Retirement Advice I Would Give the Twenty Year Old Me

If I only knew then what I know now. Way back when I was 20 thoughts of retirement never crossed my mind. There were plenty other distractions. I could not even imagine being retirement age. But funny thing – here I am.

I have learned a thing or two over the years whether through my personal experience or those of friends and family. If I could share with the 20-year-old-Dave any words of wisdom to prepare for the road ahead, it would go something like this:

Prepare for the non-financial side of retirement

Everyone knows it is critical to save enough to subsidize the retirement lifestyle you hope to live. But too few consider the importance of preparing beyond finances. What will you do to find meaning in your day? Who will you become once you are no longer defined by the person you were on the job? How does your spouse envision retirement? It is too easy to waltz into retirement without preparing for the coming 10 or 20 or more years ahead. Without genuine preparation you risk boredom and dissatisfaction during a time of life that should be anything but.

Hands off retirement savings accounts

Over my 30 year career I moved from job to job quite a bit. One consequence was repeatedly facing the option to cash out 401k accounts. In most cases the temptation proved too great. Too often I withdrew the funds, paid the 10% additional tax fine and had money to do as I wanted. The only good thing is I did not use the money to splurge but rather to pay off bills that had accumulated. Still I sacrificed potential growth over multiple years that could have added to my ultimate retirement nest egg. “Leave it alone and let I grow” would be my suggestion to the younger me.

Don’t count on staying at the same company

In my career as a sales manager focused on start-up companies there was not much latitude when it came to hitting target goals. If quota was not achieved, no matter how unreasonable or inflated the number, your job was on the line. I had a pretty good batting average over all but there were times when missing a quarterly target cost my job.

Message to younger self: be prepared to work at many different companies over your working years. The days of spending an entire career at one place are gone.

Understand the financial realities of retirement

Retirement will not be cheap. According to Fidelity healthcare costs for the average couple retiring in 2016 will ring in at $260,000. Healthcare insurance rates are sky rocketing with double digit yearly increases becoming the accepted norm. Everything is getting more expensive while your income remains fixed.

No one knows what unplanned health event their future may hold. My parents experienced this recently when my dad had a stroke. Initial hospital charges were huge and the bills keep coming. Thankfully they have a Medigap plan which helps pay healthcare costs not covered by Medicare including co-payments and deductibles.

In retirement you want to do those things you have dreamed of. Realizing those dreams will generally not be cheap either. When budgeting don’t forget to account for those things you have been waiting all your life to do.

Note to 20-year-self: put those dollars aside now so you can do all you dream of when you finally have the time to do it.

Getting retirement right takes practice

Since this will be our first time at it, none of us has any real experience being retired. It is possible you may not get everything exactly right from the get go. Be prepared to be dynamic, to go with the flow. Make changes where necessary, try new things, and don’t be too hard on yourself. There is no deadline to get everything right. So long as you continue to learn as you go you are making progress.

Keep exercising

When I was around twenty I began a life-long commitment to good health setting aside time for regular exercise and attempting to eat a decent diet. I would remind the younger me that good habits now will continue to be good habits later in life. Exercise is an important part of any happy retirement. Keep weight training for muscle and bone strength. Continue yoga and stretching for balance and flexibility. Get some cardio to keep the heart healthy. And don’t neglect exercise for your brain one very important “muscle” to keep in shape. The retirement journey will be that much more enjoyable when you are healthy in mind and body.

It might have been helpful to hear these words of wisdom when I was younger. But I cannot complain. I am retired with my wonderful wife in a beautiful part of the world. We are healthy and happy. And I just started a part time job pouring wine at a wonderful little winery walking distance from where we live. All in all, retirement has turned out a-okay for us.

LoveBeingRetired.com

Smooth Your Transition Into Retirement

Retirement is something to look forward to. Most of us envision a well-deserved escape from the stress and strain of working life, a new chapter where we will have the free time to pursue all those interests we were forced to shelf while laser focused on making a living. If we can somehow survive today’s struggles we just might get there.

Unfortunately once one arrives at retirement’s doorstep things don’t always go as planned. Making the switch from full time employment to full time retirement can be challenging. And since we have no experience to draw upon launching our second act is an unfamiliar adventure where to excel we must learn as we go.

I retired five years ago. After an initial adjustment period I am pretty satisfied with the life I now live. However there were times I struggled, stumbled and made mistakes. As long as you learn from your mistakes it’s okay, right? Here are a few important lessons I have learned along the way.

Realize an identity beyond your job

At a cocktail party when asked “what do you do?” a typical response tends to describe your role on the job. Often what you do is a major influence on your perception of who you are. Many are so absorbed with their job they have no real life outside the career. Now you are retired – who are you?

If you find yourself with no identity outside your job retirement can leave you feeling lost and without purpose, disconnected from a reality where until now you played a significant role. Once retired it is important to establish new roots to grow and nurture the post-job you. You were and are someone beyond your employment. Retirement allows that person to surface and take control, to make the best of what can be an exciting inspiring stage of life.

Don’t just keep busy, find meaning

Boredom is a real threat to the unprepared retiree. If you retire at age 65 you can hope to live 20 or 30 years in retirement. That is a whole lot of days and months and years. Playing golf or volunteering a few hours a week is not going to be enough. At the end of the day wouldn’t it be nice to look back on your activities and feel some degree of satisfaction, some small bit of accomplishment?

When I first retired I was fine with doing nothing. After 30 years of the old grind I deserved it. No one was telling me what to do. I was finally my own boss. I slept in, attacked a mountainous stack of books I had accumulated, took a few trips, revisited some long forgotten hobbies, and was happy basically watching the grass grow.

That lasted about six months. Now what? What was I supposed to do with the rest of my second act?

How we choose to spend time as retirees is a personal decision. Activities that excite me might bore the pants off you. What helped me was trying to stay open to the many possibilities that came along while building up the nerve to step outside of my comfort zone.  After five decades of life I was pretty set in my ways. Then here comes retirement, a blank page waiting for me to paint my own unique picture.

So I tried some new things, things I always wanted to do or had recently become interested in:

– I always wanted to be a writer so I started a blog “Retirement – Only the Beginning” where weekly I share my journey in search of a meaningful fun retirement. Taking things one step further I wrote and self-published two books handling everything from the content to the cover.

– After a few trips to Paris I thought it would be cool to learn a little of the language (at least enough to read the menu) so with the help of an app I downloaded to my iPhone I am learning to parle francais.

– My dad always loved gardening so I am giving that a try nurturing our plentiful roses and growing some veggies. There is something special about saving the seed from a favorite tomato then sprouting it, growing it and eating the fruit all over again!

You don’t have to be productive all the time

You cannot be good at your job if you waste time. Many become so accustomed to giving 110 percent they find it hard to gear down for even a weekend. Don’t be surprise to find you feel guilty “wasting time” in retirement. But it is okay to do so. With the job behind you are allowed to slow down. Every moment need not be productive. A good healthy mix of activity and downtime rids your day of stress and anxiety, neither welcome in any retirement plan. I learned an important ingredient to a happy retirement is finding a pace you are comfortable with and going with the flow.

Dedicate part of the day to fitness – mental as well as physical

It’s wonderful to no longer deal with the hectic stressed-out pace of full time employment. On the other hand your mind will probably never as sharp as when you were making snap decisions or dealing with unexpected events that populate the typical work day. The job keeps you on your toes. When you remove that from the equation you might lose a step or two, perhaps slow down a bit from that top-of-the-food chain whirlwind you had become. In retirement it is important to find new challenges, try new things, and keep the old mind engaged. Like any muscle if you don’t work it out your brain will atrophy. My wife and I partake in a myriad of brain games including cards, backgammon, jigsaw puzzles, remembering names, discussions with smart friends, and revisiting specific details of past trips and experiences.

As for the physical side I recently discovered a guideline that helps me stay on track. The goal is to take a minimum of 10,000 steps each day. Mileage may vary according to the length of your stride but for me that works out to close to five miles a day. At first the distance sounded unrealistic – how can I possibly walk five miles every day? So I picked up a “fit bit” and began tracking my steps. Soon I found myself “taking the long way” whenever possible – walking instead of driving to the nearby store (2 miles round trip), using the stairs rather than elevator, happily strolling to the far side of the house to retrieve some forgotten item. At the end of the day it all added up and I was pleasantly surprised how often I hit that 10,000 step target.

There is no universal blueprint for how to transition into a fulfilling retirement. Each of us needs to find our own path. But we might learn from the experiences of others. And if we are fortunate we may avoid repeating mistakes endured by those who have gone before us.

LoveBeingRetired.com

How Do You Rate Your Retirement?

If you were to give the retirement life you have been living to this point a grade – like back in school – would you be looking at an “A” for excellent or a “C” for average or (hopefully not) an “F” for failure? There are a lot of variables – maybe it’s better to go with pass/fail. It’s not always easy to live the retirement of our dreams. I think the bottom line is are you happy with your second act or is there room for improvement? And if there is room for improvement what can you do to raise your grade?

I have been retired full time about five years now. Most readers of LoveBeingRetired are familiar with the story of my fall from grace in the tech start-up world that left me prematurely job free well before anticipated. Sometimes you have to accept harsh reality which for me was I was too old (at 53!!) to do a worthy job within my chosen career at least according to the hiring powers. I am not bitter (well not overly bitter) but it was an unexpected turn of events to say the least.

Looking back at these years in retirement I find myself reliving a myriad of emotions:

– The fear I was totally unprepared for the decades of “independence” ahead.

– The self-doubt following months spent unsuccessfully trying to get back into the working world.

– The nagging concern over finances.

– Then the glimmer of possibilities as I began getting used to my new lifestyle and actually enjoying it.

– And now the hopeful expectation for all that is still to be.

St. Chapelle spires

Before assigning a grade to my retirement or yours there are a few questions worthy of consideration.

Do you find meaning in your life? Many find their justification for being in the job they do. Once separated from that daily endeavor they struggle to find that same feeling of worth.  If you can’t find worthwhile endeavors beyond the job retirement can feel empty. It becomes difficult to motivate yourself to get out of bed each morning – what is the purpose? But if you have reasons, motivations, passions that excite you each day can offer new opportunity. You don’t have to stick to the same road that led you here. Try new things, branch out, cut loose and do what feels good. Finding meaning is very personal and no two paths are exactly the same. How would you rate your current situation?

Do you have plans for the future? I have found having goals keep me moving forward. Retirement need not be the end of aspirations. Glen Frey of the Eagles said, “People don’t run out of dreams; people run out of time.” Retirement offers precious time to do what you want to do. Whether your passion is travel or learning, reading or writing, painting or singing, the time you need to explore new directions is now yours. What do you see yourself doing tomorrow? Next month? Next year?

What would you change about your situation? Back in the day we worked hard to earn those all-important “A” grades. It makes sense that it takes similar effort to boost our retirement rating to an honor roll worthy level. And while a report card full of “A”s as a student may have been awesome a stellar retirement rating means you are on track to live the best second act possible. Are there areas requiring attention to realize the best retirement possible? Can you fine tune your lifestyle to increase the likelihood of living a fulfilling retired life?

What are the best things about being retired? Sometimes life feels a bit heavy as we strive to address various challenges such as aging or unwelcome money issues or living without clear direction or struggling with boredom. Occasionally we may find that old Ben Franklin comparison of pluses versus minuses tipping in the wrong direction. As an inveterate optimist I typically see the glass half full. I have found worrying has no impact on the outcome of events. No matter how I fret good things and bad things happen. Why not face the future like Frank Sinatra who sang “The best is yet to come.” And those best of moments are sometimes found in the least likely of circumstances.

What are your plans for your continuing education? Just because we haven’t been to class for years does not mean we are no longer capable of learning. With the free time retirees enjoy the opportunity presents itself to pursue areas that interest us rather than are required of us. Your second act can be the right time to learn more about what you love without the stress of final exams. Put that mind to work. Keep yourself engaged and challenged. You are never done learning.

Are you happy? At the end of the day when you glance into the mirror do you see a smiling face looking back? If you do, give yourself an “A” for making your retirement work. That is what is all about right, finding happiness and fulfillment and enjoyment each day. Whatever path you discover, whatever steps and missteps you take, wherever your journey leads you if when it is all said and done you feel positively about how your time is being spent you are doing just fine. As a matter of a fact, feel free to do more of the same!

Each of us has the power to influence the quality of our retired life. With some work hopefully we can improve a less-than-stellar grade to something closer to an “A”. Why settle for average when you can be excellent. When you think about it, now that you are retired is there a more worthy focus for your attention?

LoveBeingRetired.com