October 30, 2016

Aging Is Not A Budgeting Strategy

As I age (yes, even me) it is hard not to notice certain body parts aren't quite the same. Squatting down to pick up something from a bottom shelf is now accompanied by a few groans as my knees protest. Standing back up takes a focus on the goal of becoming vertical again without help. My energy level starts to run out before the day does, even with an afternoon nap. The barber politely doesn't mention the growing thin patch on the crown of my head as he uses brush and hair dryer to fluff things up a bit. The morning stiffness in my fingers goes away quickly enough, but it didn't even exist a few years ago.


Clearly I am aging. Of course, all of us do so from the moment of our birth. But, until the later part of the 5th decade of my life I was able to ignore most of its effects. I used to have a nice career as a management consultant. Then I retired, so aging is what I do now.  What I want to do, is age well.


A blog reader sent me an e-mail with a question that made me think. He was wondering what folks used to do in their 60s that no longer interest them in their 70s and 80s. He wasn't talking about physical changes or health care issues that prevented certain activities from continuing. Rather, his was really a budgeting question:  what doesn't someone need money for as they move through retirement? That struck me as as an interesting question that fit  with my idea of writing about the goal of most of us: aging well.

That raises the question, aging well how? Does that mean maintaining our physical health as long as possible by paying serious attention to our diet and exercise regimen? Does that mean keeping our complaints to ourselves, which would make most conversations with other older folks much shorter. Does it mean keeping our mind and competitive juices flowing by going back to school, starting a new business, or learning a new language?
 

In an excellent article on Yoga International's web site a few years ago, Deborah Willoughby made a very important point: "In our modern script, the third act—retirement—defines us in terms of what we’ve left behind instead of what lies ahead. Up through our late 50s and into our 60s, our energy has been mainly focused on tangible achievements: earning a degree, building a career, raising children, acquiring property, perhaps making a name for ourselves. Now, as these familiar identities and activities fall away, we find ourselves without a clear, purposeful direction."

To me, that is not aging well. That is what this blog, and hopefully my life, are determined to avoid. There is something called the law of use and disuse, which is the basis of the common understanding that if there is something you don't use, you lose it. That applies to your body, your mind, your spiritual development, your creativity...pretty much everything that makes you who and what you are. In reality, what is a satisfying retirement but a collection of a series of satisfying days, one after another.

Ms. Willoughby went on to say, "Capacities have the potential to expand in the later decades of life. For example, studies show that as we move into life’s third stage [retirement], we use both hemispheres of the brain more efficiently."  The idea that the last few decades of our life is just a long, slow slide of decline is simply not supported anymore by scientific research.

Just as damaging is the cliché that 60 is the new 40 or 70 the new 50. No, 70 is the new 70. The brain continues to gather experiences and find new ways to process and use that information. Pretending we are looking backwards only cements in our mindset the idea that 70 is bad. It isn't bad, it is just different from 50...on purpose.

So, I will answer the reader's question this way: what you did in your 60's may no longer satisfy and stimulate you in your 70's and 80's. To assume one can save money as one ages because his or her universe shrinks and less money is needed  is to accept the notion of steady, constant decline.

What turns you on at 75 is probably not exactly what lit your fire at 60. Will be it cheaper? Maybe, maybe not. Maybe by 80 you aren't physically able to travel the world. But, maybe you have discovered a passion for pottery, or woodworking, or photography. Maybe your latent writer has spring forth.

True, the $8,000 you spent to tour Europe for 3 weeks when you were 67 isn't needed anymore. But, woodworking, a pottery kiln, or a few fancy cameras can easily cost just as much. The point is, aging shouldn't be seen as a way to save money. Aging is not a budgeting strategy.

I want to age well and gracefully. My faith tells me I have an eternity ahead of me, but I'm in no rush to get there. There is too much living to do.

22 comments:

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    1. Appropriate comment on a Sunday morning!

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  2. Very stimulating column. I have not reached my 70s, so I can only speak to where I am. I am more willing to spend on services that relieve me of drudgery than on things. I am less envious of what others have, achieved, etc. I am more interested in what gives me pleasure than achievement. I am much more proactive in maintaining relationships and have a lot more compassion for others. All of this is in comparison to my younger years.

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    1. Like you, we have opened our purse strings for things like house cleaning and yard services..things we used to do on our own. The extra time is a benefit, but so is the removal of stress and obligation.

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  3. A financial advisor shared the observation that there are 3 phases of spending in retirement: an initial period of high spending when we travel and scratch items off our bucket lists; an intermediate phase of lower spending where physical activities become more difficult so we are less likely to travel and be “on the go”, and where friends and family may become more important; and a final phase where living expenses ramp up due to medical costs. While I agree that aging should not be a budgeting strategy, my current plans recognize this pattern (and the reasons behind it). But I also expect my spending will remain beneath my means over the long term, and that I plan to regularly reassess my finances and modify my spending plans as appropriate to my financial position and changing life conditions.

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    1. I believe those 3 "phases" are accurate. Even though my wife and I have been retired for 15 years we are still in the initial phase with spending higher on discretionary expenses than will be the case in the future.

      The person who prompted this post was thinking of all of retirement past a certain age being a time of cutting back because our interests erode. That is absolutely not true.

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  4. I agree completely with your final comment, Bob - as a Christian I am confident of the next act, but wish to put it off in favor of living out this first act. I also feel the Big Guy still needs me to be here a lot longer, primarily to make sure Deb and Jess are happy, and hopefully to be a good witness to others

    We are currently on a two month trip staying at various Wyndham resorts. Met a gentleman who is 95, going strong, and still bringing family and friends with him to enjoy his timeshares. He is a good model for what I see as a positive life.

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    1. Yes, I am in no rush to move from this world to the next. 95 and still going strong..I hope that is me.

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  5. I have had inexpensive hobbies,mostly, and have never been one to want to travel a whole lot or with great expense,so I expect my expenses in later years to be maybe around what they are now?? We do have a couple of bucket list items to do.. but they are not break the bank things. My hobbies are mostly arts,music,going to local shows and plays, taking art classes here and there,all very affordable. I don't expect my interests to drop off as I grow older than I am now! I guess it's a very individual thing.Those folks who travel a lot in the beginning of retirement may reduce their expenses I suppose..

    My in laws traveled a bit in the early years, then stopped completely,they lost interest and then their health made it impossible in their late 70's.

    Again,I think this is a very individual thing but I doubt that most people just stop being interest din life and so expenses go down! Depressing thought!

    I figure even if I am ever in a wheelchair,I can paint,listen to music,read, sing! Cook! Be with friends and family! Play cards! Things I like to do NOW. Hopefully it won't come to that!!

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    1. I love your "can do" attitude. Betty and I are having long discussions about future, long distance, extended RV trips. We certainly can do it, we are wondering if we want to. Cruises and trips to Europe? Al possible.

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  6. If a person is cutting back on previous activities as they age because their health no longer allows those activities, they may also find that the money saved is offset by greater health care costs. -Jean

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  7. Bob, you made the point that our bodies change as we age. Sometimes the changes are sudden, while others are subtle. One of my goals is to outfit our retirement home with more safety features. Grab bars, non-slip flooring, easy-to-operate door knobs and cabinet pulls, fewer stairs, wide doorways/hallways, and safe walkways outside, too. Of course, modern technology offers many additional helps.

    I have a friend who was stricken with MD years ago. She and her husband planned and built a home with her physical limitations in mind, and it has enabled her to function fairly well. Yes, it was costly, but being able to live well in one's own home is almost always preferable and less costly than moving into assisted living.

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    1. Modifying one's home can be as simple as removing throw rugs, extra furniture, and add more lighting. Or, it can be rather expensive. The key is to do something before a problem develops or someone is hurt. Thanks for the reminders, Pam.

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  8. I agree with Pam -- spend a little on prevention now, to save a lot on health problems later on. And I agree with you, Bob . . . just keep on goin', as long as you can keep on goin'!

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    1. Keep on keepin' on....right? Sort of like the Cubs hanging around for probably one more game.

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  9. I'm glad that my interests have evolved. I wouldn't want to be doing everything I did in my 20's and 30's, i.e. parties that started on Fri and ended on Sunday! At this stage of life, we've accumulated enough "stuff". I'm more interested in consumables, i.e. opportunities to socialize and other experiences, than things. Anonymous made reference to the 3 phases of spending in retirement. I've heard of the 3 stages of retirement being 1) go-go years 2) slow-go years 3) no-go years. I can see where spending may be on self-care/maintenance in the no-go years.

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    1. Yes, that is understandable, though, as mentioned earlier, medical expenses usually go up.

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  10. This is a Canadian based article but this actuary quotes studies that show spending drops 30% between ages 55 and 80. Certainly that is what I have seen in my own family as my grandparents and then my parents aged. http://business.financialpost.com/personal-finance/family-finance/why-your-retirement-income-doesnt-need-to-keep-pace-with-inflation

    - David

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    1. I am living off 40% less than when I was employed. That is related to a change in what I spend and why. The premise of the reader's question was whether a reduction in budgeting for certain things accompanied aging. Certainly, some categories of spending decline while others (medical care) usually rise. To depend on getting a year older as a way to trim one's budget strikes me as the wrong way to go about things.

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  11. I agree with your point that we can make choices that help us to age well. There are options in how we eat, exercise, socially engage, and use our intellect that contribute to healthy aging. Attitude is a big one. We can choose to see retirement as a satisfying time of engagement and opportunity to pursue interests and to contribute in other avenues. Or we can give in to the old view of retirement as a time of checking out and decline. But in the end, we all end up at the same place, and mostly don't have a lot of control over when and how it happens, whatever we may wish and hope for. My dad, who was a vibrant, active person passed away at age 78 from cancer. He was not ready to go. I guess what I am saying that we ought to do our best to age well, but also accept that we don't have 100% control (not that you were suggesting we do). Thanks for this post.
    Jude

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    1. In the end we do all end up in the same place, a fact too many of us aren't willing to accept yet. The best we can do is live each day as our last but think about tomorrow.

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