January 23, 2018

Two People. Two Very Different Outcomes

Jim M. woke up to another day, destined to be just like the day before, and the day before that. He had argued with his wife all those months ago that taking early retirement would be a mistake. He loved his job, he enjoyed the camaraderie of the fellows he had worked alongside for almost twenty years. The 2 hour commute didn't bother him; it was his time to listen to audio books and think. The predictability of his schedule appealed to him. Besides, all that seemed to be waiting for him at home were problems and tension. He was a bundle of nerves as he thought about the day ahead.

Julie C. woke up to another day, destined to be just like the day before, and the day before that. She had agreed with her husband all those months ago that her taking early retirement would be the best thing that ever happened to them. Even though she was good at her job she had dreaded the 2 hour commute, the mind-numbing boredom of endless meetings, and the harassment she endured as one of only two female engineers. Besides, what was waiting for her at home was freedom and time to spend with her husband, her hobbies, and walking her dog. She was smiling as she thought about the day ahead.

Two people, two similar scenarios, but two very different reactions. What was the difference between Jim and Julie's experiences? Why was Jim convinced he had made a big mistake in retiring, while Julie faced each morning with a smile?

Jim sees retirement as an end, Julie as a beginning. 

To Jim, his work was his identity. He enjoyed what he did and who he did it with. In his mind, there was too much of himself left behind when he retired. For Julie, work was something she was good at, but it didn't define her. Her mindset was she worked to live, not simply lived to be able to work. An unpleasant  environment certainly made her decision easier. 

Jim has serious problems in his primary relationship, Julie apparently does not.

Jim's retirement journey began with arguments over his decision. You sense that Jim's wife wanted him to stop working yet she hadn't secured his approval or acceptance. Julie's choice was met with encouragement. Jim saw only problems at home after he stopped working, Julie saw the extra time with her husband as a positive. 

Jim has no particular passion or hobby to look forward to, Julie has interests that she can now spend time satisfying and the love of a pet.

One of the most important factors in having a satisfying retirement experience is retiring to something: a desire to travel, going back to school, fully engaged in a hobby, starting a business - the list is as varied as humans. 

With nothing to productively fill one's day, the hours plod along, time becomes an enemy. Life at work takes on a golden glow, one strengthened by powerful memories that pale against a day with no structure or purpose.

The other reaction doesn't discount all the positives that likely happened over a long career, but is looking at developing another part of one's personality, exploring talents and skills that were hidden while employed. 

Jim and Julie are fictional, but the description of their reaction to retirement is not, and of course, the sexes of each could easily be reversed. Each of us have, or will, face life after work. How you respond to the three situations listed above will help determine whether this new stage of your life is a burden or a joy.

Prepare wisely.

January 20, 2018

A Perfect Retirement Day

This is a bit of an experiment. It will be a fun, engaging experience, or a total bust. 

I am turning the success of today's post over to you. I am asking you to describe a perfect retirement day. What would have to happen (or not happen) for you to declare it a "perfect" retirement day?

Would you be with friends or family or alone? Would it be in the woods, by the ocean, or hiking a mountain range? Would it be sunny and warm or snowy and cold? Would you never leave your home all day or be gone from sunup to sundown? 

Would you read, watch movies, listen to music? Would you meditate? Would you go to the animal shelter and pick out a new dog or cat? Would you catch up on long-delayed shopping for things you want to add to your home to make it your personal retreat? 

There are as many answers as there are people. That's why this could be a real learning, sharing experience for us. 

Oh, my perfect day? It might include a mix of some of the following:

1) Time with family. A meal together, watching a movie or playing games, conversation about this and that.

2) Reading one of the books I always have in a stack nearby.

3) Responding to a flood of comments on a blog post that I wasn't sure would generate much interest, let alone feedback.

4) Replacing a few parts in a 70 year old vintage radio I am restoring.

5) Taking at least one nap.

6) Taking our dog to a park to watch her frolic and hunt for lizards (her favorite thing in the whole world). Having a picnic lunch. Bike riding.

7) Having a glass of wine at 4pm while sitting on the back porch, listening to the water fountain, and having no real thoughts.

8) listening to music - a mix of favorites and something new.

9) Making a stranger smile.

10) Firming up plans for a 3 week trip to the beach.

OK, now your turn. Tell us what your perfect retirement day would be. Keep your answer as short or long and detailed as you want. Give us a glimpse of your idea of perfection.

January 17, 2018

Is This Missing From Your Retirement?

You might be thinking. "nothing is missing. What are you talking about?" The short answer is a hobby or  something that engages you. Then, you might respond, "Why do I need a hobby at all? My life already full and getting busier. Who has time to take on a new commitment?"  I'm suggesting the answer is, you, if you haven't thought seriously about finding one. What exactly is a hobby? According to the dictionary it is an activity or interest pursued for pleasure or relaxation.

Two words in the definition give you a clue to its importance: pleasure or relaxation. Often I have discussed the common misconception that a retired person has nothing but free time, few obligations, and even fewer responsibilities. If you have been among the non-working for more than a short while, you know none of that is true. A satisfying retirement can be just as hectic as your working days. So, the need for something that allows you to take a break from the routine is every bit as important.

Hobbies are as varied as the people who pursue them. My father-in-law collected swizzle sticks and matchbooks. I started stamp collecting as a pre-teen and eventually moved into ham radio. Now, I am refinishing and restoring vintage tube radios from the 1940s.  Others choose woodworking, quilting, playing an instrument, gardening, mountain biking, golf, sky diving, fishing.....the list is endless. But, what makes a fulfilling hobby?

Some pick a hobby that is "practical," others do something just for the fun of it. A practical hobby would be sewing, woodworking or vegetable gardening. While it provides the pleasure or relaxation you need, it also produces something that can be used, sold, or enjoyed later. Just for the fun of it is pretty self-explanatory. Mountain biking, ballroom dancing, or most forms of collecting are taken up because the activity is enjoyed. Generally there isn't a practical use for whatever is done. Importantly, both categories have equal value. A hobby satisfies a need you have. Whether it is practical or just a lot of fun doesn't matter in the least.

A good hobby is one that often uses skills or talents that weren't fully utilized during your working career. If you spent a lot of time in front of a computer, a satisfying hobby might involve something more physical, or with different skill sets. If you wrote technical reports all day, turning out a good mystery novel might be just the ticket. On the other hand, if your day used to be filled with some form of manual work, a hobby that uses more brain than brawn could be best for you.

A new diversion can boost your creativity. The energizing aspect of a good leisure activity can prompt you to tackle something new. You learn new ways to solve problems. You face new challenges that must be dealt with differently than during other times of your life.

In most hobbies there are opportunities to meet new people who have the same interest as you. Everything from formal clubs to informal gatherings over coffee are part of many hobby activities. Problem-solving and question-asking through e-mail or telephone exchanges introduces you to someone you may never have met any other way.

Most hobbies require a serious dose of "me-time." You are intently focused on the activity or process. You shut out distractions or the needs of others for just awhile. You feed only yourself. Particularly if you are involved with other people most of the time, this solitary experience can be very pleasurable.

Showing the versatility of hobbies, the exact opposite situation may also occur. You may spend time with a spouse, child, or significant other in a way that is totally different from normal interactions. If you are both hiking a mountain pass, the experience will trigger reactions and conversations very different from those involving who takes out the trash or what's for dinner. The chance to learn more about each other can make a shared hobby a real kick.

Finding a hobby that really fits your needs takes experimentation. Unless you are lucky, you might have to try out several until something clicks. You might change hobbies over time as your needs and interests evolve, and that's OK, too. My only advice: keep searching. I went for almost 8 years without anything that would qualify as a legitimate hobby. As soon as I found what I was searching for I knew it.

What about you? Do you have something that brings you pleasure or relaxation? Have you found something that really brightens your free time? Or, are you still searching? I'm interested in learning about your hobby or your hunt for one. Please share your experiences with us.

January 14, 2018

"I Want To Retire Some Day. How Should I Prepare?"

Clock is ticking down, but you aren't there quite yet

If you are reading this blog, I assume you have some interest in retirement. Maybe not tomorrow, or even next year. Maybe it is a savings and money issue. Maybe you enjoy your job and the stimulation it gives you. Maybe your responsibilities with your family must be front and center for now. Maybe retirement scares you a bit. That just makes you normal. But, eventually you want to retire and would like some suggestion on how to prepare for the day when you are ready.

If you are already retired, I am asking a favor: read this post anyway, and then add you own hints and ideas as a comment. Your experiences qualify you to help those who have yet to make the move.

A) Make Your Financial Projections: Get a paper and pencil, spreadsheet program on your computer, or anything that will help you with the following:

What is your projected income from now until you retire. Obviously, this is a guess. Your job might disappear tomorrow. But, based on your past situation, you should be able to make an educated guess of what you expect to make from now until you do retire. 

What do you expect to receive from Social Security? Avoid the "it won't be there for me" panic attack. We don't know the future, but we know the present. If Social Security undergoes revisions, then you will adjust your other projections. But, for now, use what is real today.

 You get a yearly report that tells you what you can expect based on your past earnings. Do you think you will have to take your payments as early as allowed, or will you be able to wait? There are logical reasons for both courses of action that are based on your status. Add that monthly amount to your projections. There are often slight upward adjustments to your monthly check, like 2018's 2% bump, but it isn't enough to change any of your planning.

What is the current status of your retirement savings and investments? You can't predict what the market will do. You can project how much you plan on saving and investing in the years ahead. Using a conservative growth projection, what should you have when you are ready to retire? What do you need to have available when you retire?

Here's a biggie: what about health care costs? None of us knows what the future holds in this area. Personally, the only thing I expect are prices for coverage, medicines, and services will go steadily up. Plan on at least a 10% increase every year until you are eligible for Medicare (or its successor). If you are lucky enough to have good coverage through your workplace, you are lucky. That removes a large worry from your plate, at least for now.

Be aware, that even with Medicare after you turn 65, expect to spend at least $240,000 on medical expenses during the rest of your lifetime.

OK, now with those figures available to you, can you live on that for 30 years? People in good health today who are in their 40s or 50's can expect to live into their late 80s or mid 90s. If you retire sometime around 65, you will have to take care of yourself for another 30 years. Can you?

B) Make Your Lifestyle projections: Your financial situation will determine the overall structure of the life you will lead in retirement. Lifestyle issues will determine the quality: whether it is enjoyable and satisfying. Are you ready?

Where will you live? Many folks want to escape weather they don't like and use retirement as the motivation to move somewhere more to their liking. Or, their family lives somewhere else in the country and moving closer would make them happier.

Others like the roots they have established where they are, have family and friends nearby, and don't want to go anywhere. Moving to a retirement community on the other side of the country would never cross their mind.

Do you envision yourself in an "active adult" community, an age-restricted setup, an urban or rural environment, or selling everything and becoming a nomad in an RV?

What about the complications that arise when one or both spouses are with each other 24/7? Trust me, this is a a major adjustment for both partners. No matter how much Dr. Phil you have watched, how many books on relationship building you've checked out of the library, and how much you love your partner, being together all the time is tough without some planning.

Do you have something besides work that you love to do? If work is your vocation and avocation what will you do when you don't have that anymore? Do you have any interests, passions, or hobbies you'd love to explore? It is best to figure that out before you walk in the door of your house, retired, with no idea what to do next.

I've made the point many times in multiple posts that retirement is a huge adjustment for anyone. I don't care how well prepared you think you are, there are things you have not forseen that will happen. Such uncertainty shouldn't freeze you in place. Life is all about change. There is no way to cover all your bases ahead of time.

So, what to do? Plan, plan, plan. Then plan some more. Consider everything you know and things you know you don't know. Then, when the time is right for you, just do it. You will learn to adjust. You will struggle, grow, panic, and thrive. That is life whether you are retired or not.