It seems to be the dream of every worker: retire, collect your gold watch (or equivalent), and live happily ever after. No more commute, no more cranky or demanding bosses, no more alarm clocks! Oh, joy! Finally, you’ll be able to sleep as late as you wish, stay in your pajamas all day if you want, or sit on the couch eating bon-bons as you binge watch all 456 episodes of Law & Order. Ah, the thrills fantasized and longed for by many 60- or 70-somethings.
Not to be outdone, younger-somethings devise countless schemes that may lead them to the lust for early retirement. Dreams of retiring at 35, millionaires, and sailing on one’s yacht to a desert island troll the internet.
Nothing is more satisfying than a job well done, a job that required some effort, a task that has engaged one’s intellect and savoir faire. Typically, getting something for nothing is not so satisfying, but working through a challenge is invigorating and exciting.
That is where retirement can present some problems: It can be difficult to become engaged in new challenges once the pressure to perform has been lifted.
To be sure, if asked, many people will list all those activities they have been avoiding because of lack of time: their jobs, raising their children and other pressing responsibilities. Once they retire, they assert, they will finally read all those books they’ve been accumulating; they will get around to writing that novel they’ve been editing for the past twenty-five years; the garden they’ve neglected all that time will finally get some attention; and their golf game, oh, Lord, will get some solid practice. In fact, they will play golf every single day!
Lofty plans often have a way of collapsing once the obstacles have been removed. Suddenly, you’re up at bat; put up or shut up.
I know, I know, many readers protest even as you see these words that you are disciplined, have always been, and are confident beyond discussion that you will attack all those projects languishing on the shelf.
But the magic of endless free time has a way of morphing into boredom. Dragging, mind-numbing boredom. And perhaps lack of finances. The stopped salary has been replaced by a minimal pension and paltry Social Security payments, and all those wonderful plans begin to be seen as perhaps too ambitious. Instead of daily golf, you may be able to play only once a week; that cruise you promised your wife comes with attendant costs that makes it prohibitively expensive; and the unlimited free time you thought you’d have is interrupted all too often by doctors’ visits.
Retirement is a project in its own right. You must plan for this next stage of your life, and the plan must be active and mobile. It is a work in progress that never ends. Consider that by today’s standards, averages state that one will live in retirement approximately twenty to twenty-five years. That is a very long time. During these years, you will no longer draw a regular salary. Your body will slowly degenerate, and costs that did not exist in your younger years will begin to rear their ugly heads as you struggle with dwindling funds.
Here are some critical steps to take as you plan for your retirement, whether you are 30 years old or already retired, because the planning never stops; it simply changes.
- Create a budget. Be crystal clear about your fixed expenses and fixed sources of income. Fixed expenses might include mortgage, insurance and utilities, and although these expenses do vary, they change rather nominally from month to month. Say your mortgage (principal, interest, taxes and insurance) is $700.00. Add to that an average that you have paid for utilities over the past year, say, $200.00, and your fixed expenses are $900.00. Then figure out how many years remain on your mortgage. The next step is to figure out every single source of income, from Social Security to pension and savings. Make columns that represent income versus expenses, and hopefully you have free money. Force yourself to be disciplined in your budget. Remember that your free money can pay for pleasurable activities in your younger retirement years, but in your later years, you may well spend that money on assisted living or home health aides.
- Next, make a list of activities you love to do, from writing to playing the violin. The more enriched your list of pastimes, the happier your emotional life will be during retirement. Do not allow yourself to become bored. This is critical. Love the theater? Volunteer as an usher. Teach a course on a topic you love. And get dressed every morning!
- One thing that retirees should guard against is giving away their money – to their grown children or scam artists. Remain alert at all times, and that comes with assiduous planning.
Retirement is a time that should reward us for our hard work. It should represent the culmination and prize of our lifetimes. We must do everything we can to ensure it is rich and fun. The above three suggestions are merely scratching the surface. Yes, you will finally be free of the stress and headaches that accompany making a living, but it is by no means a time to rest on one’s laurels.
Or, said another way, go ahead and rest on your laurels, as long as you keep your eyes and ears – and brain – active and alert!