April 27, 2012

Retirement and Shifting Priorities

Over the nearly two years life of the Satisfying Retirement blog I have written a lot about changes, both mine and yours. In most cases they are important adjustments; discovering new passions and interests, working after retirement, how to 'survive" being home with your spouse or partner all day...things that take effort and work. These changes usually come as a result of understanding more completely the consequences of no action, or a habitual behavior that produces unsatisfactory results.

In some cases what happens is a shift in priorities. What seemed very important is now less so. Either we change or circumstances do. What are some examples of shifting priorities? Let me count the ways!

Worrying about Retirement Finances: Like most new retirees, this concern was probably #1 on my worry list when I stopped working. No matter how many times I crunched the numbers there was a nagging fear I was forgetting something important. There was no way I was properly prepared.

Almost eleven years later and even after a few nasty recessions, this fear has dropped significantly on my priority list. After weathering everything the economy could throw at us, we are virtually right where I thought we would be when this journey started in 2001. Of course we have made cutbacks and adjustments to our expenses and plans. But, those changes actually fit our present lifestyle better than our previous approach.

How I Spend My Free Time. I love to read. Retirement provides many hours a day to indulge in this pleasure. While working I had little time to simply pick up a book or two (or three) and clear the time to dive in. That is no longer the case. I read at least one book a week. 

Our backyard is a very pleasant place to be. Lots of plants, grass for the the puppy to run and play, colorful pots with flowers in bloom 12 months a year, and a fountain that adds the cooling sound of falling water all help draw me outside. However, in one important sense I have noticed a priority change in the last few years. In the past I would be sure all the pots were filled to the brim with flowers in full bloom, even in the summer when it is hard to keep things from burning up. Plants would be trimmed on a weekly basis and weeds would never live to see a second day.

But, now, my priority is to enjoy what we have even if some pots remain unfilled, weeds are noticed here and there, and plants are a little more ragged. Instead of spending my time in the backyard maintaining and improving what is there, I find myself simply enjoying what I have. Maintenance has taken a back seat to enjoyment.

Time in Nature. We live in a part of the country that experiences very few natural disasters. Tornadoes, earthquakes, mud slides, blizzards, or ice storms are virtually unknown to the Phoenix area. Our winters are mild and benign. Of course, searing summer heat of 100+ for 4 or 5 months can be deadly if you aren't prepared. But, after seeing pictures of the damage tornadoes cause or Hurricanes like Katrina, I'll take hot anytime.

Like many Phoenicians I tend to spend a lot of time inside, even during the most pleasant times of the year. Over the last 18 months or so, I have begun to force myself outside more often. Some of that is in response to blogs I read. The health benefits and fun that people like Early Retiree Tamara or Walking to Retirement Steve enjoy by embracing nature have affected my attitude. I also enjoy being in the sunshine and fresh air. At almost 63 (2 weeks away!) I realize I don't have an endless future. The ability to enjoy outside is now. This priority is rising rapidly. 

Staying Up To Date On World Events. Partly because of my job and partly because I liked to stay in touch, I used to be a news and current affairs junkie. Two daily newspapers, a dozen different magazines, an hour or two of CNBC a day and another hour surfing the Internet's various news sites kept me on top of what was happening in the world. I was stimulated and engaged by following everything so closely.

I don't know if this is a function of retirement or simple burnout, but I find myself much less interested in closely following all of that. Now I read one or two world news and economic magazines a week, the Saturday morning Wall Street Journal, and watch no news programs on television.

Of course, just by having the Internet I am aware of the economic mess that Europe is in and the growing threat of Iran and North Korea with their nuclear aspirations. It is impossible to not be aware of the dysfunctionality of the U.S. government and our debt problem that threatens my grandkids' future.

So, not consuming all the information doesn't mean I am in the dark. It does mean the hours I spent being on top of all the world's news and problems are now spend in totally different ways. In switching most of that input off, my attitude, happiness, and ability to develop other interests have increased dramatically. The point is not that staying tightly looped into news and information is bad. It is that my priorities shifted and I was able to drop something that had been an integral part of my life and swap it out for other things.

Retirement isn't unique as a time of life when you find yourself making changes. That happens continuously whether you are 8 or 80. The important message is to recognize when something is no longer feeding you what you need and change your diet. It is much too easy to become stuck in a rut and settle for consistency. It is counterproductive to stick with a priority in your life after it is no longer a true priority.

How have some of your priorities shifted during retirement? Have you noticed you approach relationships, or your spiritual life differently? Is a new interest, like blogging  or RV travel what you think about most often? Does that new grandchild make other parts of your life suddenly retreat into the background? I'd love to read about your priority adjustments. 

Would you do me a favor? Click the Google+1 symbol below if you liked this post. It helps.


  1. I am 11 years into my (semi) retirement. I went from living the 'good life' in retirement to my current 'survival mode'. Your post made we realize how much my life has changed over the past decade.

    First off, I never anticipated our current recession to last this long. There is no end in sight. Part of my retirement plan was that my younger husband would continue earning money. I only had enough money to cover my own retirement. NOT the two of us. Hubby's work is sporadic at best with oftentimes many months passing between his earning an income.

    So, over the past decade, we have had to consistently make cuts to our living and lifestyle until now, today, my main priority revolves around food (buying and having enough) and gas (keeping our cars at least half full).

    All luxuries, such as travel, entertainment, eating out, boating have been eliminated. Our sailboat has been sitting in our driveway for the past two years in the hopes that maybe one summer we can use it once again. It's not a necessity, so it is eliminated.

    I don't think that I have done anything wrong. I planned for the worst and the fact that I am still standing means my plan is working. There is just no room for any extras anymore. Rising costs have put a damper on that!

    So, the change in my life has been the attitude adjustment of being happy exactly where I am today. Realistically, if this is as good as it is going to get, then it's darn good! We are 100% debt free. Our home is paid for. Our newish cars are paid for. We pay our bills on time. We have good medical coverage. We put food on the table, roof over our head and live in a great area. I'm happily frugal and am thankful for many of the 'free' activities my husband and I can enjoy.

    Will we ever go to Europe (Italy) again? Probably not and I have accepted that. Can we get in our car and drive an hour to Arthur Avenue in the Bronx, NY (which is the American equivalent to lil' Italy).......yes! We can go there and 'pretend' we are in Rome and feel the same experience (food and people wise).

    It took me a long time to accept this. But as I said, if this is the best we can have, it isn't so bad. We can comfortably afford the basics in life and I am extremely grateful.


  2. I agree with Morrison in that our retirement didn't turn out the way we thought it would and it took an attitude adjustment on my part to be grateful for what we do have. This recession has killed many a dream for retirees but we are a resilient bunch and can get back up on our feet after being knocked down time and again. Right now my husband and I are juggling medical bills and trying not to go backwards as I search for ways to cut our budget down even more.

    1. Retirement requires constant adjustment due to external events and our own changing needs and interests. As you note, Betty, resiliency is so important to staying satisfied and putting everything into perspective.

      Good luck with the medical bill juggling. I'm afraid that is a skill that every one of us will have to learn.

  3. Hi Morrison,

    Our dining out and entertainment budgets have been cut in half over the past three years and we are keeping a 9 year old car until it stops running. Like you, I certainly though that by now interest rates on CDs would be higher than whatever pathetic level they are today. But, since that hasn't happened we have scaled back quite a bit to make the investments stay on track. So far, though, so good.

    As I note, and you reaffirm, our priorities have changed to match the realities of our times, and we are finding we are perfectly content with this lifestyle. A good book, a beautiful backyard, a few strong friendships, and no debt = a satisfying retirement for us.

    I trust your new writing gig is going well.

    1. Yes, my writing gig is going well. BUT, I miss everyone. And I miss not being able to speak my own mind/opinion. LOL! :) I have to be on my best, best behavior. Le sigh.

      I read my old favorites each and every day. Thanks for being you.

  4. I'm coming up on my first anniversary of my retirement at the end of May. Gosh, the year flew by. I haven't yet settled in enough to start changing priorities, but I understand what you mean. When something is no longer important, no need to hang on just because you thought it would always be a certain way.

    I just caught up on your last post, too. I look forward to seeing what you come up with next!

    1. After one year you are probably still trying to find a daily rhythm that works for you. Many people seem to suffer through a "sophomore slump" in their second year when the newness has worn off and insecurities and worries start to surface. I'm betting that won't happen to you. Your life seems too full.

      Some great suggestions for the next book were left on that post. I'll pull them together and see where it takes me.

  5. The effect of the recession on our early retirement plans is that it delayed things by about three years, and now that we are there, is causing us to enter into early retirement with a budget that reflects a very low rate of withdrawal - 2.75%. Prior to 2008, we would have assumed a 4% withdrawal rate was relatively safe and conservative. Those days, at least for now, seem to be gone, gone, gone.

    We do not hang onto the way things used to be, however, as absolutely nothing good ever comes from doing that. We have focused on building a satisfying early retirement lifestyle that revolves around being active daily, the cheapest and most consistent way I know to bring energy, endorphins and serenity into our lives. Everything else is truly just frosting on the cake.

    Tamara (Not on my own computer at the moment, hence the Anonymous posting)

    1. Your second paragraph could be the synopsis for this blog, Tamara. That is exactly the approach that Betty and I are taking and finding it is working not only well, but producing a lifestyle better than I had anticipated.


Inappropriate comments will be deleted