September 9, 2011

Retirement Living: What is the Real Truth?

You are a "newbie" retiree. Or, you are a few years away from leaving your present job. You have searched the Internet and read countless articles on what to expect. Many advise you to save 50% of your income for the next 5 years..can that be right?. Several experts have told you retiring is no longer possible. A few advise you to move to Costa Rica or Mexico and live on $500 a month.

Untruth Warning!

The reality is that retirement living is not much different from non-retirement living. I have been writing Satisfying Retirement Blog for 15 months and have produced a rather extensive primer on most retirement subjects. If you are a new reader, or new to retirement, please take some time to look at the list of most popular posts, or hunt around in the archives for posts that might help you.

I think you will come to the conclusion that living a retirement lifestyle that is happy and fulfilling takes some planning, some adjustments, and some creativity on your part. But, doesn't life before retirement require the same stuff? Too many web sites, blogs, and magazines attempt to tell you this part of your life is fraught with troubles and pitfalls. You are facing a daunting journey that only the strong survive. The message is almost: Retirement, only the beginning of your problems.

Not True!

Let me give you a few glimpses of what retirement is really like. I've been on this journey for over 10 years so I have probably faced several of the questions and issues that concern you. I have gone through the death of a parent. I have survived the collapse of my business. I have downsized, then downsized again. I am being screwed on a regular basis by our health care system to the tune of 33% of my yearly income going to insurance companies, labs, doctors, and big pharma.

Yet, even with all that, this phase of my life has been the most fulfilling, exciting, growth-filled, and satisfying of any part of my 62 years on earth so far. I have freedoms I could have only dreamed about while working and traveling 100,000 miles a year. My creative life has caught fire. I have written two books and host this blog.  I have a marriage that is so much better than before I retired. I am financially weathering everything the world can throw at me, and still jetting off to Hawaii for a three week vacation at the end of the month.

To cap it all off, the October issue of Money Magazine is profiling my retirement in as someone who is leading a satisfying retirement in spite of all the doom and gloom that bombards us every single day.

Retirement is not what it was for your parents or grandparents. That is absolutely true. The world and how it operates have likely changed forever. But, the exciting news is that so have we. I don't know a single retirement age man or woman who wants to spend 5 hours a day, every day, on a golf course, or sitting in an easy chair watching TV. I don't know anyone anticipating retirement who believe that their welfare is so secured by their former employer or the government that they will have zero financial worries in the future. 

Retirement is an outdated word that can't possibly capture all of the opportunities and options you face. It implies you will no longer work. That is probably not true. Many of us want to keep working in some form. Retirement implies your active days are over. Not true, unless you choose to live like that. I contend your most active days, both physically and mentally, can lie ahead.

Retirement implies you will slowly fade away or become a burden to others. That can happen, and it does to too many of us. But, for most, that isn't necessarily your fate. Even if it is, that is years in the future. Why wouldn't you push yourself to live fully until you can't? Why worry about what may happen in the future, or let that worry confine you now? Plan for your future needs and try to lessen the impact on your loved ones. But, for heavens sake, don't let it paralyze you now.

My health is better today than it was 10 years ago. I weigh less and have more energy. I've dropped a few inches in waist size. I Look forward to the gym instead of fear it.

My relationships are much better. The stress my lifestyle imposed on my family when I was traveling continuously for almost 20 years should have been enough to tear my family apart. Due to the patience and forgiveness my wife possessed we made it through that phase. Now, things are so much better because we have time for each other. Sure there are arguments. There are days when each of us would rather the other person took a long walk off a short pier. But, rather than linger and fester like during my working days, we blow up, figure it out, patch it up, and move on. That can't happen when one partner is gone 200 days a year.

I found my passion. I was a man with no hobbies and no real interests outside of my work. I dabbled in things, but mainly to fill the time. Retirement has given me the time and opportunities to try different things. The pieces finally fell into place about 5 years ago. Writing and volunteering with a prison ministry organization give me what I have been lacking: a passion and a real purpose. The day isn't long enough for all I want to accomplish. I never felt that way (in a positive sense) while working.

Retirement is very much what you make it. Of course your finances, family situation, health, and other factors will impact you. But, again I stress, they  affected you before retirement, too. This is your time. This is your opportunity. This is your life. Build it and live it full throttle.

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  1. Great post. I was laid off in April at 61 so I consider myself retired even though I am not eligible for SS yet. My jewelry hobby has turned into a full fledged business and I am busier than ever. Also happier than I have been in a very long time. So yes, it is not your parents or grandparents retirement with lots of travel etc. But I am not that into travel anyway so I won't miss that! Love your blog by the way.

  2. Excellent post Bob. Yeah most of us who have been retired for more than a few years have run a gamut of experiences as you have. I personally can certainly relate to much of what you say.
    I too have found that blogging and volunteer work to be much more fulfilling than what I left behind in the corporate world. Like most of us were as kids, I continue to get bored easily so golf and some of the "old people" hobbies are not who I am or want to be.
    I am looking forward to your article in "Money" magazine. It is great to see a fellow blogger get such recognition. Keep up the good work my friend.

  3. Roberta,

    Thanks for being a regular reader. You sre why I continue to plug away. Much like me, you retired early but have made it into a positive and fulfilling experience. Congratulations and send us some photos of your jewelry. I'd love to see what you are creating.

  4. RJ,

    Thank you very much for all the nice support. I do have a easily-triggered boredom setting that was constantly being set off until the blogging and prison ministry really filled the holes in my life.

    If I were given the chance to go back to my old job, with the six figure income, and all the perks, I would say "No" without a moment's hesitation.

  5. Love this post! As with all phases of life, we dictate how we're going to live it. The word "retirement" doesn't dictate how we will do it--we do. So why not go ahead and make it the best time of your life?

  6. Bob, being self/un employed since 1989, many of my friends and family have told me I have been retired for years and just work to have fun, and life a satisfied lifestyle.

    I would agree to a point, if it were not for having to keep working to pay bills I would totally agree. :)

  7. Syd,

    I'd like to become famous by thinking up a word to replace retirement. Maybe while I'm sitting on the beach on Maui.

    Thanks, Syd.

  8. Hi Stan,

    You keep producing that excellent Maturity Matters web site and we'll all be happy! It is nice when you can combine fun and an income.

  9. What a wonderful, honest post. Thanks for writing about your reality.

    We don't have to change the word 'retirement'. Just it's meaning.

  10. Morrison,

    Thanks for the compliment. For someone like you who writes with absolute honesty with every post, I appreciate it. The word "retirement" needs to be retired.

  11. Bob,
    I gotta get that magazine so I can see what retirement is all about. Seriously though, as you continue to document, retirement is just life without a job (or sometimes a different job). Retiring doesn't really make all that much difference except that you have more time to manage. The challenge as I see it is making the best use of that time (with the additional complication of physical deterioration). If you were good at managing life while working, you can likely manage life when retired but only if you don't convince yourself that it is all over.

  12. Ralph,

    Retirement is just life without a job, or at least the same job. I've staked out a position that everything isn't different when one retires. For some reason that myth has floated around forever. I think it does much more damage than good.

  13. Everything isn't different when one retires? Maybe not everything; but, to be honest, a lot of things have been. We have, for instance, a lot less money and a lot more time. The time hasn't been a problem for either of us, since we both have interesting hobbies and places to volunteer, enjoy reading, cooking, computer games, pets, and time with friends. And really, we're not as young as we used to be: we nap now and then.

    Money is a different story. We weren't people who socked away a couple of million dollars before we retired, so our lives did change. We are obliged to be a good deal more mindful in the way we live. We can, thank goodness, afford all of what we need and some of what we want, though we have had to learn to distinguish between the two. We have learned to be frugal, in the best sense--enjoying what we have, knowing when we have enough, planning what we spend. It's probably what we should have been doing all along, but it wasn't. So yes, our lives are different after retirement, and that's fine with us.

  14. TO Jean,

    I agree. Saying nothing is different is hyperbole to a degree. Maybe I should of said the basics of life don't change: you worried before and you'll worry after, you'll have relationship issues before and after, your attitude toward life probably won't go from glass half full to glass half empty.

    Money and time certainly are likely to be adjusted after retirement. But, as you note, often for the good.

    What I rebel against is the current trend by some to make retirement sound like a period of depriving oneself, hunkering down while trying to survive, and daily angst.

    I bet you (and I) agree that such a representation is fiction, not fact, for most of us.

  15. Bob, I suppose that if you're used to "having it all," retirement--especially if it comes at the end of losing your job, looking for work, and giving up--can feel like hunkering down and trying to survive. If you're retired without a pension and without adequate savings, it probably is.

    It takes time, especially under today's economic conditions, to learn how to adjust your life and your thinking, to tap into the available resources, and to make a life you can enjoy. You and I apparently skipped the angsty parts; not everybody today is so lucky.

    Deprivation, survival, and angst may well be part of retirement, but they don't necessarily have to be permanent. Certainly, you and I agree that life after retirement can be very good, though it may be very different.

  16. TO Jean,

    I'd be the first to agree I have been lucky so far. After losing my job and having to figure out how to support two young daughters and a wife, and then having my business fail, I've had my share of issues. But, so far so good.

    I'm enjoying the difference of this life very much!

  17. This might be my favorite post on your blog yet! I love the "in your face" joy of it! No wonder you are the poster boy for a satisfying retirement! Looking forward to the magazing article! Are you ready for the talk show circuit??

  18. Galen,

    What a nice compliment. Thank you very much for making my night. I enjoy what I am doing and I'm very pleased others can sense that joy.

  19. As I have said before Bob, I believe you have figured out what is important and are living your retirement life accordingly. Congrats on the Money Magazine profile - they picked a winner with your story. Keep on blogging and keep on living your satisfying retirement!

  20. Hi Dave,

    As you well know, retirement is only the beginning of what can be a tremendous journey. All I have figured so far is to remain flexible and upbeat.

    Thanks, Dave.

  21. You are an example to me on this retirement journey. I hope that I will one day find my passion. I am looking forward to the article.

  22. Donna,

    Thank you for your kind comment. I learn as much about this journey from folks like you as I share in a post. We are all in this together.

  23. Bob,
    Thanks for the inspiration. Enjoy the week.

  24. I think I am coming to an interesting chapter in my life; or, should I say in our life. My husband and I are starting to make some real plans for retirement in 5-10 years. We have been putting money away since we were 30, have other investments, pensions, 403B's.We' Never going to living the high life, but we should be in pretty good shape. Where I think we will do well is that we really enjoy pretty simple things. We like to travel, but mostly to our vacation homes. We have two, but one is paid for and the other will be paid for in a few years. We have two other houses which hopefully will get sold. Won't get much for them, but we never expected to. We love being with our kids, and we enjoy being together. Cooking, trap shooting, etc. We probably will work a couple days a week at less stressful jobs. We both work a lot of hours and have intense jobs He is a policeman, and I am an RN. I like this post because it shows me that yes, people are still getting to retire. Not only that, they still can enjoy it.

  25. Lori,

    I like your story and your attitude. There are a lot of folks who are going to have a tough time retiring. But, like you and your husband, that isn't true for everyone. I believe the majority will still be able to build a satisfying life after the full time work stage of life is concluded.

    Like you, we enjoy simpler pleasures on a day-to-day basis, with occasional splurges like our recent stay on Maui.

  26. Hi,

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