Book Review: Energize Your Retirement (!)

One of the tropes of financial independence is the perpetual question about leaving the workforce: “But… but… but what will I do all day?!?

It’s by far the most popular question. Oddly enough, it answers itself.

When you’re saving and investing, you’re worried about decades of inflation and rising healthcare expenses. You might even be concerned about your longevity– or at least about having your money last longer than you do. The good news is that there are concrete solutions to all of the financial issues, they’ve all been proven to work, and your military benefits can go a long way toward achieving them.

Unfortunately, there’s never an easy answer to the question of “Whaddya DO all day?” Everyone frets about it, even when they have plenty on their “To Do” list (and on their bucket list). However, six months after people retire, they’re usually happily wondering what the heck they were worried about.

I’ve been preaching this wisdom for over a decade, yet people who are not yet financially independent still remain deeply skeptical that the “do all day” question will sort itself out.

Thankfully, Energize Your Retirement has the answers!

Image of book cover "Energize Your Retirement" |

Find YOUR answer.

One of the “problems” with retirement books is that many of the authors are not retired. They pontificate about the psychology or the health issues or the lifestyle without truly experiencing the challenges of a retired life. They quote studies or surveys that have already been thoroughly debunked by real retirees on Internet forums. They interview people who affirm their personal bias that retirement is either very good, very bad, or simply a fantasy. I’ve been retired for over 12 years and I can quickly spot an “advisor” who lacks personal retirement experience.

Christine Sparacino neatly resolves this issue by interviewing over two dozen happy, healthy, fulfilled, successful retirees. Their ages range from their 50s to their 80s. Each person (or couple) has found their retirement passion, and they’ve become experts at their new lifestyle.

Most of them spend very little money to enjoy their interests, and several of them generate enough revenue from their creativity to more than pay for their materials and equipment. Ms. Sparacino adds information from websites, reference books, and other resources to help you decide whether to pursue these interests. You’ll also find your inspiration for other lifestyles and hobbies that are mentioned in passing.

Sure, she could have interviewed people who claim that retirement sucks and that they should have stayed in their cubicles. But she’s offering concrete solutions to the question of what you’ll do all day, and she’s helping you move toward a better life instead of clinging fearfully to the status quo. Read the book and make the decision that’s best for you.

Here are just a few of the retiree activities that Ms. Sparacino found:

  • Amateur astronomer
  • Bird watcher and conservationist
  • Habitat restorer
  • Service dog trainer
  • Magician
  • Performing arts usher
  • Stone sculptor
  • Disaster response worker
  • National Park volunteer
  • Nonprofit board director
  • Youth mentor
  • Blogger (Nords note: “Duh!”)
  • Craft beer homebrewer
  • Motorcyclist
  • RV traveler
  • Woodturner
  • Backpacker
  • Softball player
  • Triathlete

That’s just half of the list in the book, and each of the retirees suggests other activities that they’ve tried before discovering their current pursuit. Yeah, I know, Ms. Sparacino never got around to surfing, but I have high hopes for the next edition.

It’s not just about the activities– she includes advice for socializing and working with other people who share your interests. If you reach financial independence in your 30s or 40s then you may be concerned about finding peers who have the free time. Ms. Sparacino suggests many ways to find other people and groups to enjoy your activity and help with your questions. When you know that you are not alone, you don’t have to feel lonely.

She also focuses on the money. Each retiree describes what you need to get started, how to do it as cheaply as possible, and where to find used gear. Then they describe the various levels of performance and how much you could choose to spend at an elite level. Some of them (especially the arts and beekeeping) can pay for themselves, and others (like National Park volunteer) can reimburse your expenses. A few of them have even more satisfying rewards of health and fitness, or at least enthusiastic puppies.

Several of the activities fit right into the military culture, especially disaster relief. (Team Rubicon comes to mind.) I also know literally dozens of veterans who are riding motorcycles, and there’s a huge military camaraderie among their numbers.

When Ms. Sparacino interviewed her stone sculptor, I immediately thought of Bob Clyatt– the author of “Work Less, Live More”. He’s been financially independent for a decade and he’s rekindled a passionate interest in sculpture. You could say that Bob waited nearly three decades to start his true avocation.

The retirees show that it’s not all rainbows and unicorns. Based on my personal experience, the chapter about serving on a non-profit board of directors is a cautionary tale. Ms. Ida (a military retiree) admits in her chapter that there are boards made in heaven… and in hell. However, she also describes the extensive research and discovery process that she explored to find a board that’s a good fit for her. She did her due diligence (just as she did during her employee years) and she found a good match.

Other retirees admit to coping with medical issues and age-related degeneration which limits their performance and their endurance. However, they’ve found ways to adapt and to keep doing what they love.

The best parts of the book are at the ends of the chapters and in the index. Ms. Sparacino used her interviews to research even more details about their activities. She packs those pages with a long list of associations, reference books, and websites. You could easily spend the first six months of your financial freedom just on the research and experimentation.

This book’s been out for a few months, so (as usual) I recommend that you request it from your local library. (It’s worth the wait.) However, the eBook version is a very affordable search tool for you to skip around and highlight various activities while quickly linking to other websites for more information. Try before you buy, but I think you’ll find it’s worth the price of your research.

By the way, if you retire anywhere near a body of water then I recommend taking surfing lessons. Whether you’re surfing prone, on a standup board with a two-handed paddle, or with a sail or a kite: if you can swim then you can learn to surf. I took surfing lessons on my first day of retirement partly as a joke about living in Hawaii. I never expected to be hooked so quickly or so hard, and I’ve spent nearly 13 years perfecting my skills. When I go down to White Plains Beach or up to Chun’s Reef, I can surf with mentors who are in their 70s or even their 80s. I may never do a helicopter or get tubed, but I’ll be surfing for the rest of my life.

I hope “Energize Your Retirement” helps you answer your own “What will I do?” question, and I hope you enjoy it as much as I have!

About Doug Nordman

Author of "The Military Guide to Financial Independence and Retirement" and co-author of "Raising Your Money-Savvy Family For Next Generation Financial Independence."
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3 Responses to Book Review: Energize Your Retirement (!)

  1. Peter Gregory says:

    The old adage remains, do not “retire” from something, but know your next step “to” something else. After active duty and processing/fighting/engaging the VA on the 4 year process on my disability claim, I became a Service officer for the American Legion, and now spend a few hours a week helping other vets navigate the byzantine nature of the VA system. Do not make a dime, but some days I feel I accomplished more than most of days on active duty.

  2. RL says:

    Aloha Doug,
    Thanks for the book reviews and for writing in general. I borrowed a book at the local library recently and thought I’d ask you if you’ve read the book, You Can Retire Sooner Than You Think (The 5 Money Secrets of the Happiest Retirees) by Wes Moss. Check it out if you haven’t already…

  3. Doug Nordman says:

    You’re welcome, RL!

    Shameless name-dropping: Wes Moss gave a presentation at Digital CoLab15 and handed out copies of that book to us in the audience. It’s on my reading pile (an 18″ stack) and I’ll get to it in the next few months.

    And yes, he seems like a happy guy doing what he loves…

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