This post will have little to say about Congress and it's potential impact on our satisfying retirement. There has been plenty written about entitlement reform and debt ceilings and the like. Because everything at this point is speculation I see little to be gained by stepping into that swamp.
Rather, I would like to draw a parallel between how Congress seems to be performing and two similar problems that can affect our retirement. I welcome your comments but let's avoid blaming one party or another or the president. This post is not pointed that way.
Most people would agree that Congress is not handling the functions it was designed to handle. The latest poll numbers I saw put the approval rating of this body lower than it has ever been in history. In fact, the pollster joked that cockroaches have higher approval ratings than Congress! That's a little snarky, but the point is valid. Congress has become so partisan and focused on job protection rather than country protection that it can only do two things well: Nothing or kick the can down the road.
How does that relate to our retirement? Too many folks have one of the two attitudes about their own retirement. It is causing problems now and will cause terrible problems in the future if things don't change.
*Do Nothing Those who take this approach to retirement believe the payoff to years of work and sacrifice is ....to do nothing. That may mean literally to do nothing except watch TV and sleep in a big, overstuffed armchair. Or, Do Nothing can mean to do nothing new: develop no new interests, pursue no new dreams, leave any relationships locked in place without attempts to improve them, make no adjustments to financial plans, even figure your health is OK now so why change how you have always lived.
Personally, I see this type of retirement as being a waste...a waste of potential and opportunity...and really a waste of a good chunk of one's life. Don't misinterpret what I am saying. Relaxing is great. Sleeping in is pure bliss. A daily to-do list that is blank is just fine. Being "productive" all the time isn't necessary.
But, I do not believe we were created to just take up space and kill time. A long walk in the country, watching the birds at the feeder in your backyard, enjoying a cup of tea in front of the fire, even watching Downton Abbey every Sunday night is so much more than doing nothing. So is learning a new language, travel, volunteering, going back to school, or writing a book of poetry for your grandchild. A life that is allowed to just peter out as days "dwindle down to a precious few" is a life that is missing a solid close.
What you do with the ten or twenty or thirty years that retirement gives you is entirely up to you. It is one of the few times in your live when you have a real say in what your existence looks like. Grab it. Don't do nothing.
*Kick The Can Down The Road is another horrible choice for your retirement. We know what the expression means for Congress: put temporary patches on long term problems, let others worry about the country's future, never really solve a problem if it is too difficult or politically dicey.
The same approach to retirement will have the same negative consequences. Putting off the hard choices doesn't mean the tough decisions never have to be made. Sacrificing short term pleasure for long term gain doesn't come easy to some. Satisfying one's instant gratification is thought to be a birthright. Spending less than one makes is seen as foolish. After all, isn't that what credit is for?
Consider these terrifying numbers: The average American nearing retirement has only $30,000 in savings and investments. Poorer Americans average less than $17,000 set aside. For reasons that I will never understand 75% of Americans have less than $50,000 earmarked for retirement. Do they figure they will work until they die? Do they believe there will be decent jobs available to them at 70, 75, 80, even 85 years of age? Or, do they believe in the financial tooth fairy?
"Healthy food doesn't taste good. My grandfather lived to 100 and ate meat all his life." Well, you can certainly try that approach. There are folks who smoke and never get cancer or drink heavily and have a healthy liver right until they die. But, the odds are not in your favor. Ignore your eating choices or your body's signals of impending problems and you very well might find that the road you are kicking the can down comes to a dead end.
Doing nothing or avoiding the tough choices will not work much longer for this country.
And, it certainly won't work as a retirement approach.
A satisfying retirement is a proactive one. It is one that excites you, fulfills you, keeps you just a bit on edge wondering what is coming next. It is about as far removed from doing nothing and kicking the can down the road as I can imagine.