RETIREMENT AT FIRST is fun and feels pretty good. No more setting an alarm. No more dealing with a long commute. No demanding work schedule that leaves you exhausted most evenings.
Best of all, no one is telling you what to do. You can sleep in or travel to all those places you dreamed about. You can golf as much as you like or spend lots of time with the grandkids.
You’re as free as a bird.
LIKE MANY BABY boomers, my wife and I have watched our parents go from total independence to assisted living to death. We’ve been thankful that, at key moments, they made the difficult decisions themselves, without our prompting. These decisions included when to give up the family home in favor of moving to a continuing care retirement community, when to give up their car and driver’s license, and when to move to assisted living.
Our parents were organized and realistic people who trusted us to act for them in increasingly significant ways as they moved from one stage to the next.
RETIREMENT CAN BE the best time of our life—but only if we manage it right.
I recently passed a milestone: the three-year anniversary of the day I left my 40-year banking career. What have I learned over the past three years? I’ve found that a good retirement has three key elements: sound finances, wellness, and intentionality about managing time.
1. Finances. I watched some of Berkshire Hathaway’s annual meeting last month. As usual,
I JUST HAD MY SIXTH bicycling accident—which made me think about my investment portfolio.
I started cycling seriously in 2005, when foot problems forced me to cut back on running. That was the year I bought my “starter” bike—part aluminum, part carbon—purchased for $1,000 from a bike shop that was going out of business. Within a few months, I added the special pedals with the shoes that clip in.
Early on, I had my fair share of embarrassing falls,
I REGULARLY READ blogs written by those who retired early to a life of ultra-frugality. Do you consider yourself careful with money? Even so, I doubt you’d enjoy the frugal lifestyle of many followers of the FIRE (financial independence/retire early) movement.
I certainly wouldn’t. If I go on another cruise, I won’t be booking an inside cabin. I can’t imagine my wife buying clothes from a thrift store and wearing them for the next 10 years.
MY MATERNAL grandmother just celebrated her 100th birthday. She still lives a mostly independent life, residing in her own apartment within a senior living facility. She walks to the dining room three times a day for her meals, does her own laundry and is always willing to talk about current events.
At age 54, I often try to imagine what it’ll be like if I live to the same age as my grandmother. The process usually overwhelms me with angst.
RETIREMENT MAY MARK the end of fulltime work—but that doesn’t mean we should stop working on our finances. Even after we quit the workforce, there’s much we can do to strengthen our retirement plan and, indeed, that may be necessary if we find we’re drawing down our nest egg too quickly.
Are you concerned that you might outlive your savings? Consider these six financial tweaks:
1. Work part-time. I’ve heard folks claim that if you’re still doing some work for pay,
MY FATHER LOATHED the idea that he would spend his final years in a nursing home. In the end, he never had to confront that possibility: At age 75, while riding his bicycle, he was struck and killed by a speeding car.
Still, I think often about his reluctance—because I share it. Despite exercising every day, I know I’m not as flexible or as fast as I once was, and it takes longer for the stiffness in my muscles to ease each morning.
I’VE READ A LOT of retirement books touting the “keys to a successful retirement.” Some have great ideas. But I think they miss a key ingredient. My contention: To have a successful retirement, we need to start with a proper understanding of work.
Admittedly, it’s a counterintuitive way of looking at retirement. But sometimes looking at a problem backward can help us find creative solutions. In other words, examine the opposite of retirement for lessons about retirement.
THREE YEARS AGO, Jim and I decided to retire to Spain. We were attracted by the promise of excellent health care, warm weather, low cost of living and travel throughout Europe. From there, we’d also be able to fly with relative easy to both the U.S. and Asia, allowing us to maintain family connections. All of this gave us a great quality of life for almost three years.
Then COVID-19 hit. Like everyone else,
THE PRODUCERS of retirement commercials would like us to believe that all retirees are the same. They aren’t. To be happy in retirement, we need a good handle on what our needs are—financially and otherwise—and then find ways to satisfy them each and every day.
That might sound difficult, but it isn’t. To help get you started, here are the three general types of retiree I discovered during my research on retirement:
I RECEIVED A LETTER from the Social Security Administration telling me I need to apply for benefits immediately. I turn age 70 this year and there’s no advantage to delaying my benefits any longer.
How does reaching 70 feel? I know I get cold easily and don’t move as fast when I’m exercising. I’m also not as sharp mentally. But I’m actually looking forward to my 70s. It will be a decade more about living and with less thinking about money.
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,
HERE’S A COMMENT I’ve heard countless times in recent years: You should claim Social Security early because you’ll enjoy the money more in your 60s and because you’ll spend less later in retirement.
I think this is nonsense that rests on three wrongheaded assumptions:
That spending needs should drive when you claim Social Security.
That you will indeed spend less each year as you age.
That you’ll be better able to enjoy whatever money you have in your 60s than later in retirement.
MANY YEARS AGO, when I first developed an interest in financial planning, I read as much as I could on the subject. I distinctly remember being in a bookstore—remember them?—and looking at the myriad of personal finance books. Two stuck out.
The first book purported to show how to maximize your spending throughout retirement and die with nothing. The second book purported to help with the opposite strategy—leaving millions to your children. The stark dichotomy struck me then and it’s stayed with me ever since.