Let’s wrap up “America Saves” week with a look ahead to the next step. When you have enough, will you really be ready to retire?
When you first start thinking about retirement, the next question that you’re going to ask is “How much will I need?” After all, it’s useless to try to figure out “what you’re going to do all day” if you don’t even know whether you have enough money to stop working.
That seems logical because it’s the way we’ve been trained. When you’re planning a military mission, your very next question is what resources you can expect. You want a safety margin. Nobody wants to “do more with less”. Mission goals are generally non-negotiable. So you’re going to focus on the resources and develop very creative & innovative ways to maximize them. We do this whether we’re invading a foreign country or fixing a leaky toilet.
“Resources” are a fascinating question, and quite the distraction. Although retirement’s financial math can be simplified, the simplifications tend to mandate a bigger portfolio. Most of us aren’t willing to work until we die the portfolio is bigger than every possible threat, so we try to find some design compromises. If you have a deadline goal of retiring after 20 years of service (or getting the heck outta here after this tour) then you want to find ways to accelerate your financial independence. That turns into a question about budgeting, and then it brings up a question about safety margins and portfolio survival. Before long you’re analyzing expected investment returns or how much volatility your portfolio can handle or how much to cut back spending. Then you’re searching for books or blogs, wondering which advisors have the credibility to make their case, and debating all the finer points on Internet discussion boards.
What was the question again? Oh, yeah: “Can I retire yet?”
Eventually, usually very late in the process, another question comes up: “What will I do all day?” The answers seem trite: “Whatever you want“, “Every day is Saturday“, “Are you kidding? I’m still a parent and a spouse“, “Golf“, “Surf!“… and suddenly you’ve embarked on another round of resources-constrained planning. We tend to be goals-oriented professionals, so once again we start with the lists: “What do we want to do?” “What will we need?” “Where can we go?” “How long will it take?”
I guess the “good” news is that organizing our resources helps to answer the question “But… what will I do all day?!?”
However, we’re only 400 words into this post and I haven’t even mentioned the book yet, so you know that’s not the best answer.
The key point is back in that third paragraph. For our entire military careers we were handed the mission and told to get it done. The methods and tools are pretty standard. Once in a while you might have the chance to be creative on “how” you get it done, but you still don’t have much wiggle room on what you’re expected to accomplish.
Retirement is a new challenge. For perhaps the first time in your life, you get to create the mission. Maybe we’ve all been focused on the wrong questions, or at least asking them in the wrong order. Maybe your first question should be “What type of retirement do I want to enjoy?” Then you can think about how much you’ll need.
Some of you won’t have any problems with that first question. Your answer might be simple: “Screw this mission-planning stuff, I’ve had enough of that. I’m just going to spend a few months relaxing with family & friends, and then I’m going to see what comes next.” Maybe your retirement is still constrained by parenting obligations, or you’re going to wait a few years for your spouse to retire. Maybe you just revel in ambiguity and chaos: “Not all those who wander are lost”. * In my case, retirement turned out to be pursuing interests that I’d never had the time for. Now my days consist of getting my chores done so that I can go surfing and then spend a little time on these other interests. Frankly there hasn’t been much planning, either!
Yet retirement can be vague and scary when you’re working 50 hours a week, and nobody really wants to hear pat answers like “You’ll figure it out.” If you’re feeling concerned or maybe even worried & insecure, then it’s time for “Your Retirement Quest: 10 Secrets for Creating and Living a Fulfilling Retirement”.
Let’s get the secrets out of the way first:
- More than money
- Stages of the quest
- 10 holistic elements (well-being, attitude, passions, other squishy stuff)
- Team effort
You won’t need every chapter in this book. It’s designed to relieve your concerns, and you may not be worried about every aspect of retirement. Read the introduction, skim the chapters you feel comfortable with, and focus on the concepts that you haven’t seen before. Try every one of the exercises to make sure that you’re not completely missing the point.
The authors point out that retirement still has speed bumps. For example, you have plenty of freedom yet you may still overschedule your own time. A year or two into retirement, you may realize that you were worried about the money– yet your real problem has been controlling the obligations that you’ve taken on.
They take us through the stages of retirement that they’ve seen in other retirees. Everyone’s familiar with the anticipation of retirement, and its honeymoon period of the first few months or years, but eventually almost every retiree goes through a phase of disenchantment: “Is this all there is?” You learn how to recognize these phases and move on to rejuvenation and, ultimately, a fulfilling retirement.
The authors see retirement as a quest through all the activities and lifestyles you’ve always wanted to try. You’re an explorer in a new territory. Retirement produces new interests and new distractions. Your first year of retirement might be pretty much what you planned, but your tenth year will be completely unexpected. During the journey, you’ll sort out your attitude and find your passions. You’ll grow as a person and develop the purpose that you want to pursue for as long as you can. Usually it involves developing new connections with your family and community, and giving back or paying forward what you’ve received. Other times you may feel that you’re wandering from one phase to the next, but working through the chapter questions and exercises will help you rediscover what’s important to you.
“Retirement Quest” is a great relief when you’re still working and have no idea how to handle your retirement freedom. It quotes plenty of studies and statistics. It has real stories from real people who might share your interests. Once you’ve worked through it, you’ll feel as if you have a plan– or at least a clue. You’ll stop fretting over the money and the activities and assess the real questions: “Am I ready to retire?” “Do I have a plan?” Then you can start your own quest, and you won’t have to worry. As the authors say, “A plan is only something from which to deviate.”
* It’s a quote from J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy:
All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.
“But… but… but what will I DO all day?!?”
Myths of military retirement and early retirement
Ernie Zelinski’s “Get-A-Life Tree” activity planner
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