I will celebrate my 900th day retired in a few days. I thought it might be a good time to share some of the things I have learned and experienced. I know that in the years before I retired, I had a number of questions and concerns. I had read advice from “experts”… most of whom were still working. I had based my plans somewhat on their advice, but there are just some things you cannot know until you experience them for yourself. Anyway, let me do what I can to pass along some of the things I have learned to those of you approaching that big day.
- Everyone has a unique financial situation, so don’t get overly concerned with standard “retirement rules of thumb” – I think we have all been influenced by retirement pundits, experts and financial advisors discussing basic rules that need to govern our planning. You have probably heard the “4% rule” that says you should plan to deduct no more than 4% of your retirement portfolio annually. Every professional advisor can provide general guidelines that should be considered by anyone contemplating retirement. It is good to listen and consider this advice, BUT each individual circumstance is unique. So, be open to assess your own financial plan based on your own needs. Here are a few suggestions I have regarding financial planning:
- Retirement financial planning becomes much more simple and doable if you have eliminated all debt before that day. Yes, you can carry mortgage debt into retirement, but having none surely makes for easier planning and sounder sleep at night.
- Get a good handle on your expected ongoing monthly expenses. Track this for at least two years to ensure that you are using credible data to manage cash flow.
- Find and use a financial advisor that you trust to assist with portfolio balancing, investment research, and expected returns on your portfolio. This individual can also help minimize tax burdens and can provide unbiased (and unemotional) input regarding difficult decisions.
- Don’t be afraid to use expected Social Security in planning calculations. You should get an annual statement that shows your estimated SS income, so include that in planning assumptions.
- Be open to new adventures and spontaneity when you retire – Before I retired, my wife and I had never discussed buying a vacation home. However, less than a year into retirement, we decided to invest in a lake home where we now spend significant time. The home should retain its value and our annual outlay for maintaining and running the place is relatively small. The point is that we would never had considered such a purchase if we were not open to new experiences. Now, we thoroughly enjoy our time at the lake and it gives us an energy that we never would have experienced otherwise. So, look for opportunities to move outside the box. Consider doing something that enhances your lifestyle… even if it might never had been in your retirement plan.
- Medical insurance may not be as complex or costly as you think – One of our primary concerns going into retirement was medical insurance. After all, that is one of the most prevalent concerns noted by the media and others relating to retirement. My wife and I had to fill a gap in time between insurance carried by our employer and the time we qualify for medicare. We opted to look at policies offered by the Affordable Care Act (healthcare.gov). The ACA policy we chose provides excellent preventive coverage (for example, our recent annual physical exams, including laboratory tests, mammogram, etc. cost us nothing). And, because our annual income is below ACA limits, the monthly premium is very affordable. My advice for others is to avoid delaying retirement just because you are concerned with medical insurance. Look at options, including policies covered by the ACA, before simply assuming that policies are unavailable or too expensive.
- Social security can play an important role in your financial security – Yes, I know… everything you hear says wait to claim SS until you are at full retirement age or greater. There are positives and negatives regarding when to claim, so I think this decision is truly an individual one. However, I can say that filing was very simple and the checks are direct-deposited every month, as promised. SS can be a very important component of your retirement financial situation that helps answer that “will I have enough” question we all face.
- “Value” has a new meaning in retirement – During my work years, the focus all day long was adding value… to the company, to coworkers, to customers, to patients, etc. The thought was, “If this activity is not helping someone or something, then I probably should not be doing it.” In retirement, you’ll need to shift that philosophy slightly. There is still meaning in adding value, but the value shifts from the big three of the workplace (fast, cheap, and good) to a new big three of retirement (others, service, and enjoyment). Retirement allows you to arrange your day in ways that allow you to serve others in your life. I have heard one definition of retirement as “a time when you pays yourself to do whatever you want to do rather than what others demand that you do.” Retirement allows you to add value to the lives of your spouse in ways you’ve never had time to do in the past. It allows you to spend time with children and grandchildren in new ways. It allows you to do things that add value to your own life. So, as you approach retirement, begin thinking of ways that your newly found time can make a difference to others in new ways. And, it is a good time to adopt the attitude that “I don’t have to do something productive every day.”
- There is plenty of time – One of my favorite sayings these days is, “Everyday is like Saturday, except for Sunday.” In retirement, you have multiple days each week to accomplish those projects and activities that had to be compressed into Saturdays during working years. Not only does the extra time allow you to do more, but it allows you to do it better. How often before retirement have you felt rushed to get back to the office after lunch with a friend? Have you taken the time to visit all the county or state parks in your area? Hobbies that you’ve shelved because of lack of time can now be enjoyed or even savored because you now have the time. However…..
- Time is short – Retirement is a daily reminder that our days are numbered. Many of my retired friends speak often of how quickly the time has passed and how they know there are limits. Though you have much more time to do as you please during retirement, knowing that the days are short make each day more valuable and precious. Retirement is a true mix between allowing yourself to relax and enjoy the beauty of life AND the knowledge that the clock is ticking. So, work to find that balance between counting the days versus making the days count.
- Relationships will change – One thing that you have to understand about retirement is that nearly every relationship you have in life will change. Time with friends you have worked with and beside for years will diminish. Though you commit to regular lunches and catch-up times, these will slowly decline as you begin having less and less in common. Your relationship with your spouse will change as you suddenly have 50 or more additional hours every week together. This has been a blessing for me, but I hear stories from others about this being a challenging transition. Retirement is a time to restore relationships with friends and family members. I have enjoyed the time to reconnect with friends from 30 or more years ago. New friends emerge during retirement. I have enjoyed becoming part of a group of other retirees at the lake that play golf once a week. A dozen guys from different places and different backgrounds spending time together through a hobby we each enjoy. As you approach retirement, understand that relationships will change, but the new time you have will allow the relationships you have to become even stronger and better.
- Do healthy things, but don’t allow your health to define your life – I think we all know that our bodies were designed with a finite useful lifespan. As we age, our parts start wearing out and doing unexpected things. Retirement is a time to tweak (or dramatically change) our lifestyle to improve the function of our finite, limited bodies. Finding healthful new hobbies is a great retirement plan. We all know that our retirement years also bring about health issues. Most retirees I know can spend hours talking about their surgeries, medications, and multiple ailments. However, I would caution any new or soon-to-be retiree from allowing your health (good or bad) to define your life. We need to take the attitude that “our health is what it is”, but it will not dominate our thoughts, our conversations, and our actions. Living through pain and inconvenience will allow our lifestyle to be more fulfilling and enjoyable to those around us.
- Find ways to give back and serve others – Finally, retirement is a great time to improve the lives of others. When we serve others, our own problems seem to melt away. Spending time serving others is fulfilling, but also helps us meet our need to add value and use our limited time wisely.
Retirement is a joyous time of life. It should not be a time to dread or avoid. Rather, it can be a wonderful, fulfilling, enjoyable time for yourself, those you love, and others you serve.
And, never forget… “Today could be your best day yet! So, take the time to look up and enjoy the journey.”