I have this image that my retirement experience is quite different from the one my parents lived. Of course that includes the value judgment that mine has probably been better. To prove the point I built a list of some of the major events in their retirement journey so I could compare it to mine.
Surprise, surprise. In several important criteria Mom & Dad's time after work beat mine, hands down. I would never have thought that true until I wrote this. It has been quite an eye-opener. Using my original list, here is a comparison that lead to this conclusion that my beliefs were more myth than reality.
Financial Expectations: My parents assumed that the pensions and investments they had accumulated would be there for them when needed. They planned on Medicare and a strong supplemental policy, earned by Mom's 35 years as a teacher in Massachusetts, would take care of their medical expenses. They assumed Social Security would remain solvent and send them each a check every month.
Every assumption they made, every promise society made to them, was fulfilled. Substantial medical bills were taken care of. Their investments continued to grow most years. Their pensions remained fully funded; the organizations did not look for ways to cut benefits or go back on their word.
In my case, I self-funded my retirement savings. They suffered a hit a few times but always have come back. My wife and I never had a group medical policy; we had been in the individual market, which is expensive and has major restrictions on care. My Medicare coverage, and Betty's that begins next month, will help tremendously, but we expect it to be less generous for us in the coming years.
- In this comparison my parents are the clear winners.
Enjoy Freedom and Free Time. For the first 10 years after retiring, Mom & Dad enjoyed travel. They made several trips to Europe, took cruises, visited friends back East, and went for month-long driving trips. For several years their passports got quite a workout.
Dad took up painting. He was an electrical engineer by training and had never exhibited any artistic leanings. Frankly, we were amazed at his interest and ability in this creative endeavor. Mom taught for 35 years. When she retired her teaching didn't stop. For another decade she volunteered as a classroom assistant at a school near their home. That kept her active, involved, and excited to work with the youngsters.
My wife and I have traveled since retirement though not as much as my parents. Our financial situation wasn't nearly as solid as my parents, primarily because I retired at 52, they at 65. Those extra 13 years gave their nest egg quite a boost over mine. Also, I had flown so much in my job, I wanted to stay home. We have been to Europe three times, on a few cruise, spent time in Florida with friends, and covered most of the Western US on various trips. We owned an RV for almost five years and had a blast on several extensive trips.
Creatively, it took me awhile to find my stride. For the first few years after work I was into not much more than serious puttering. Then, I became active in volunteer work. I wrote a travel book. I became heavily involved in ham radio. Obviously, blogging has been a major part of my creative life for the past eight years. My wife has developed her photographic editing skills to the point where we may start selling her work on line. She has become Super Grandmother to 3 incredible children.
- In this comparison I am going to declare a tie.
Health and Preventive Care. This is one critical area in which Mom & Dad did not do well. My Mom never exercised beyond what she did in a normal day. There was no gym, or walking or stretching program to keep her limber. Growing up our menus were heavy on meat, pasta, and cheese. She almost never drank plain water, but got her liquids primarily from coffee and milk. Her rapid physical decline in the last few years of her life was accelerated by the poor shape she was in.
Dad was been a little bit better. He took daily walks. A quintuple heart bypass operation gave him a second chance to be more aware of diet and exercise. He lived until 91 and was able to do more physically than most men his age.
My wife and I have watched what happened to my parents and vowed to approach our older age differently. We both lost weight and do our best to stick to an exercise regime. Meat appears on our menu only once a week.
My wife has cut her medications in half and moved from diabetic back to pre-diabetic status. We drink lots of water and virtually no soft drinks. Maybe because of our poor health insurance, we have been doing all we can to prevent costly problems.
- In this comparison we are much better off in retirement than my parents.
Marriage Mom & Dad were married for 63 years. For the last twenty of those years they haven't been apart for even one day. They are deeply devoted to each other and very much in love. It is hard to imagine one without immediately thinking of the other. I'm not sure in their own minds if there is was an "I" or "me" anymore, it is just "us" and "we." It is inspiring to experience this type of bond.
I must quickly write that Betty and I have been married for 42 years. I feel we are a stronger couple now than at any time earlier in the marriage. Being together full time for the past seventeen years has strengthened our love and understanding of each other. Are there still arguments and rough patches? Sure...we are two individuals who have different opinions about almost everything. But, neither of us can imagine a life without the other.
- In this comparison my parents beat us on longevity and have given us the perfect model to work from.
Foresight. Because this post is getting long, I'll quickly summarize one last area. My parents moved into a continuing care community while they were still in decent health. Their primary reason for doing so was so I wouldn't have to worry about the quality of their care and their living arrangements when they could no longer take care of themselves.
We are not quite there yet so that is something we haven't given much thought to yet, but their self-sacrifice and concern for us will be repeated by us when the time comes so our kids don't need to worry either.
- In this comparison my parents gain the edge for their foresight and planning.
As I noted in the opening, I assumed my retirement has been more complete and more satisfying than my parents. After all, I had a 13 year head start on them. But, that belief has been pure self-deception. By almost all measures, Mom & Dad Lowry had the type of satisfying retirement that I write about.
It is good to be humbled every now and then.