The Real Price of Success – Sacrifices to build your Retirement Nest Egg

After a lifetime of work, as we retire to our second life, how will we define our success? Is it in the size of our bank account? Is it the collection of things we have amassed residing within the bigger-than-I-could-even-need-house? Or is it the memories of experiences and quality time spent with those who matter most to us? How big of a retirement nest egg do you need and at what cost?

It is a reasonable expectation that we work hard to make money to provide a good life for our family and prepare for our retirement – no one questions that. And along the way, it is expected that sacrifices need to be made. But the choice of what to sacrifice needs to be a conscious one as everything involves trade offs. In David Ning’s post “Sacrifices you should not make to save money” he acknowledges that sadly, people often neglect their friends and family as they endeavor to climb the corporate ladder. Whether consciously or otherwise, choices have been made and you are where you are because of them. But at what actual cost?

A hundred years from now it will not matter what my bank account was, the sort of house I lived in, or the kind of car I drove…but the world may be different because I was important in the life of a child – Simone Weil

The real costs of pursuing success

Success does not come cheap:

  • Commute time spent going to and from work each day – it is not unreasonable with rush hour traffic being what is to spend an hour plus commuting each day – each way. More than two hours every day just getting to work and back. These stress packed hours add up to many negatives that impact the rest of our life:
    • Stressful beginning to the work day – instead of arriving with a ready-to-go attitude, we are already beaten down.
    • Frustration as we wait in traffic, unsure of the cause or duration, just waiting and burning gas as our blood pressure rises.
    • Upon arriving home, wound tighter than a rubber band, tempers run short and patience is at a premium. Do you really want your first interaction with your smiling child running to welcome you home to be a snarl instead of a wide grinning hug? How long can a kid keep it up if each time they share their love you shut them down?
  • 60+ hour work weeks – no time for your spouse, no time for your children, and for sure no personal time for yourself.
  • Travel requirements – you need to be in Chicago tomorrow by noon for an important meeting and no one checked to learn your daughter has her ballet recital tomorrow evening. And guess who gets to explain to her why you cannot be there at this important event in her young life.
  • Weekends are not your own and your family misses you.

All in all this is a very unbalanced situation with the majority of your life revolving around your job. And what is you need to work after retirement? Each decision you make along your career path involves trade offs. Yes you want to provide for your family but without being a part of the family, who are you kidding? And once spent, you can never get this time back.

“The trouble with life in the fast lane is that you get to the other end in an awful hurry”John Jensen

I had a good friend who told me that he consciously spent his money on a beautiful home with fancy pool and tennis court and all the bells and whistles. If something should happen and he lost it all, he said he would just start over again. Throughout his career, he worked very hard and rarely saw his wife and kids, typically on a plane each Sunday, returning at week-end, ever in pursuit of fame and fortune. Yes he has an awesome house and all the “things” you could ever want. But I wonder, if he in fact did have to start over again, if anything would change? Maybe instead of such a monstrous castle, he would choose to attend a few of his son’s baseball games. Maybe he would choose a few more weekends away with his wife sharing and building on those moments that brought them together more than 30 years ago.

But you know what? He cannot go back. He lives the life he made and though very successful as measured by his bank account, I wonder how much more truly successful he could have been with a little less focus on money and a little more on the real cost to have that much money. We all need to realize before it is too late that true fulfillment in life and retirement goes far beyond a hefty bank account.

Don’t forget to pick up a free copy of my Navigating the Retirement Jungle, available upon request by mailing to

Retirement planning with a purpose – chase what matters

Each day that we live and work and struggle and enjoy is experienced one time only. Whatever you do today cannot be changed tomorrow and time that you waste or spend uselessly cannot be recouped. As for your preparation for retirement, the clock is ticking. You better work every minute you have to save as much money as you can so you will be sure to have enough to guarantee a happy retired life. Or should you?

The reality is that many preparing to retire look only at financial security and how many possessions they can accumulate to make them happy in retirement, regardless of the sacrifices required to achieve this. Ernie Zelinski in his book ”How to Retire Happy, Wild and Free” says “Although most people don’t know what exactly they want from life, they are absolutely sure that money in large amounts will provide it for them. They fool themselves, however, about how much happier they would be with much more money.” What is it worth in you and your family’s blood, sweat and tears to generate an additional $X before you call it quits and exit the working world?

Beyond money

Happiness cannot be bought. If it could, the movie stars and millionaires and dotcom billionaires would be joyfully enjoying their amassed fortunes with not a care in the world. But then we would not read daily about their troubles, misfortunes, failed loves, various addictions, and general poor state of affairs. All that money but so few genuinely happy people.

Chasing money for the sake of money – or more money – is not the way to go. Thomas Merton said “Why do we waste our time doing things which, if we only stopped to think about them, are just the opposite of what we are made for?” What matters and give us true meaning and purpose in our life cannot be purchased  from a wallet. Can you put a price tag on a smile and a giggle from a grandchild? What is the going rate for the support offered by a friend at a time when you are at your wits end? And what about those wonders of nature – a sunset over the mountains, the full moon on a cold, clear evening, the hypnotic sound of the ocean waves breaking on the shoreline, a dove’s deep throat coo – pretty much priceless.

Your time and effort is better spent chasing what matters – those things that add value to your day and bring a smile when remembered at a later time, enhancing the quality of your retired life. In an earlier blog, I talked about living in the present moment, here and now, where you can experience and savor all that life has to offer. Some additional worthy pursuits beyond the almighty dollar include:

  • Exercise to keep yourself in shape mentally and physically to give you the independence in senior life that is so important to maintaining self worth.
  • Find your passion and chase that – write a book, learn a musical instrument, cycle around Australia, become fluent in a foreign language, you get the idea…
  • Get in touch with that good friend you have neglected due to your busy life and get them back into your life. Good friends are few and far between and a good relationship is always worthy of chasing.
  • Turn off the TV and do something else – ANYTHING else.
  • Sit still in a quiet place, alone, and get to know yourself a bit better. Let your thoughts come and go, breath evenly, dig a little into the person you are and will be for the rest of your life. Do you like that person?
  • Do that something that you have always wanted to do since you were a kid but never had the time or the guts. Guess what – you have the time now! Do you have the guts as well?

When it is all said and done and you look back over your life and ask yourself what you regret not having done, what are the chances that making more money will top the list? You are retired and free to do what you want when you want regardless of what the rest of the world thinks. What a great time indeed to chase what really matters to you personally and maybe – if you are lucky – even catch it.

Don’t forget to pick up a free copy of my Navigating the Retirement Jungle, available upon request by mailing to

Why money is only part of a satisfying retirement

Our preparation for retirement too often focuses exclusively on getting our financial house in order. We are led to believe that if we just build a big enough nest egg, happiness will be ours once we retire. Websites offering investment guidance are plentiful ranging from individual planners to major insurance and investment companies. And it makes sense for seniors to heed the advice of professionals with the confusing myriad of options and rules and laws that regulate investments like 401k, IRAs, annuities, bonds, mutual funds, derivatives, etc. Each has its pluses and minuses, its risks and rewards, and without professional guidance, we can easily become overwhelmed.

So we agree that we need to address financial independence as PART of retirement planning. But if that is the exclusive focus of your efforts on, if amassing that huge retirement nest egg becomes the be all and end all of your days, you will be ill prepared to fully live and enjoy your retirement days. And there is a real cost to build your retirement nest egg as it impacts your family. Having focused every moment on making more money, how do you plan to spend your time once retired? Will you really be good or satisfied with anything other than making more money? Can you be happy doing something else? You don’t want to find out after you leave the working world that you really have no idea what to do with the spare time you worked so hard to achieve.

While recently in Lake Tahoe to enjoy to the serenity and peace only found at that pristine, alpine lake, I read a book that has been recommended across many retirement blogs “How to retire happy, wild, and free”, by Ernie Zelinski. An excellent read and Ernie hits it on the button with his observations on what is important to assure a happy, fulfilling retirement beyond just financial security. Rather than set your sights on $1M or $5M or some other number based on financial planners recommending a minimum of 80% of your working life income to retire, factor in that your costs will be less. Ernie lists eight reasons why retirees can expect to live on significantly less than this 80%, including paid off mortgages, no commuting expenses, lower tax bracket, no more education and children expenses (well at least not as much as before), and the fact that you no longer need material things to validate yourself in the eyes of others. Without living an extravagant life style on a daily basis – every now and then is kinda fun – most middle class couples can live on 50% or less of their previous income.

Get started now

Beware – time can be your enemy. Just as building your nest egg requires planning NOW for a satisfying retirement later, so should you begin defining and understanding what your retired life will look like from a other than financial perspective.  Now is the time to learn to navigate the retirement jungle. If you wait too long, you will find yourself unable to take corrective action to assure you are ready to cross the finish line into retirement life. With no interests or passions other than work, it will be very challenging to automatically create these after you retire.

Find your passions prior to retirement – and start to develop them now. You want to enjoy retired life! Try different things and then zero in on those you like best. You can be picky – you can do what you want to do! What about those careers you dreamed of as a child? Once retired, you will finally have your chance to take a wander down that path. Don’t limit yourself or doubt if you can do it – now you can. But if you enter retirement with no hobbies or interests, with no passions to get your juices flowing, the days can quickly start blending into each other, boredom will creep in, and soon that enjoyable retirement you worked so hard to attain becomes a burden. Your retirement is your chance to try something new, something you have always wanted to do but because of responsibilities and expectations, you could not or did not. You alone are responsible for taking the first steps toward doing what you WANT to do and living up to the only expectations that really matter – your own.

Don’t forget to pick up a free copy of my Navigating the Retirement Jungle, available upon request by mailing to