November 2, 2012

A Satisfying Retirement is Simple....Sort of.

It was hard to miss how many simple living and minimalist blogs were suggested to me during my recent request for ideas on what to read. Over the past 29 months of Satisfying Retirement blogging I have addressed that subject as it relates to retirement several times. It is a subject that I am comfortable returning to now and again because my life has moved in that direction over the past several years.

There are some simple living blogs that I stumble across that strike me as too extreme for most of us. Living with a total of 20 items of clothing, or in a 100 square foot box without electricity isn't going to attract many of us. Getting rid of one item you own every week until everything is gone is an interesting psychological experiment, but not a recipe for long term happiness for most.



With all that said, at least for me I have found the right mix of convenience and simplicity. A blog that I have just started reading, Midway Simplicity, strikes me as a good description of what my wife and I are striving for. We like heating and cooling. We enjoy having computers that keep us connected to the world and allow our creativity to be expressed. I live where a car (or two) is essential because of the lack of public transportation and the climate. Movies are our major form of entertainment but theaters rarely show anything we like. So a service like Netflix and high speed Internet are important.

Our home is comfortable and welcoming, though small and old by Scottsdale standards. We have had a slightly raised expansion crack under the living room rug for a few years. The rug probably should have been replaced four or five years ago but it is serviceable and kept clean. We have decided to use our financial resources for other things. So, until the carpet is replaced that slight bump will stay. We have learned to live with it.

We spend about $100 a week on food for the two of us. According to many simplicity blogs that is wildly excessive. True, we could probably cut that by quite a bit if we gave up several things we enjoy. But to us that defeats the purpose of a happy retirement. Unlike many of our friends who dine out a lot,  we go out to dinner once a week, usually with a coupon or for happy hour specials. Many of our dinners are leftovers, sandwiches and soups, or spaghetti: simple to make and simple to clean up. Our kitchen is tiny and over-crowded with more than one person. We are best with simple, healthy, and quick meals.

One of our cars is 10 years old, with some rattles, but only 88,000 miles and kept in good mechanical shape. It needs to last another few years. Our "new" car is almost 5 years old, has 60,000 miles, and a few small dents and scrapes. We expect it to last at least 4 or 5 more years. By then, I hope to simplify to become  a one car family.

I spend no more than $300 a year on clothes. I am a jeans (or shorts in the summer) and T-shirt kind of guy. Yes, I can clean up and look rather spiffy when I have to, but that is not my normal choice.  Betty is a very untypical female: she doesn't care a lot about clothing and certainly little about fashion. While she has nice things and can mix and match like a master, she is also happiest in casual, low maintenance clothing, too. She never goes to a beauty salon but is just fine with a Good Cuts type of haircut.

We have eliminated all newspapers and catalogs, most magazines, and all cable except for the basic 20 channel "starter" package. My CDs are stored in two large "jukebox" players that hold 300 discs each. They are 12 years old and will be kept until they die. I have no intention of dubbing all that music onto an ipod or similar device. Our TV is a 37" HD unit that is small by todays' standards. Guess what....until it breaks it is not going anywhere.

Our investments are straightforward, simple, and low to moderate risk only. My adviser has been watching out for me for 15 years. He calls with options but otherwise leaves me alone. I check where we stand a few times a month but don't worry much about finances, except for the possible RV expenditure!

We use Groupon, Living Social, Deal Chicken, and other e-mail discount coupons when they make sense. But, most are deleted because we don't need what is being offered. Even at an 80% discount I don't need a waxing and pedicure (nor does Betty)!

The library is my friend. I am there so much I have my own parking space. If I have to wait a month to read Killing Kennedy that is much better than paying $15 for the Kindle download or $20-something for a hardcover copy. In 2010 I donated over 300 books to various charities or for credit at a used book store. They were taking up space, collecting dust, and were not going to be re-read. Having them gone simplifies housecleaning and clutter.

Over 36 years of marriage we have collected several different sets of everything: china, flatware, glasses, table cloths, knick-knacks, and seasonal stuff. Most of it is stored away rather than on display. Then, when we want a fresh look out comes all the pewter stuff, for example, that has been in boxes for a few years. Suddenly, it looks new again. Twice a year we change the settings on the dining room table to reflect the seasonal change, but not by heading off to Crate and Barrel. We just pull the appropriate stuff from the storage unit, add maybe a few new candles and flowers, and we look fresh.

Over the last few years dozens of boxes of toys, games, and clothing for young children that we have been stored since Betty stopped preschool teaching have found their way to my daughter's house for her children to use. Suddenly our backyard storage shed has room to hold some things we'd like out of our home for now. Both Betty and I dislike a cluttered look and are happiest when things are neat and orderly.

I could cite more examples, but I've made my point. A simplified lifestyle is not difficult. It is not about giving up things you like, and it is not about depriving yourself of basics. It is not about buying something inexpensive that breaks every few years when spending more money on quality makes sense.

It is about structuring your life so what is important to you is what you live with. It is about getting rid of things that are no longer contributing to your happiness. It is simply being satisfied with what you have or making adjustments until you are.

What steps have you taken to live a simpler, more satisfying life? What have you eliminated that you don't miss? What have you added that now is important to your happiness?

45 comments:

  1. Bob, I was nodding my head the whole time I read this post. Yep, I think you are my brother from another mother. With a few changes, largely due to the fact that both my husband and I are still working, we live much like you and your wife. My husband was harrassed for years by his co-workers--why don't we buy a bigger house, why doesn't we have newer/bigger/better cars, etc.etc. Now that we are talking about retiring they are all asking how we can afford it. We don't live a deprived life style. We have traveled a lot, we go to plays and concerts, we eat out if we feel like it. But we don't replace things that still work and we don't need to have something new just because our friends have it. I think the secret is learning to be content and grateful for the blessings you have and quit comparing yourself to those who have more. I've started reading Midway Simplicity since it was suggested and I'm enjoying it. Thanks for that and for this post too.

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    1. Well lets see..I have a sister-in-law named Cindy and one of our family pets was named Cindy.....maybe we are related!

      It is hard to resist the siren call of more stuff when everyone else thinks that is appropriate, until...a recession or early retirement shows the flaws in that approach.

      As you note, it is really a simple mindset: want what you have, not what you don't have.

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    2. CIndyP, You have it figured out. Bob would agree I am sure. You are living a life style you can afford not only now but in your retirement. Congratulations. You have grabbed the gold ring!

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    3. Sign me on to Cindy P's bandwagon as well . . . we heard much of the same leading up to retirement, and are now hearing much of the same in retirement. I try to remain gracious, firmly believing that most people have the exact financial lives their spending decisions over decades and decades of living have dictated.

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  2. I always have fun reading blogs related to simplifying one's life, and yours was no exception, Bob.

    When people think of simplifying it generally denotes things that one gets rid of. Simplifying a life also means gaining time by giving things up - saying no to that request to do something you really don't find useful, that you always said yes to in the past. Or deciding not to take on another chore that would give marginal satisfaction, but cost major time. In these regards we have started to say no to groups or individuals that we automatically agreed to assist in the past, that really gave us no real satisfaction or return, including the feeling of doing something good for someone. Those that fall in the latter category I will continue, such as helping families at Christmas, but not the others.

    Regarding your books, there are tons of books for free from all sources that can be read on an e-reader or tablet. For anyone who does not have either, the Kindle software (and I assume other competitors to it) can be downloaded for free onto laptop and desktop computers. No need to pay for books or even gas to go to the library, unless you like libraries as I do.

    We dine out a reasonable amount of time, but we always look for coupons, discounts and so on. Buying gift cards at Kroger's for our favorite restaurants also adds to our gas credits.

    I'll let others respond, but simplifying ones life can take on many looks and feels, all designed to save money, give us some time back in our busy lives, and just enjoy life that much more. Good post, Bob - thanks.

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    1. You've done an excellent job of summarizing the simple (!) steps that can be taken to simplify and the reason to do so: control over your life.

      Thanks, Chuck.

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  3. Loved the blog today. I agree! I have read so many blogs that are so extreme. I have no desire to make my own handwipes or laundry soap and don't care to throw away my wardrobe etc. But--like you desire to live more simply. Since retiring in June and moving to Arizona to a retirement community we have eliminated one car, and as a second car for this area purchased a used electric golf cart. Way more cost efficient for us. Also when we moved, we brought only what was really needed. When we cleaned out our house to move we discovered at least 1/2 of our possessions we did not need or use. I no longer do what I could call recreational shopping. Now it is go with a list and be in and out of that store. No browsing. Clothes have become simple with one or two "dress up" outfits.
    Coupons and groupons have become a way of life. When we eat out (which is not that much) we go for breakfast or lunch which is usually cheaper. Amazon.com has become our friend. We research an item we want, purchase it online with no shipping and have it delivered to our door. No chance of buying extra things. My husband just got a very cool walking stick for his hiking club for a great price and no chance of being tempted by other things in the store.
    I guess there is some truth to the saying "everything in moderation". Seems to work for us.
    p.s. how is the dog training coming along.
    Cindy

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    1. A helpful step: click any of the Amazon links on this blog, then search for whatever you want and this blog earns a few pennies on your purchases, even if it isn't anything that was specifically advertised. I'd appreciate it!

      Personally, I've never understood recreational shopping. Maybe it is a guy thing, but I only go into a store to buy a specific item and exit as quickly as I can.

      The dog training is a work in progress. Loose leash walking and releasing something she shouldn't have in her mouth are the two biggies right now.

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  4. I keep my comment simple: Ditto to what you wrote.

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    1. Thanks, Warren. Keeping your comment simple = simplicity!

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  5. Very good post! I agree and we align ourselves with most everything you have said. All of the commentors were on mark. We are at a stage where we don't have to have a lot but are very selective about what we want and what we let in our lives. Things don't have to be pricey....they just have to fit our lifestyle. We keep things for what seems like forever...why not, if they are still serving us well. And if they no longer work in our lives, then we try to pass them on to someone that wants or needs them.

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    1. There is a service called Freecycle that allows you to give things you no longer need to people who could use that item. We have given away clothing, a patio set, some electronic gear, and a lawn mower to folks who couldn't afford them. It helps the environment and others..a win-win.

      Thanks, Linda.

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  6. Terrific article, Bob! I've read it twice, and it is a pleasure to read about a simple living style that works for me. Now I plan to read back over your older blogs on this topic. Thanks.

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  7. Great post! & very much where I am, except I am a semi-reformed recreational shopper. As I'm looking at items in my home, it is surprising to realize how many of them I'd been holding on to for re-evaluation when I retired. Now that I AM retired, as of March, I'm re-thinking much of what I have so it will fit into our "new" lifestyle. We don't go out to eat much; but where we live has community meals twice a week; for $5.00 we've had some amazing dinners.

    I do find that as I get rid of excess items, I feel more relaxed & focused.

    I am, however, looking at the "time" clutter, as I'm having issues with time management. I have kept items that I enjoy on the "to do" list, but am realizing I need to prioritize this also; if I do a, will I have the energy to do b? If not, which one is more valuable to me??????

    A work in progress....

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    1. I constantly fight against time evaporation. The day begins fresh and full of promise, but suddenly it is dinner time and my list of things o accomplish is only half done. The solution? Stop putting so many things on my list! Like you said, after 11 years of retirement I am still a work in progress.

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  8. It's all so personal isn't it? After we moved to the city in '98 we gradually came to realize many things we could get rid of, which included a 2nd vehicle. When my husband didn't have to put gas in his car from Nov. to March we had to ask why we were paying insurance on it and finally sold it.

    I get into a de-cluttering mode at least twice a year and adhere to the 'if you haven't worn it or used it in a year get rid of it' mentality. It keeps the clutter down. I think living in smaller quarters requires keeping a handle on 'things' too, but couldn't live in a box either.

    We've passed on china and crystal to our kids and I enjoy the fact they use it. Sometimes I just want a change of color scheme and will give away or sell some of the things I have and replace them with something new, but it's not often.

    We all do what we feel comfortable doing and, as you say, it's all about feeling satisfied with your life.
    Good post!
    b

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    1. Fist question: How is your home in Ocean City? Any damage from Sandy?

      We still have more china and place settings than we need, but they have sentimental value for Betty since they came from her mom and my grandmother. So, we keep them. Cleaning clutter at the cost of memories isn't worth it.

      Simple living is very personal. "Rules" don't apply.

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    2. We are amazingly blessed that our house in OC made it through unscathed! Thanks for asking.
      b

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  9. What a great post – I loved the line “It is simply being satisfied with what you have or making adjustments until you are.” For me, going without a paycheck has also been about cherishing what I am so fortunate to have and learning to value so much of life that went unnoticed before!

    While I’m not retired, I did quit my corporate job 4 months ago to launch a start-up, and I don’t expect a paycheck for another 2 years. While I have worked with recent retirees for years, it wasn’t until I saw my first declining savings account statement that I began to really understand what it feels like to start drawing down a nest egg. For me it’s been a jumble of emotions:

    1) Pride – Wow, I saved enough to follow my dream!
    2) Fear – Whoa, what if I miscalculated?
    3) Surprise – Wow, I don’t need to spend much to be happy!
    4) Regret – What was I doing spending so much before?

    So here I am, with a personal weekly food budget ($60) that equals what I used to pay on a single meal! Cutting back has opened many new doors to happiness… I now make nearly every meal at home and have discovered that I love to cook! I fish more now than I did before – which is now more than just a hobby. When the door handle on my truck broke, I felt like a kid on Christmas when I found the part I needed at the pik-n-pull for $4! And when I buy my working friends a cup of coffee (in San Francisco its $2.50, or 25% of my daily food allowance) I make an invisible sacrifice and quietly smile inside.

    I thought it was going to be depressing to cut back so much on spending. Instead, my life is richer and I’m more generous. And, of course, that fresh caught rockfish now tastes sweeter than it did before!

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    1. What a great comment, David. The four emotions you list are common to all recent retirees. #4 is especially powerful: "I could have retired earlier with a biggest nest egg!"

      Most of us find our happiness in relationships, freedom, extra time, and discovering more about ourselves, not in things that cost lost of money.

      Thank you for adding your insight to our discussions.

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  10. I live in nyc and I have never been more grateful for the simple things in life-water,food,electricity-the things we just take for granted. In my neighborhood we are fine-but so many people are suffering. Please keep the victims of the hurricane in your thoughts and prayers.

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    1. Thank you so much for letting us all know that there are parts of your area that are OK. The pictures from Staten Island, Northern NJ, and Atlantic City are heartbreaking.

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  11. Hi Bob, I haven't played "contrarian" on your blog in quite some time so here goes.

    I live simply where I want to but I spend on what gives me pleasure. I have no intention on leaving all the money I have saved over my life to an heir. It would probably spoil them anyway. If I could figure out how to spend my last dollar as I was taking my last breath I would probably do that.

    If living simply gives you pleasure then certainly do that; if spending some of your hard earned savings gives you pleasure then do that also. But, since you are talking about an RV you know exactly what I am saying.

    Kidding aside whatever is left when my wife and I leave this earth is going to social justice organizations for the "least of these". That is where my heart is...

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    1. Actually, RJ, you are right on track. Simple living is not the same as frugality. Betty and I are likely to buy an RV soon. That isn't frugal at all, but it is actually a step to simplify our life. Being on the road 3 months a year would allow us to step away from lots of daily obligations and to-do stuff at home.

      Simple living as I see it means eliminating the "stuff" (material and commitments) that don't bring you happiness. It is not about denying yourself what makes you happy. It is about eliminatingng the things that don't.

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  12. Like you and Betty, I have a casual style that does not require new clothing very often. I like the distinction you and RJ made between simple and frugal. I spend my money when doing so will bring some value into my life, like my cabin. But I drive a nine year old car, and I don't travel very much. I do like to eat out at nice restaurants occasionally, so that is probably my one of my few "splurges." Less stuff and clutter means a calmer, happier me. So now I'm going to get back to getting my writing room organized and decluttered!

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    1. Phoenix is a casual dress town 12 months of the year. Yes, there are people who spend a fortune on clothes and hang out at the resorts. But, very few places ask for much more than clean jeans and a polo shirt. Betty and I have no problem fitting in.

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  13. Love this post and agree completely. We spend money on things that are important to us, and not otherwise. We belong to paperbackswap.com and have recently sent 60 of our books off to people who want them. We are going through closets and giving away clothes we don't wear. We have two cars and a truck in fine running condition and won't replace any of them until they wear out. We don't have a flat-panel TV because the only time we turn our old one on is to watch Netflix movies. Our cell phones are with a month-to-month company (Consumer Cellular) with great customer service.

    I was just now thinking about some more stuff in my closet that I haven't looked at in years. I think I'll pull them down and put them in a sack to take to Goodwill. Or I'll advertise on Freecycle.

    I love this business of getting simple.

    Incidentally, Bog, my blog post today is about you, and I've linked to two of your posts. Hope that's okay.

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    1. Oh my, I better go take a look. Of course it is OK to link to me.

      We are within a week or so of moving the summer clothes out of our closets and the cooler weather stuff in. That is when I usually look at clothes that I haven't worn all season or are really too ratty to save and donate or dispose of them. It is the perfect time to declutter.

      A few years ago I donated 10 sports costs to Goodwill when I realized I hadn't worn any of them in several years.

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  14. Hi, I came to visit you from Linda at the Bag Lady blog. My hubby and I are also retired.

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  15. Welcome, Terra. I saw your comment on Linda's blog and glad you clicked over. I certainly hope she and Art take the Africa trip...it sounds like a once-in-a-lifetime dream come true.

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  16. I love to see what you are doing? I wrote today that I did not know that my husband I were "typical" but find that we are in so many ways. A box of dishes are really new when we open them after a period of time. It is like Christmas. When we dig though them we are surprised at how good everything looks.

    Be well. Life is good.

    b

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    1. Ah, the joys of re-discovering old items. Betty and I do that all the time: "We had that? I don't remember but wouldn't it look good in the dining room?"

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  17. Bob, for us, living a simple retirement is about sharing a particular mindset and end goal. We have defined how we want to live within our budget, but we still shift priorities according to circumstances. We don't deny ourselves a lot of pleasures, but we also find more and more contentment in simplicity.

    Preparing to downsize has been a real eye-opener, as it would for most folks. We are looking forward to having less of everything.

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    1. "Looking forward to having less of everything" pretty much summarizes the thrust of this post. As a few earlier comments noted, having less just to have less isn't really the goal. Rather, having less of those things that don't contribute to your happiness is the end goal.

      Thanks, Suzanne and Malcolm. I know you guys are looking at a major downsizing right now. best of luck and let us know how it is going.

      Readers: follow their journey on their excellent blog.

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  18. Yet another excellent post on simplifying ones life. I've been working on getting rid of my debt, after it occurred to me that I never used to carry any debt. Like so many people I got caught up in the "shopping habit", but I purchased items that have added so much joy to my life. Not brand new things made overseas. Over the years, I have been collecting vintage linens and storing them in my dresser. Just last week, I decided to start using these items. I've also been collecting vintage art work from thrift stores and online auctions. It is amazing how something that was used by another person can enrich ones life. There is nothing like sleeping under a chenille bedspread. The cat likes it too. I feel so much better now that I've taken my collections out of the closet. Sometimes it seems as if the paintings are speaking to me about where they used to live. There are some from the 60s and 70s; based on the dates I can tell where I was living and how old I was. I guess that's my way of simplifying.

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    1. Betty and I enjoy antique stores, not to buy very often, but just to see what used to be part of someone's daily life. occasionally she'll find something that is inexpensive and can be re-purposed for an entirely different use. That is fun.

      Vintage art work? Sounds great. Any particular era or style? I love old travel posters.

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  19. Hi Bob. I have been purchasing mostly still life and abstract paintings. Also some black and white photography, and I have a very small collection of midcentury pottery, e.g. Red Wing, USA Pottery. It all works out pretty well since my house was built in the mid 70s. Beats sending stuff to the landfill.

    Enjoying all of your posts, and responses.

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    1. Thanks for the info, Gail. Occasionally I will check out area garage sales hoping to find some interesting old art work, but usually you can tell why someone is getting rid of it!

      My wife, the photographer, says good black and white photographs are far superior to the same quality color photos. There is something about the contrasts and sharpness that can be really compelling.

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  20. Hi Bob. It has been very gratifying to read this blog and the respnses. It is nice to know that there are a lot of people like me. About the only things I can add to the aready mentioned ideas are:

    1. I now ask myself if it is really something I want to take care of? If the answer is yes I want it enough, then I go ahead and get it - if the answer is that it will require using it(when I really don't want to use the time), taking care of it (when I really don't want to use the time), or feeling guilty for not using it after I get it, I no longer get it.

    2. Read something awhile back that has really helped in simplifying my life. It was, "You should surround yourself with only those things that you love and use. It does not matter what other people think you should love."

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    1. Taking care of something is part of the buying decision that is easy to forget...until you spend the time on it.

      One nice thing about being older is not caring as much what others think. As you note, surround yourself with the things (and relationships) you love and life will be so much more pleasant.

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  21. Hi Bob. This post is such a joy to read. It makes the whole retirement thing sound simple. People worry too much on how their going to spend their days in retirement, what they would or wouldn't buy with the money, or what to leave their kids when they pass on. I guess there is no perfect retirement but we can make the most of what we have. Wise retirement planning and a simple lifestyle is the key.

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    1. The drumbeat of bad news and the supposed "death" of retirement are very much overdone. Worry solver nothing. AS you note, planning and a simple lifestyle = a satisfying retirement.

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