January 8, 2018

The 10 Commandments of Retirement




Borrowing rather shamelessly from the Bible, here are 10 "commandments" that will help you increase the odds that your retirement is a satisfying oneUnlike the Bible's version, none of these are necessary to keep you on God's good side, or keep you from breaking a law or two. But, at least in my view, they should form the foundation of your future.


Thou shall not:

Spend More than you make. There may be times in your life when this was necessary. Few of us can buy a house or car without taking on debt and a total obligation well in excess of our cash flow. College education for the kids, major medical bills...life happens. Having the ability to borrow money and temporarily go into debt is OK. What can quickly ruin your retirement, however, is spending on wants and desires in excess of what your income is. The basic rules of finance don't get suspended once you cash your last paycheck. Funding your retirement with credit cards, home equity loans, or other options that put you in a perpetual hole will only get deeper. 

Ignore the need for a budget. Closely related to the point above, I don't know how you can make it if you haven't kept and maintained a budget for years in advance of retirement. That need continues. In fact, when regular paychecks stop, tighter control over your income and expenses is even more vital. The old rule of thumb is you should plan on spending roughly 80% of what you spent before retirement. I suggest that "rule" no longer applies. You should develop a budget based on your resources and what you think you will spend. If those two numbers work for you, then the percentage is not terribly important. But, you must maintain a budget.

Assume others will take care of you. By others I mean the government, your old employer, your family, or winning the lottery. We are living in a period where personal responsibility must be your primary care provider. It is likely you will receive some assistance in the form of Social Security and Medicare. If you have a pension you may receive everything you expect. Your family very well might be there for you every step of the way. But, I strongly urge you to plan as if none of that support will be there when you need it, not because I am overly cynical but because ultimately whatever happens will fundamentally affect your life, not theirs. 

Make a retirement plan and never review or change it. An overworked cliché, maybe, but still true: the only constant in life is change. That is absolutely true when you retire. There is no way you can correctly anticipate what interest rates, the stock market, real estate, or inflation will do over the next 20 or 30 years. The political process guarantees unpredictability. At the very least, once a year take a look at every assumption, every budget category, and every projection of your future income. Adjust as required.

Become bored and restless. Too many retired folks go back to work because they don't know what to do with all the free time. Others spend their days in an arm chair, watching TV or flipping through magazines. Still others play two rounds of golf a day, not because they love it that much, but because it fills the time. This should not happen. Time is a priceless resource. Control over how you spend it is one of the biggest pluses of retirement. Find your passion. Find something to do that jump-starts you out of bed each morning. All too soon, you will wish you didn't squander something that can't be bought, can't be stored, and can't be replaced. 

Treat a spouse or partner poorly. The entire dynamics of a relationship changes when one partner retires. To assume the person who just stopped working gets a free pass and can contribute nothing to the smooth operation of the household is not going to work. All that extra time together can be the greatest period of your relationship, or can contribute to the rapidly rising divorce rate among older Boomers. Work hard on your budget and finances...work even harder on strengthening your primary relationships.

Move right after retirement. The stress of retiring is substantial. Suddenly what your life looked like changes. Much of what gave you purpose and meaning is over. That is not the time to tear out the roots of your home life. Regardless of how much you want to move away from the rain or snow or desert, no matter how much you want to live near your grandkids....do not make that decision for at least a year. After the upheaval of not working settles down, then you are able to rationally look at what you'd be giving up and what you'd gain by moving. 

Ignore your health. I don't need to belabor this point. If you don't feel well, if you don't take care of yourself, and if you don't follow common sense steps to maintain your health, your retirement will not be all you want it to be. If you already have health issues don't stop fighting for the life you want. You have a mind and you have creativity. You are alive and you are a unique being who have things to contribute and people to love.  

Allows others to define what a satisfying retirement is (including me). This is a personal journey. Lots of people will tell you what to do or sell you a book with the 8 steps to a happy retirement. Heavens, I blog about the subject every three days! But, the bottom line is retirement will become uniquely yours. Take all the input and suggestions you can. But, in the end, you decide what your life will look like

Become a curmudgeon. The stereotypical grumpy old man (or woman) isn't a requirement of aging. Don't become so set in your ways that you reject everything new as flawed and no match to "the good old days." No one likes to be with a grouch.


Unlike the tablets Moses gave us, these ten commandments aren't written in stone. What have I missed that should be the 11th or 12th commandment? What in your view is the most important one on my list?

Or, do you believe that retirement is the time of life when the whole concept of a "commandment" is not appropriate? You spent your working days taking orders from others. Now, it is time to go with the flow and live for today.

I look forward to your thoughts.




34 comments:

  1. These are wonderful Bob. Only thing to add is be flexible/adaptable and laugh a lot. I'm finding that out from friends that have recently retired.

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    1. Laughing or finding humor in situations is very important to our mental health and joy of life. Kind of like a yawn, laughter can be contagious.

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  2. Excellent list. I can attest to 5,6, and 7 for sure. We moved immediately after retirement which turned out part good/part bad. We both lacked hobbies or passions, which was not good. These two had a negative affect on my husband more than me, which was not a good thing for our marriage. He has since passed and I moved again to a place and home I'm happy in. I've developed a few interests and a few friends, but no passion really. Not being in a marriage that developed some issues is a good thing for my self esteem, but I miss him even though.
    I would add, don't become stuck in your thinking. Expand your mind to the possibilities of new views, new perspectives and thinking out of the box. And of course gratitude for what you had and still have.

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    1. Gail mentioned being adaptable, which fits with your not becoming stuck in your thinking. As we age it is easier to become too rigid in our habits, beliefs, and lifestyle. That can lead to #10 above: becoming a curmudgeon!

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  3. Hi Bob! Great list. (and I love lists myself!) A couple of things I would add would be to piggy-back on what Gail and Mary said by continuing to grow and learn new things. I can't imagine living without the desire to continue to stretch my mind and answer my curiosity. That of course requires a need to be flexible/adaptable and expand our minds. The other thing I would add would be to continue to grow friendships with others. Everything I read about positive aging reminds me that isolation is very, very bad for our minds, hearts and souls. Of course, as you say, the important thing is to come up with something that works for you! ~Kathy

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    1. Loneliness and isolation are major problems as we age. We move away from older friends, they pass away or move away from us. When we are less mobile, leaving our own home to interact with others happens less frequently. The Internet, Facebook, or Skype help keep folks in touch, but face-to-face contact is missing. Your stress on growing friendships with others is very important.

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  4. Great list of things to think about. I am still new to retirement, but from everything I have read and heard from others my suggestion for #11 and 11.5 (as they are related to each other and also to your previous post) is to not be afraid to say "no" and to occasionally take time for yourself to do nothing, if you like. Many people seem to get involved in so much and want to give back to others that they neglect to take care of themselves and don't stop to smell the roses.

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    1. This is a problem, especially in the early stages of retirement. We worry that we aren't doing enough, staying active, or being productive. For the first 6-12 months we need to give ourselves permission to destress and detox our bodies and minds from work.

      Then, involvement becomes important. But, as you note, it is easy to over do that part of our new life. Quiet time alone is precious and necessary.

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    2. I don't really disagree with Dave P or Bob, but what has been good for us is to try NOT to say no. And by that I mean parties, weddings,dinners out, whatever. For us, it might have been too easy to be isolated from friends and co-workers. So even if we aren't enthused about an invitation, we try to accept it to stay in the loop and to maintain friendships.

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    3. My first year of retirement was great with travel and remodeling. Then my health got worse and worse. I just made some changes and feel like I have a do-ever. I wrote down a Dreams List of things that I had been thinking of, but couldn't do. My dreams are listed under Travel, Connect with People, Political, Environment, Getting more Active, Hobbies, House and Garden, Cultural Events. My wait and reflect time wasn't planned, but so valuable in making retirement my own best.

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    4. I'm a list maker so the Dreams List by category appeals to me.

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  5. I agree with all, except . . . B says I'm becoming a curmudgeon, but a LOVABLE curmudgeon. Is that okay?

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    1. B will be the judge of that question.

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  6. Great list! I think the moving part fits people who never really moved for their job. An increasing number of my friends had to move for the last five to seven years with their profession/company. They established friends, but were expected to be a part of that "higher" lifestyle. Most of them end up moving back to the last place they called "home"- usually near family or childhood friends. Those of us who moved constantly may move even more- especially finding a place that is warm and has senior care nearby. My warning is, if you choose to move, move into someplace small and really look at the community. It is far easier to sell a starter home then one that you have placed half of your life savings in. Look at the place as a potential rental!

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    1. All good hints, Janette. Based on the number of emails and responses to posts about moving, this seems to be one of the most important questions retirees ask: should I move and when?

      There is no simple answer since what is best is unique to each person. But, as a general guideline, do not move right after retirement. You need time to adjust before making such an important decision.

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  7. I would add "do not neglect your spiritual life". That may fit under a couple of above commandments but having it separate might make it more visible/important. This does not mean join a church necessarily but to feed your spiritual side somehow.

    I would suggest as the budget allows don't be too frugal. Allow yourself some luxury items or experiences. Better tickets at the theater, a nicer meal out (or even at home) occasionally. Also when traveling get the upgraded seats on long flights.

    As to moving immediately. We did that and it has worked out ok. When I say immediately we literally left the job on the last day and drive to our new home 1000 miles away. However we did do some advanced planning and moved to be closer to family so we were very familiar with the area. We decided to build a new home and were able to sign the contract and the builder agreed to wait for almost a year to build the home. As it was 1000 miles away the first time we actually saw the home was the day we closed. We got very lucky and had virtually no issues and those we found the builder fixed without issue. So I would agree about moving unless you do a lot of advanced planning and know the new area a bit.

    One suggestion I would make here... DO NOT move into a senior community such as a Sun City without a LOT of upfront work. Preferably renting in the community if possible. I have had several friends who retired to one of these and hated it and just had to move. Extremely regimented and very vigorous HOA associations. It is very easy to become unwelcome if you do not "fit the mold". They also found them very politically active and opinionated.

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    1. Some excellent feedback and experiences, Bob. I'd say you were very lucky in how your move worked out, especially from such a distance, but, you did know the area and had done your due diligence.

      Yes, on the spiritual life. Research shows most older folks do experience a deepening awareness of this part of themselves. It may be because of a clearer understanding of mortality, or having the time to ask questions and seek answers. It has certainly been true for me.

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  8. Hi Bob. Great list. Disappointing that I cannot count on winning the Lottery to take care of things but totally agree with your points. I have been retired nine months and still working to get the hang of things. I would stress to give yourself time and permission to develop your own retirement definition. And to realize that you continue to have worth and purpose that you can now define as opposed to your work defining you. This is an exciting time that is a work in progress. And it will take time and several tweaks along the way.

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    1. I believe you will adjust well and have a very satisfying retirement. You have the right approach and I like your belief in the ability to define yourself in a way of your choosing.

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  9. The one thing I look forward to most when I retire is more time for volunteering. I believe giving and serving helps us focus outwardly and is also fulfilling in a way that nothing else is. Focusing outwardly and helping the next generations in some way is incredibly satisfying.

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    1. I agree completely, though I know volunteering isn't for everyone. The definition of volunteering really includes things like helping babysit grandkids or care-giving for older relatives. It doesn't have to be time spent at the Food Bank or local school.

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  10. We are not retired yet but will do so in less than two years. We currently live in a rural area but we have already purchased our retirement home in the city. We look forward to getting to spend more time exploring the museums, restaurants. libraries and other attractions. We are only moving 30-40 miles from our current residence. Does this clash with your do not move immediately after retirement rule?

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    1. No, not really. You are staying within an area I assume you know and like. Now, if you said you were moving 300 miles away I would probably urge more caution!

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  11. Different strokes for different folks.

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  12. I disagree with labeling Social Security as receiving assistance. I've been paying into it my entire working life.

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    1. Think of assistance as something that helps you, it assists you in getting to a goal, not as government assistance. My IRA is an assistance in me being able to retire.

      That said, I understand your point. I rebel when a politician talks about Social Security as an entitlement program. It is definitely not that.

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  13. I would definitely like to add get a pet.I currently have two dogs and a cat. They get me up each morning because they need care. They also provide me with exercise, amusement and tons of love.

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    1. Our life has certainly been richer with our dog, Bailey, in our life. For the last few years we have caring for our daughter's dog, too, when she is out of town on business. Both are cockers and both are loved!

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  14. Awesome comments. I will use them as I plan to retire in the next 5 or so years. I especially liked the do not moves since our children are within 20 minutes drive for where we live. I love our house and look forward to living in it during retirement. Carlton

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    1. The comments on this blog tend to be very helpful and really add to the blog's usefulness. I am glad you agree, Carlton.

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  15. Enjoyed reading all the above comments. I have been retired for 4 years. I stayed in the same home;my son, a single father, and grandchildren are only a block away.I am the taxi driver for the kids in school, a significant help for my son.I have lower back and neck pain issues related to 45 years of working as a registered nurse.I took yoga classes a month after retirement.Lo and behold about 2 years ago, I just realized I am free of those pains!Walking an hour 3x/week and yoga days/week worked wonders for me!

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    1. Great news....no pain! You saw (or felt) a problem and tried to deal with it. Success! That is how we all get through retirement one day at a time: solve a problem and tackle another one.

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  16. Hmm, I was kind of looking forward to being a curmudgeon (grumpy old lady)!

    We moved immediately after my official retirement to a different province and area near our kids where neither of us had ever lived, and we are very glad that we did. This is as happy as I have ever been in my adult life, I think. However, I did have a year of sabbatical (partial work) for a year prior to retirement, so we had lots of reflection and preparation time before the move.

    Also, I have never kept a budget, and won’t do so in retirement either. That said, I monitor our finances careful, and have always lived below my means.

    I guess my eleventh commandment would be something along the lines of: fully engage in life in all of its dimensions.

    Jude

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    1. If you live below your means then you are budgeting, just not in the standard way!

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