family. I like to think HumbleDollar performs an important public service, I get a lot of satisfaction from running the site and I have no desire to give it up. Still, I want to be a little more selfish in how I use my time.

What does that mean? My wish list for my 60s is a work in progress. It’s hardly the most exciting list. But here’s where things currently stand:

Work less. As I mentioned a month ago, I’m scaling back the number of articles posted on HumbleDollar. My hope: I can reduce my workload so the site devours my mornings but leaves the afternoons free for other activities. Still, we all need a sense of purpose in retirement—a reason to get out of bed in the morning—and, for me, HumbleDollar will be it. If I didn’t have work to do that I felt was important, I suspect I’d quickly find myself bored, restless and unhappy.

Travel more. Many HumbleDollar writers and commenters have emphasized that you should travel internationally in your 60s because, at some point in your 70s, long flights and foreign lands will seem too taxing. This is advice I’m taking to heart. One of my retirement goals is to spend three months of each year away from home.

I could imagine, say, staying for a month in the relative warmth of Georgia during the winter, a month in Ireland in June, and another month in France in September. The idea is to find an intriguing place where we can settle in and explore the area, but I can also continue to write and edit. Much of the internet may be a cesspool of damaging nonsense, but it’s also liberating for those of us who want to both travel and work.

That brings me to a topic that I’m currently negotiating with my thrifty self. Should I pony up for business class on international flights? I’m still fine squeezing into the cheap seats for domestic travel. But staggering out of the airport in a foreign city, after a night sitting upright in coach, definitely dents my desire to travel abroad.

Vacation home. While I can see traveling more in the years ahead, I don’t envisage my other spending increasing much. I find many of my favorite things cost little or nothing—playing with my grandson, watching the squirrels raid the bird feeder, drinking a glass of wine at the end of the day with Elaine, heading out for a bicycle ride.

But there’s one potential expense that would change all this. We’ve discussed buying a second home. I’m not sure we’ll pull the trigger because of the added hassle and because we currently prefer travel to committing to a single place. But it could happen five or six years down the road, once we’ve worked our way through our international travel bucket list.

One last athletic endeavor. Even as I add this to my wish list, it may be falling off. Starting at age 32, I devoted a decade to running, competing in everything from one-mile races to marathons. I loved that sense of being in top-notch physical shape, and I enjoyed some success in the races I entered.

But that phase of my life fizzled out after a decade or so. I developed problems with my right foot—something called insertional tendinitis. That led me to try my hand at cycling instead. Today, I bike outdoors or on a stationary bicycle almost every day. But I’m not competing. Instead, this is more about maintenance, trying to keep my aerobic ability up and my weight down.

But I have a yearning to push myself one last time, perhaps competing in a long one-day bike race. I have no doubt I could complete the distance. But could I do so at a speed that I’d consider respectable? My fear: I couldn’t put in the necessary training miles without my body breaking down and perhaps doing some long-term damage.

Read more. I’m a tad embarrassed by how few books I read each year. I simply don’t have the time—or, perhaps to be more accurate, there’s nothing I currently do that I’m willing to sacrifice. Still, I’d like to get back to reading fiction and histories because, whenever I do, I find it’s a great pleasure.

One reason to read extensively is because it helps you to write better. I wrote a novel a decade ago that some folks loved—one man sent me an email, saying he’d read it three times—but others hated it, including one person who dismissed it as “perhaps the worst book I’ve read in many years.” I may be an okay personal finance writer, but I’m not a gifted storyteller. Still, with work, I think I could be better, so I may try my hand at another novel. Maybe.

Get to enough. The truth is, I have enough. As I mentioned in recent articles, I’ve saved too much for retirement and I have pretty much convinced myself that I’ve had enough career success. But even if we know something intellectually, it can take time to change our thinking. I continue to invest heavily in stocks and, indeed, I boosted my stock allocation during the past year’s market swoon. But such risk-taking suggests I’m not content with how much I’ve accumulated.

That may be part of the story. But I think it’s also that I sense I have greater tenacity than most in the face of market downturns, and it would be foolish not to take advantage of that. At the same time, there’s a danger that this extra risk could blow up in my face—and I’ve been bargaining with myself, trying to figure out when and how much I should reduce the risk in my financial life over the next few years.

Give more. Money, I believe, can buy happiness—but you don’t necessarily have to buy anything. Indeed, money can boost our feeling of well-being simply by being there and providing us with a sense of security.

Money can also bolster our happiness if we give it away, either to charity or to family. I feel I have, at this juncture, done enough for my two kids. On the other hand, I’ve been eyeing Pennsylvania’s inheritance tax, which creates an incentive to give them more money now. Meanwhile, I’m funding my grandson’s 529 college-savings plan, and I’m committed to helping with the college costs of any other grandkids who come along.

But the topic that’s really got my attention is charitable giving. I have a few organizations I contribute to every year, but I’m wondering whether there’s a way to be more focused and more effective with my giving. I don’t have an answer yet. But it’s on my wish list.

Jonathan Clements is the founder and editor of HumbleDollar. Follow him on Twitter @ClementsMoney and on Facebook, and check out his earlier articles.

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