What do I really NEED in retirement?

Everywhere we look these days we find bountiful advice about how to best prepare for retirement.  Advisers who know absolutely nothing about us as individuals with lives as unique and different as snowflakes on a winter day are nevertheless confident about making recommendations that will dictate whether or not we will be happy once retired.

Save enough so that you can spend 4% each year; you will need at least 80% of your current earnings to live comfortably in retirement; downsizing is the way to go when you reach senior citizen status.

And these guidelines will facilitate a “happy retirement” according to whose definition of happy? Most of us cannot even agree on a movie to watch let alone what will ultimately provide us with a satisfying life in retirement. I am not sure that I trust someone who does not know me to make such a critical recommendation for me.

What is it that I really NEED in retirement to be content? If it was entirely up to me – actually it is – is there a magic formula?

Here is what I really NEED in retirement to be happy (WARNING: your mileage may vary…):

(1) My wife – my best friend, my confidant, my ever-tough backgammon opponent, my sanity in an insane world, my shelter from the storm, and my biggest fan who laughs at my jokes when others only gaze in wonder. Each day when we awake, we face each other, snuggle closer together, and embrace like it was the first time. We hold this position for minutes on days that we work, longer on weekends. But it is the starting point for every day and we are reminded of the special bond between us and never take each other for granted. Talk about the way to start your day!

(2) The ocean – each of us has some place that brings us a feeling of inner peace, where heart rates decrease, stress departs, and we just plain enjoy being. For me it is the beach. Constant rolling waves along distant shorelines with an ever-changing landscape of sand, shells, gnarly driftwood and whip-like seaweed are just the ticket. And it is not about necessarily living on the beach but just being able to walk there. Gas for the trip – $15; lunch for two $15; feeling I get when I am there – priceless.

(3) A house to live in – our mortgage is almost paid off. So the house is a little bigger than we may need just the four of us (two peoples, two cats). That is okay despite what the pundits recommend. So the neighborhood is changing – the good news is young families are moving in with their kids. Nothing makes me feel younger than watching youngsters playing around the neighborhood. And nothing serves better to remind me how lucky we are that OUR kids are raised! Traffic may be getting worse – where do I really have to be that cannot wait until rush hour is done and gone? Our house is a home – our home.

(4) Good health – the wild card that is a bit out of our immediate control. We do all we can with regular exercise, healthy diet (I actually drank a concoction this morning made of celery, carrots, lettuce, and kale with a little ginger thrown in for good measure. The nutrition is awesome and the taste is not really bad at all – trust me!) , moderate alcohol consumption (I do love my red wine), and just an overall focus on doing what is good for us. But we do not know what the cards have in store so we live each day and appreciate it and each other.

A happy retirement cannot be calculated or formulated with a one-size-fits-all mentality.

We are individuals with unique tastes and desires and definitions of what is happiness.

The trick is not to stress out about the right formula.

The trick is to figure out the real definition that fits – your definition of happiness.

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Who will take care of me when I am old?

Over the weekend we visited my folks to celebrate my mom’s 79th birthday. She and dad are going strong and we had a wonderful celebration of their lives as we relived some exciting and humorous past events including viewing the DVD from their 50th wedding anniversary a few years back. During the course of our conversations, the topic came up of who would take care of a parent who outlived their spouse. My sister and I live within 100 miles and our brother about twice distance that so visiting is an easy option. But who will step up should mom or dad or both need more than an occasional visit? If they can no longer safely take care of themselves, what would they do?

As we grow older alongside our spouse, we hope to be together always. This person at my side who has become an extension of who I am, who under no duress understands and accepts my various shortcomings and quirks, with who I share my wishes and dreams, is an integral part of my life. Growing old together is our chosen path and as we encounter challenges, we face them together. But unfortunately as we grow older, at some point that wonderful bond and strength that has served us so well for so long may just not be enough. We cannot make it just the two of us and we must search outside of us for assistance.

What can we do?

Call it a clan, call it a network, call it a tribe, call it a family: whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one. ~ Jane Howard

The importance of family

There is no one more concerned for our welfare than our own family. We have been through this life together and nothing can change that. Ups and downs, good and bad family is forever. It is important to maintain ties with brothers and sisters and children and grandchildren. Though never easy to coordinate everyone’s busy schedules, we need to make the effort. Bringing various family members together to share and reminisce and build new memories is a must. Holidays and graduations, baptisms and weddings, anniversaries and just plain weekends all offer an opportunity to unite. By maintaining strong ties across the family, when someone needs help the resources available are impressive. The extended “family unit” is made up of many pieces that complement each other and make the whole stronger than the individual parts.

We prefer to remain independent for as long as we can. No one wants to be a burden. What can we do to remain independent as possible for as long as possible?

  • Long Term Care insurance – according to the statistics, 2/3 of those over 65 will require extended care during their lifetimes with an average duration of three years. With nursing homes costing $70,000 per year for a shared room, these costs can literally break the bank. Long Term Care insurance can give you the assurance that should you need service your family will not have to pick up the bill.
  • Retirement communities – it is never too early to take a look at the possibility of retiring to a senior community. Facilities today offer a supportive community of fellow seniors along with a social event calendar that would tire many younger folks! Retirement communities are no longer a place where people go to die but instead a place where they go to LIVE and enjoy. Many are set in beautiful surroundings away from the fast-paced-traffic-ridden areas yet close to amenities like shopping centers and movie theaters. In these communities, you can age in familiar surroundings with help close by should you require it. With baby boomers entering retirement, I believe that the next 10-20 years will show a big demand for retirement communities as people look for a safe and interesting place to settle down.
  • Moving in with a family member – sometimes for whatever reason the best option is for a parent to move in with one of their children. Extended family can provide food and shelter and love without bankrupting anyone in the process. Grandparents can spend time with grandchildren with both sides learning to appreciate the other a bit more. Everyone needs to be sensitive to the fact that a new member to the household can disrupt the status quo. Tolerance is a virtue, patience is a must, and mutual consideration is the go word. It makes sense to have discussions early on about which child would be the best option for the parent(s) to move in with. Knowing up front helps to remove anxiety that the aging family member may feel. And having a logical discussion between the children ahead of time can prepare everyone just in case this option needs to be taken.
  • In-home care – for some who just do not want to leave their home, the option for in-home professional care is a consideration. Having someone you trust stay with you to cook and clean and make sure you take your medications is preferred by some. The benefit is you stay in your home where you are comfortable. The challenge is finding a caregiver that you can trust and who has your best interests first and foremost. And not everyone will have this option should their health be to serious a concern. But for some, it is the way to go.

It is not an easy discussion to have but ignoring it will not make it go away.

If and when the time comes that a parent or other family member becomes too old or weak to take care of themselves, what will they do?

A little planning ahead of time can ease concerns and set the stage for action to be taken if needed.

 

Is your glass half full or half empty?

As I look out at the plum tree in our backyard, I notice tell tale signs of the coming spring. Green buds that will be flowers are filling out the branches and I see a smattering of blooms already venturing out. Though predictable, the suddenness of this burst of new life which was absent just one week ago is always astounding and sometimes a little unnerving. Another spring is springing, the clock keeps ticking, and time marches on.

 

As I get older I cannot help but wonder what this year holds in store. Will we see a rebound in the economy that we all hope and pray for? Will someone finally figure out how to help the long-term-unemployed and those victims of the mortgage debacle or will these folks be forced to continue somehow surviving on their own? How far out is the next bubble and what will fill it this time? How will we be physically or mentally different a year from now?

 

Wow, re-reading the last paragraph I notice a rather negative line of thinking. It has been a challenging few years but there are good things as well as bad. Optimism and pessimism are sides of the same coin.

 

So I thought what about taking a look at things from the perspective of that old glass of water, the one that we often refer to as either half empty or half full. If I was a negative person – aka glass half empty – what might I be concerned with as another year is added on? Will this be the year that:

1.    I become too old to beat my son at racket ball?

2.    My vision gets worse and I struggle just to see the TV at times

3.    I have to reduce the weights I lift by some amount while working out

4.    I decide that I will no longer bend down to pick up a dime but only stoop for a quarter or higher

5.    A hearing aid enters the picture

6.    I lose someone close to me

7.    I develop some long term ailment

 

Unfortunately this list can go on forever.

 

What if every one of these potential negative events occurs this year, how could I respond? Albeit that would be a nasty year by any standards, it is not impossible. How might a glass half full perspective help to survive and in fact continue with a desire to live more?

1.    My son is getting better and faster and stronger growing into a man and along the way his skill at racket ball has grown to exceed mine. I gladly hand over the crown.

2.    I can quickly be fitted with a stylish pair of spectacles and my vision will be as good as when I was a kid, maybe even better.

3.    I am still working out to maintain my strength, balance and stamina – never surrender! So I cannot lift as much now – who am I trying to impress anyway?

4.    With inflation over the years, a quarter is worth today about what a dime was not long ago so nothing has really changed here.  🙂

5.    With a hearing aid I can better follow conversations around me and minimize my “pardon me, can you repeat that?” requests. And people can hardly detect that I am wearing one.

6.    I learn to never take for granted the people who are important to me, I learn to treasure each moment today since tomorrow is not guaranteed, and I learn that pain is a part of life that no amount of optimism will ever erase 100 percent.

7.    Similar to #6, I live each day as best I can and appreciate each breath that I take.

 

Keep on blooming you plum trees! I will enjoy you today for all you are worth.

 

Bring it on life – no one said it would be easy.

 

I can think of no better way to end than to share a poem from Ralph Waldo Emerson who had it figured out when he wrote the definition of a successful life. I believe that living such a life – a glass half full life – is within the reach of each of us. It’s all about our attitude and how we choose to view the world.

 

To laugh often and much;

To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children;

To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends;

To appreciate beauty, to find the best in others;

To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition;

To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived.

This is to have succeeded.