November 16, 2019

A Retirement Reality That Is Important To Remember



On a regular basis, readers will leave comments that remind me of one important reality of retirement that doesn't seem to generate enough attention:


Simply put, retirement is a self-correcting process.

OK, that needs explanation. Regardless of what part of your non-work life we discuss, this principle remains the same. We constantly adjust to what is our reality at that point in time.

This should be quite comforting. All the worry we put ourselves through is because we get hung up on what we want to happen, or what we think should happen. That causes us to become fearful that the money we set aside will never be enough. Our health will fail us so completely we will be unable to do anything we enjoy. We will become bored silly. Our relationships will weaken, leading to divorce, no friends, and a solitary future. Looking back to a previous post, we will find ourselves helping to support or care for a grown child. Retirement will not be what we dreamed it would be.

I will say right now: retirement will not be what you thought it would be. OK, maybe you are one of the few who are living precisely how you want. Everything you planned for came true. You wish you had started years earlier. You are living your retirement dream.

This outcome is not unheard of, but not the norm. Just one caution. At some point it is likely one of the three stool legs that are supporting you: finances, health, and relationships,  will break, or at least wobble. Are you confident in your ability to adjust? My message is, you should be. 

Maybe the whole experience is completely different than what was in your mind's eye. Maybe it is so much richer, full of experiences that make your days fly by. You have discovered new facets to your personality and talents that you never knew you had. You couldn't plan for what has unfolded because your dreams didn't expand that far.

Or, it is certainly possible that this phase of life will throw enough struggles your way that you are thinking of renaming yourself Job. Nothing is how you planned it, and that isn't good. You wish some parts of your life were different, or at least easier, but that is not how things are going.

No matter in which of these three scenarios you find yourself, the truth that retirement is a self-correcting process remains. We have the remarkable ability to take what we are given and make it work for us, the best it can, at that moment.

Retirement is self-correcting. I wish I had understood that much earlier in my journey. Now that I do, my worry meter is dialed way back. I am confident I can, and will adjust as circumstances present themselves.

So will you.



31 comments:

  1. I am only into my third year of retirement, and already the needs of a family member have derailed some of my plans. I am going to keep this post so I can read it again and again. Thank you for these wise words!

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    1. You are welcome! Life does tend to get in the way of our plans. I have found that things work themselves out, maybe not as we planned, but in a way that we can continue to function and be satisfied. My best wishes are with you.

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    2. Yes, thank you for your wise words. I am in the first year of retirement and all is going well however, I am aware that one of my 'legs' will start to wobble sooner or later. I too will keep this article to remind myself that we all have to adjust to changing circumstances throughout our lives and with the right mindset, we can make it work.

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  2. All three of the legs of my stool are wobbly all the time, so I have to adjust all the time. Maybe that is why I have vertigo most of the time...lol.

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    1. Vertigo....I like that. A fear of falling is part of the human condition.

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  3. This was an awesome article. It is a life lesson that we all need to learn. (The sooner the better.) Thank you once again for an inspiring message.

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    1. I'm happy you have found something to give you inspiration.

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  4. One sentence in this post jumped out at me: "That causes us to become fearful that the money we set aside will never be enough." That fear rules my life and I know it shouldn't. For several years I've toured continuum care campuses with an eye on buying into an independent unit. I finally pulled the trigger on a place being built and even though two of these kinds of places ran my numbers and have assured me that I'll have enough money to live out my days while essentially doubting my monthly outlay of money, I still am fearful that something will happen to my investments. Not only is "retirement is a self-correcting process" isn't every stage of life that way?

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    1. This really resonates for me. I have a constant voice in my head from my upbringing that tells me I will never have enough money. If I look at it rationally, it's not true. And I've been able to adjust to my circumstances more than once in my life. But that voice will probably be there until I die.

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    2. Consider this reassuring thought: These communities wouldn't accept you if they didn't believe you would be able meet your financial commitments. They have faith supported by years of experience.

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    3. If it helps ease your mind these are some statistics that I often quote here... "Retirees are not spending their savings anywhere nearly as quickly as academics think they should. A 2018 study by the Washington-based Employee Benefit Research Institute showed that people who had been retired for 18 years still had assets equal to 89 per cent of their starting amount. This was only the median result; 35.5 per cent of the retirees actually had more assets 18 years after retirement."

      To put it in perspective, assuming you retired at age 62, at age 80 most people have 90% of their savings intact and almost 1/3 of retirees have MORE money!

      I think that part of the reason is that we've had pounded into us to "Save for the future" all our lives and if you have accumulated a decent amount of retirement savings that's what you've done. Now that you are retired, after a lifetime of saving, it's difficult to change your mindset from saving to spending -- old habits die hard.

      What I tell myself is: I saved it so I could spend it. If I don't spend it then why did I save it?

      Enjoy in retirement what you worked and saved for. As my uncle used to say: "You are dead for a long time."

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  5. Great advice. My mom always said we should enjoy life while the river is smooth, as the rapids are ahead...we just don't know where. And then it smooths out again. We hope.

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  6. I totally agree with your mother. I am early in my retirement life but I have resolved myself that I will, and have enjoyed every day and will continue to live how I want to live and I am so content and grateful. Yes, I have concerns and some health issues that will happen in the next year, but I am trying to live in the present and not worry. How I love my retirement life right now and all that I have done and new people I have met!

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    1. I firmly believe that our attitude determines how we feel and function in any given situation.

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  7. Hi Bob! "self-correcting journey" That's a great way of thinking of it and I'm not even retired yet. Actually, I believe life is that too! I'm all for making plans and write about it a lot, but if we can flow with the situations in our lives at the same time it will create a lot of stress. Thanks for the good reminder! ~Kathy

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    1. When I was able to put into words (self-correcting process) this belief that things work themselves out I felt as if I had uncovered something I knew but couldn't articulate before.

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  8. Thanks for the great, reassuring thoughts, Bob, all reinforced by excellent comments from your readers. I'm finding the retirement experience like learning to ride a bicycle. You nervously wobble off for a while then finally relax and sit back on the seat thinking, "Hey, I can do this!"

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    1. Good analogy, Ed. I started riding a bike for exercise this past year after 50 years of no bikes. And yes, the ability comes back almost instantly.

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  9. Hi Bob. As usual, I have a slightly different view of your self-correcting philosophy. Many people who live in fear just never do anything to eliminate it. They wallow in it and have pity parties. Things don't change themselves, it takes personal action and acknowledgments to affect change.

    I like the old saying that "things are never as good as you dreamed or as bad as you fear". I, like you, am nearing 20 years since I left the corporate world. I have managed to live off my pension and social security and have yet to really touch my 401k. I have the opposite worry that I am depriving myself of some satisfaction because I don't spend enough. That is a nice problem to have I guess...

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    1. I had to start tapping my IRA this year. The IRS has very rigid views of missing the RMD in your 70th year.

      Studies show that a strong majority of us do not spend as much as we could at no risk to our financial future. It is an inbred fear that comes from being told we might run out of resources before we run out of breath.

      RJ with a slightly different take on a subject...really? I contend my "philosophy" and yours are not that different. Those who live in fear and never change have self-corrected into an approach that works for them. Self-correcting may mean these folks have figured out what makes them content, and it may mean avoiding all risk. That wouldn't be my choice, but if it works for them, then their retirement is right on track and has aligned itself with their mindset.

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    2. With your further explanation I agree, we are not that different. It is self-correcting for them but to me it is practically no change at all

      This is my third year of RMDs, but in that case the money just moves from one account to another but remains unspent.

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  10. An excellent point we all need to remember. I worried about retirement BEFORE I retired, but not after. But one footnote to the comments: we who retired in the period 2008 - present have been lucky financially, in that due to the stock and bond markets our IRAs and 401Ks have been growing often at a rate faster than we can spend them. But there might be some "self-correcting" in the future.

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    1. The economy will stop growing at some point. There will be some form of "correction" that no one can accurately predict. You are correct: that nice, healthy-looking investment bundle will magically shrink. Even though those are "paper" losses, they are still scary and stomach-acid inducing.

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  11. I feel like what you are describing is actually life in general, not just the retirement aspect of it. We've had struggles in retirement just as we did prior to reirement, though I will say that we no longer stress over our finances, thankfully. We've continued to live below our means in retirement just as we did before retiring, and that has provided us with both a growing financial cushion, and considerable peace of mind.

    What is new for us as we approach our 9th year of retirement, however, is adjusting to the inescapable realities of aging, the 'health' leg of your spot-on three legged analogy. While we can still push hard in our physical pursuits, we are now pushing hard as 50 and 60-somethings, and we can definitely tell the difference. I am trying to accept and embrace this new stage, rather than fight it. So more meditation, strength training, and yoga these days, less hard core mountain hiking.

    The relationship leg is likewise one I no longer simply take for granted. Life definitely feels increasingly fragile and finite. I think, I hope, I've softened as I lean into this new reality. We're never to old to do better, right? 😊

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    1. The energizer bunny is operating at a little lower wattage? Yep, that's what happens. I'm sure you know people who deny this fact of life and continue to push to the point of physical harm. Adjusting to what is instead of what was is hard for the competitive side of our nature.

      I have had a bout of bursitis in my left shoulder for a few months now. Shots and limited activity for a period of time didn't do much. Though not suggested by doctors, I would not be willing to undergo shoulder surgery. So, I lift less, am more cautious, am learning to sleep on a different side, and thankful it is not my dominate arm. Things may improve over time, but like you say, I am learning to lean into my new reality.

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  12. True of retirement, parenting, and life in general. Yes?!

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  13. Bob, a wonderful point that retirement is a self-correcting process. Of course, our whole lives involve change as we zig and zag from one phase to another. When you state it so clearly, it makes me wonder why we would think of retirement as being any different.

    I guess there are certain transitions in life for which you can’t easily change your mind. For example, when I retired, the guidelines at my place of employment stated that once I had submitted my intention to retire in writing, it was irrevocable. Some other ones that come to mind are selling your house, getting married, moving somewhere, and having a child. But even after such a major transition, there are many choices to be made and potential changes of direction after that; we are not committing to a static scenario.

    Jude

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    1. The well-planned, perfectly executed life is unattainable, and frankly, would be rather boring even if possible. As we mature we do learn to role with the punches and understand little in life is as we had first envisioned it.

      I would argue (a bit) with your "irrevocable" statement. Divorce, moving again, or getting another job can change what seems permanent. Having a child...now that is one we can't take back.

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