What’s Really Important

Last weekend we shared a nice afternoon with my sister and the folks enjoying their new bocce ball court and a bottle or two of Octoberfest appropriate beer. As is usually the case it was great to catch up on everything from the kids to current jobs (for those of us still working) to vacation plans. As we were sitting down for dinner we heard on the news of a fire rapidly blazing its way through hundreds of acres down Monterey way. Since we now reside in that area we were concerned, even more so when we learned the flames were a mere ten miles from our home. We continued monitoring the news worrying through the evening and headed out early the next day.

As we neared the turnoff to our home we had to skirt the lines of a second fire that lined both sides of the road and was supposedly 80 percent contained. Firemen and trucks were scattered everywhere with blackened hills filling the landscape that 24 hours earlier had been brown. Fortunately these hard working public servants fought the good fight and were on top of the situation allowing us to make it safely home. Once there we tuned into the local news for the latest on what was being called the Tassajara fire. We were a bit frustrated to find no updates to the situation since many hours ago. Although we could not see smoke we could smell it.

Beatrice and I decided we would put together a few boxes of our most important records and possessions in case we might have to make a run for it should the fire spread to our doorstep. We found a few plastic containers left over from our recent move and began wandering the house in search of those most important and irreplaceable possessions.

What were we going to include in these precious few boxes? With a limit to what we could pack into the cars, which items did we consider to be most irreplaceable, sentimental and significant? Looking back now it was an interesting exercise. At the time, not so much.

We agreed there were certain documents we needed to save – deed to the house, pink slips, receipts from the sale of the house, birth certificates, tax records for the past years, and insurance information.

Next we focused on a few valuable pieces of art we have and figured we could get them into the car relatively easily – just a few paintings and one Peter Lik photo that we bought on our honeymoon.

Even with these minimal selections we were running out of available space. What else was most important to save? When it came down to it the material side of things was surprisingly unimportant. Neither of us was concerned over electronics or furniture that although good quality could be replaced. The real loss for us would be the beautiful spot where we were planning to spend the rest of our lives. This perfect location would not be so perfect should we have to rebuild amidst blackened ruins. For me it came down to a short list: photos of the family collected over the years – there are no negatives and these could not be replaced; my laptop; and one particularly unique vase with a chameleon climbing the side that although not valuable is pretty cool.

In the end we collected everything in three plastic bins and were ready to grab the three pictures off the walls to make our dash to safety. Thankfully the fire was contained and our immediate neighborhood is no worse for the wear.

Since the threat of the fire we have scanned all of our important documents onto a hard drive and thumb drive. We have opened a safety deposit box where we store these along with some irreplaceable pictures and family heirlooms. We now keep an empty plastic container next to the safe to throw the contents into short order should the need arise. Most importantly we appreciate even more what we have and how fortunate we are to be where we are. We witnessed in those poor people who lost their homes just how fragile and uncertain the future can be. Taking life for granted is a mistake. You are only as safe as your next disaster. We feel prepared to make a hasty retreat should we have to. But in the meantime we are enjoying the moment and making the best of each day together.

3 Retirement Misconceptions

Each of us has his or her particular vision of how we hope retirement will play out. Some look forward to an active life doing those things they never had time for while mired in the working world. Action and adventure will be the topic of the day. Others may wish to pursue a slower pace enjoying each day for what it has to offer without feeling the need to pack calendars with activities. Whatever your personal preference it is important to look ahead to plan and prepare. Good things do not automatically happen just because you roll into retired life.

We look forward to living and pursuing a second act doing what we genuinely enjoy. We have earned it. This is our time. And hopefully we can each do just that. But it never hurts to be a little cautious. It is better to go into retirement with eyes wide open rather than simply optimistically hoping for the best. As you navigate your retirement here are a few gottchas to watch for:

I have worked all my life and I can’t wait to do nothing in retirement

Your retirement should be a time for you to turn things down a notch and take it easy. You have earned it. For many the initial honeymoon period – that first 6-12 months right after you retire – is a wonderful time. No more getting up early to battle the traffic. Goodbye stressful meetings and busy airports. Say hello to sleeping in a bit and starting your day slowly, at a pace that suits you. Doing nothing – “watching the grass grow” as my dad would say – feels darn good. But then a funny thing can happen.
Instead of feeling excited about the new day you find yourself becoming a little bored. Those fun distractions that initially brought a smile to your face start to feel a bit old. Doing nothing turns out to not be all you had expected.

It is valuable for those nearing retirement to take an honest look at how they will spend their days once the job is no more. How will you keep busy and engaged in meaningful activities? What will those activities be and do you have enough of them? Finding yourself retired and bored can be a terrible thing. Better to put those creative powers to use today before you arrive at retirement’s doorstep to build your list of passions, hobbies and worthwhile pursuits. You have the power to make each day memorable or at the very least not boring. You can always make time to do nothing. But don’t fool yourself into thinking that just because you have made it to retirement your job is done. It takes effort to live a fulfilling retired life.

I will never have enough money to retire

In order to live a safe and sane retirement we need to have sufficient savings or some continuing source of income to pay the bills. How much you need depends a lot on the lifestyle you live. Once retired some expenses will reduce or go away – education for the children, mortgage payments if you have been fortunate enough to pay off your home, and gas bills to fill the cars for the work commute. Other aspects of life will become more expensive such as healthcare. Each of us should look closely at the way we hope to live our retirement and compare it to the income we expect to have. You may have to make adjustments. Some choose to make a trial run living as if retired to see just how accurate their estimates are. Others wait until they can wait no longer due to failing health or changing job circumstances.

My fear is if you wait too long you may miss out on those younger years when you can still do it all (almost). When you first retire at say 65, the options for what you can try and experiment with are broader than when you get to 75. Hopefully you are still healthy enough to get out there and play. That is not to say just because you are 75 it is too late. But the reality of aging is what it is. It is easier to do some things while you are younger. If you worry about having enough money to cover every contingency you will probably never retire. The cost of that additional financial security may require you missing out on experiences you will never be able to recoup.

I will be bored if I don’t work

This can be a tough one. Numerous studies show a majority of seniors would choose to work in some capacity after retirement. The biggest reason is to maintain the social interaction that comes with a job. When we retire we not only leave behind our career but also all of those who along the way became part of our lives. Some make the effort to maintain relationships after retiring but it is not easy. That common ground provided by sharing a workplace is gone and sometimes there is nothing commensurate to take its place. And then there are those who genuinely enjoy what they are doing so leaving the job can be seen as a negative.

I have found the absence of a job a good thing in my retirement. That incredible stress and constant pressure to perform is replaced with a slower paced day to day existence. I get to decide what I want to do when I want. I can explore interests I may have been forced to abandon since I now control the clock. I am looking into volunteering in the community as well as investigating local organizations in such areas as gardening and wine appreciation. I rarely find myself bored, but I have only been at it for three years now. Still, short of needing to go back to work for the money I am quite happy far, far away from the work scene. Who has time to be bored?  :)