We all love to bash the ole 9 to 5, the salt mines, the slog but work does provide several human needs that I think are often taken for granted. If taken for granted when thinking of retirement, the loss of work can create a vacuum in retirement that can be hard to fill.
At the beginning of my career I was very fortunate to work at IBM in Boca Raton, FL in the PC division. In my first engineering position I worked with many ‘lifers’, people who worked at IBM their entire careers. I remember all the 25 year emblems on their business cards. During my time at IBM I saw many ‘lifers’ retire only to die within a few short years. Several passed away due to years of neglected health but many of them merely wasted away because they had lost their major raison d’etre (reason for being). This had a big effect on me and I swore this would not happen to me. Not coincidentally, shortly thereafter I started thinking of retiring early.
More recently I have had three experiences that brought this even closer to home for me; my first two attempts at early retirement, my father’s retirement, and my grandfather’s old age experience. I first tried to retire about 4 years ago. Within 5 months of not working I was antsy and didn’t know what to do with myself. So, I hopped back in to the work force. Two years later I decided to try it again, this time with a plan for not getting bored. This time the financial crises spooked me back into the work force for another year. So, this is try number three for me – so far so good. My father has had the same experience and is now back at work commuting over 3 hrs a day to/from work. My grandfather has long been retired but it has not been a happy one.
On the flip side I’ve met many retirees having the time of their lives, who leave work and are able to completely engage in their new lives. No issues at all. Like their long term plans and dreams have been fulfilled completely.
These experiences have made me think long and hard about what constitutes a happy retirement. I’ve come up with four areas that I think every retiree needs to think about and have a plan for. Here they are;
1. Financial – this one is the most obvious. You can’t retire unless you have the financial means to do so. It may just be social security, or a pension. It could be 100% savings. What I think is important is to have a plan that you can mark your progress against. And more importantly a plan that is flexible, that takes account some big what-ifs. This is one major reason I think retirees get ‘scared’ back into the workforce and in the worst case have no choice but going back to work. This is one of the major reasons I started this blog – to help people with this part of their retirement.
2. Social – work provides a lot of the social interactions we have in our lives. Many people’s friends are made through the workplace. When you retire you lose this unless you retire at the same time as your friends and in the same area. If you retire early most of your friends are still working. Without these social connections you can easily get bored, lonely, etc… Faced with a loss of these social connections you need to actively work at this in retirement. Do you join a social club? a golf club? volunteer for certain organizations? How are you going to fulfill this part of your life? This was a huge loss for my grandfather who was the social center of his small immigrant community. He has not been the same since. In our full-time RV lifestyle this has been our biggest challenge. We’re still working on it.
3. Mental – work usually provides much of the mental/intellectual stimulation we get in our daily lives. What do you do when this goes away? Do you have a hobby to keep your mind active? Just relaxing, watching TV or surfing the internet is probably not going to be enough. Even if your work was very physical, and not mental, what do you do as you age and your ability to engage in physical activities goes away? Often this can be combined with #3. There are many ways to fulfill this need like volunteering and in today’s tech world many remote possibilities enabled by the internet. For me, my interest in investing fulfills this role. And I try to parlay this intellectual interest into helping me with my social and financial areas. On-line forums, blogs, social networks all help in this regard. I have seen many retirees struggle in this area. They find it hard to engage in new areas. It takes courage to leap into new things and a lot of experimentation.
4. Physical/Health – I think being physically active helps in all areas of life but it certainly does impact your health. Also, in this age of expensive health care and insurance it is a key aspect of retirement especially as one ages. The healthier you are the less financial impact it will have on your retirement. The healthier you are the more you can do in retirement. So, I think its critical to have at least one physical activity/hobby that you love and engage in all the time. For my wife and I, its is hiking. We hike/walk 3-6 miles a day with our dog, without fail. We also are active in yoga, we run a bit, and do some strength training. Nutrition is a also big part of this for us.
Well, those are the four areas that I think are important for a happy retirement. They are a constant work in progress and I don’t have them all figured out yet. I’d love to hear what you think is key for a happy retirement and what your experiences have taught you.
Full Disclaimer - Nothing on this site should ever be considered advice, research or the invitation to buy or sell securities. These are my personal opinions only.