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Time to Stop

David Gartland

MY WIFE AND I ARE different in many ways. This is good and bad. The good part: I get to see both sides of any issue we discuss. This includes our retirement.

Toward the end of 2020, we stopped working within three months of each other. We were both eligible for Social Security and Medicare, so those two key ingredients of a successful retirement were there for us. But we have different visions of retirement.

My notion is no more work, no more rules, no more schedules. When I retired, I gave away all my business suits, except a black one for funerals and a blue one for weddings. All my white button-down shirts were put into charity clothing bins. I downsized my life.

My wife’s idea of retirement is different. She stopped working at her primary job, but immediately filled up her days with new activities and responsibilities. That by itself would be fine, except she feels compelled to do everything herself. She doesn’t have to. I’ve offered to do many of the things she does, but she refuses to give up control.

One phrase she continues to use is “got to.” She’s constantly saying, “I’ve got to….” The result is increased stress and less enjoyment for her, me and our son. I tell her to change the wording to “I want to,” since there are very few things she really has to do. This just leads to arguments. Then I remember that I should pick and choose my fights. I shut up.

We all have “got to,” “need to” and “want to” in our lives. The more “got to” and “need to” that we pack into our retirement, the less relaxed we’ll be.

Yes, we all need motivation. Thinking “I’ve got to” can be a great motivator. “I’ve got to get my grandkids from school” may bring purpose to our retirement.

Yes, there are certain things we all have to do. Got to catch the train. Got to pick up the dry cleaning. Got to finish that report today. Got to pay the taxes. Got to take the required minimum distributions from the IRA. Got to pay the bills.

One partial solution: To the extent we can, we should put our financial life on autopilot, such as arranging to pay our utility bills, credit card bills and property taxes automatically. That reduces the number of “got to” demands on our time and replaces them with “that’s taken care of.”

Many people feel the need to have a full “dance card,” perhaps because they worry about being bored. Yet they also get anxious knowing there are so many things to do, and they aren’t sure when and how they’ll get it all done. They fill their life with “got to.” If this is what they truly want, great. If not, maybe they need to reduce the number of “got to” tasks in their life.

I’ve eliminated some “got to” items that I don’t enjoy. Meanwhile, with others, I try to automate them or space them out. Having more time to do necessary activities makes them more enjoyable—or, at least, that’s what I’ve found.

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