Start Your Retirement Right

When I first retired I was not sure exactly what I should be doing. For 30 years my life was pretty much dictated by my career. I went to work Monday through Friday, and then tried to catch up with the rest of my life during fast-paced weekends. Raising a family, paying the bills and trying to put aside a little for the future was a full-time undertaking.

Then I retired. Over the past few years, I have learned some valuable lessons and survived a handful of surprises I had not foreseen prior to the transition. I am very happy with the experience and where I am today, but there are some things I might have done differently. If I were to start my retirement over again, I would focus on these key areas.

Control the pace of your day. Along with your new found freedom to do whatever you want comes the responsibility to fill your day with activities and meaning. Initially, I was happy doing nothing. After three decades of working a little downtime was well deserved. I became pretty good at going with the flow and sustaining a leisurely pace through the days. But after a while I began to tire of having nothing to show for those hours. I was used to achieving goals and getting things done and found the abrupt end to my productivity somewhat disturbing.

Eventually I learned the importance of creating balance and found a happy midpoint between relaxation and making things happen. With a routine that typically gets me out of bed by seven, I keep occupied until early evening. Part of that time is dedicated to my hobbies and personal goals. But I also set aside time to relax, contemplate and maybe take a nap. I do things when I want to, whether working out, reading, writing or snoozing. When I have had enough, I move on to the next option. I decide what and when to take my next steps. All of this is done at a pace that suits me for that particular day. It feels nice to be in control.

Break your retirement future into shorter time periods. Attempting to plan what you will do for the next 20 years in retirement can be an intimidating chore. That is a long time. I sometimes find it challenging to see ahead to next month. What can help is to focus on smaller chunks of time. Instead of deciding what you will do for the next two decades, try focusing on the next two years. A bite size plan is easier to wrap your mind around. Should you find yourself part way there and decide you would rather do something else, you have only expended a small portion of your overall retirement. You may even find your interests will change ten years from now. There is plenty of time to take a different direction. You don’t have to figure it all out right now.

Be proactive. I have a favorite aunt who is 73 and maintains a level of activity that puts most of us to shame. She hikes, travels and socializes with a wide group of friends and family. Joining her in a recent hike through a local vineyard, my wife and I were hard pressed to keep up with her energetic pace. And the winery hike was her idea. She does not sit back and wait for life to come to her. My aunt is forever in search of the next new thing, adventure or cool event she might undertake.

Inspired by her enthusiasm, I am learning to look beyond my familiar and well worn lifestyle. I am beginning to step outside of my comfort zone. It is certainly comfortable to hang out at home. There are no traffic jams or crowds and whatever you need is right there. But there is so much more if you are willing to look for it. And the Internet and social media makes it easier than ever to find something that fits your individual tastes. Whether you want to flaunt your cooking skills with an eggplant parmigiana recipe, find a group of local spelunkers or throw in with a square dancing troupe, access is only a few keystrokes away. Staying active and engaged has kept my aunt younger than her years. By following a similar game plan my wife and I hope for the same success.

Written for US News & World

4 Retirement Resolutions Worth Keeping

As another year comes to an end it is once again time to take stock of the past 365 days. By now, resolutions we may have signed up for at the beginning of the year have either been realized, modified or forgotten, and it’s time to make a new round of resolutions for next year. Here are a few ideas for worthwhile resolutions to get you started.

Review and consolidate services. Take a close look at your monthly expenses and consider how much value you are getting from them. At our house we noticed a steady increase in what we pay for cable TV service. Upon review, my wife and I agreed we did not need 300 channels to choose from, all of the premium channels or the land line that was part of the bundle. We trimmed down the bundle and are saving a few dollars. I have also paid between $30 and $50 per month for a gym membership since I graduated from college. I decided I could do what I need with a stationary bike and a few weights in the garage. I cancelled the membership and we are saving a few dollars more there. We also dropped our wine club membership after we found ourselves paying a hefty price for some wines that we did not really like. Now we just buy what we like. If you look closely you may uncover little adjustments to reduce what you pay for services without negatively impacting your lifestyle. Maybe you don’t need three disks at a time from Netflix and can get by with two or one. Saving money is always a good way to start the year.

Make yourself smarter. People stay sharp on the job because they are challenged and forced to quickly react to situations. But once removed from the mix, where do we find the stimulation to keep us on top of our game? Those of us reaching retirement age know that if you do not use your brain you can begin to lose your edge. But you can counteract that by continuing to learn new things. You could decide to enroll in a local community college course that interests you. The grades don’t matter when you are taking a class for fun. If you prefer the comfort of your home you can look at online courses. You can even work your mind via apps you download to your phone and use them to sneak in a little learning while waiting in line. For some people an old fashioned book club is the perfect venue to meet and share thoughts about popular literary works. My wife helps stay sharp conquering increasingly intricate jigsaw puzzles. There are lots of ways you can crank your brain up a notch.

Explore something entirely new. Recently I have watched a handful of movies about cooking and the life of a chef. I have always enjoyed eating good food and am now contemplating the cooking side as well. This year I plan to don a chef hat and try my hand at some creative cooking. And after viewing a wonderful course on French impressionist painters, I am starting to have an interest in giving painting a try, something I never would have imagined myself doing even one year ago. Some of us have passions that we were unable to pursue due to the requirements of a job and raising our family. Now in retirement we have the opportunity to revisit and explore overlooked interests.

Try to make an impact on someone’s life. Many of us remember someone who had a positive impact on our lives. Perhaps there was a special teacher who inspired our extra effort, a coach who taught us the importance of working together or a particular author who changed the way we look at the world. Each of us has the ability to influence the lives of those around us. It does not necessarily require superhuman effort. Sometimes a little thing said or done at the right time is all it takes to make a difference. You might prefer to volunteer your time for a worthwhile charity or nonprofit organization. Or you could commit to making an extra effort at home to help family members. Then you will get to look back at the end of 2015 at the wonderful difference you made in someone’s life.

Written for my weekly blog on US News & World