Retirement 101

All rightee, students open your textbooks to the section titled, “How Not to Retire With Dignity.” Today we’re going to deal with a myth that started about seventy years ago and still permeates our culture even today.

You see, it was in 1938 that the United States Government told us that a forty hour work week constituted full time employment. It was also about that same time that Americans began (for the first time in history) to believe they had a birthright to a cost-free retirement. And, since most people were thoughtful enough to die by age 68, it seemed only fair and right for the government to underwrite this whole notion with a Social Security plan that invited people to hang up the spurs at age 65—and enjoy their last “golden years.”

Well, that was then, and this is now. Today, most people who reach their mid-sixties will also reach their late seventies, or eighties, or even their nineties. Plus, those same “youngsters” will have had to care for parents who also lived much longer than was typical a generation ago. And, by then, today’s Gen Y’ers and Gen X’ers are going to be living in a totally different world. To bottom line it: for the last seventy years we’ve been in a time bubble that told us that everyone deserves to spend their last years, or several decades, on the golf course. And, sadly, I believe that bubble is about to pop.

But don’t despair! I’ve checked the Bible, and there’s nothing in there that says we have to retire and spend our last years doing nothing more important than fighting for the last piece of baklava at the deli! To the contrary, the Bible is replete with stories of old guys and gals who did great things—often things they didn’t have the time, experience, or spiritual maturity to do when they were younger. (Can anyone say “Moses?”)

Let me share a few thoughts that you might find helpful as you get a perspective on retirement planning, so the last years aren’t spent in front of the TV watching reruns of Oprah and eating chips.

Build relationships now with people who live “cheaper” than you do. Retirement isn’t the end of relationships with other people. As a matter of fact, for many people, relationships and time with friends are more important after retirement than ever before. And, it stands to reason that you will probably keep the same friends after retirement that you made before retirement. So, why not plan ahead? Cultivate people who don’t have to spend a lot of money to enjoy life. Develop friendships with people who live below their means. Hunt for people who feel fulfilled renting a movie and popping corn at home—instead of going to a resort twice a month. In retirement you will have the quality friendships—without the pressure to spend as much.

Plan to do something productive in retirement. If you don’t need the money—great! Find church groups and charitable ways to invest your time helping others. If you think you’ll need some money, plan for a part time job. Work at a retail store, do maintenance, build porches, learn to fix computers. Not only will a few extra hours of work add to your bank account—it will build self esteem and help you socialize.

Maintain a healthy lifestyle. Commit from this day forward to do the right things: eat sensibly, get regular exercise, and enough sleep. Not only will this lengthen your life—it will also improve the quality of your life. And, not to be overlooked, it will reduce your cost of living in retirement. Healthy people take less medicine, go to the doctor less frequently, and don’t need as much help from caregivers. All in all, a healthy retiree is the cheapest retiree.

Don’t be in a hurry to retire. Some of the most miserable people are the ones who spent their working years longing to retire early. Then, when they do retire—it’s a bore! Working longer can improve retirement years in a number of ways. First, you remain productive and relevant longer. Second, instead of spending your retirement savings, you earn more money to draw on after you do retire. Third, there’s less chance that you will run out of money at a time in life when you really are too old (or, ill) to go back to work.

Of course this list could go on. But my point is a simple and important one. Far too many people fail to enjoy the moment because they spend their lives reaching for the brass ring just beyond their finger tips. Life is a big, juicy apple. Appreciate each bite to its fullest. Remember this: most peoples’ lives are no more fun after retirement than they were before retirement. Make the moments count!

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