How many things are you putting off until you retire?
Sure, your life is busy. There never seems to be enough time to do the things you really want to do. It’s easy to think, “When I’m retired, I’ll have all the time I want for <insert activity here>.”
To an extent, you’re right. You will have a lot more time to do the things you want after you retire. And it’s good to use these things as incentives to help you look forward to retirement and to better plan for it.
But why postpone happiness until sometime in the future? There’s no lifetime quota on happiness and enjoyment – you can have as much as you want. If you put things off for too long, you may never get to do them, or you may no longer have as much physical or mental capacity to do them.
I’m going to suggest seven things that people often postpone, thinking that they will be able to devote time and attention to them once they retire. And I’m going to present a case for why it’s in your best interests to start doing them now, rather than wait.
Many people look forward to travelling more after they retire. After all, you’re no longer constrained by how many vacation days your employer gives you and when you can take them. You can go whenever you want, for whatever length of time you want.
That’s fine, and many retirees do travel. My parents, during their nearly thirty years of retirement, took one or two overseas trips every years – usually expedition-type cruises or guided tour packages with their local senior citizens group. But as they got older, it became harder and harder for them to haul luggage around, and they often got tired sooner and could endure less physical activity each day.
If you haven’t saved adequately for retirement, travel may be out of your reach.
Despite the constraints of employer-dictated vacation time, I encourage you to travel more when you’re younger. Besides having more stamina with which to endure the rigors of travel, there are two other important reasons.
The more you travel, and the sooner you do so, the more you will experience and learn about more parts of the world. This first-hand knowledge will better enable you to evaluate whether retiring to another part of the country or to a different country is right for you.
A few highly desirable countries, such as Australia and New Zealand, are easier to get into if you are migrating there to work. Unless you are bringing a lot of money to these places, it’s very difficult to get a permanent resident visa after you’ve retired.
Decide Where You’ll Live
Many people don’t think about where they want to live after they retire until they have retired or, at best, a couple years before they retire. There’s no penalty for waiting until you’re on the verge of retirement or already retired, but there are definite advantages to giving this topic some advance thought. Even if you don’t completely decide, you should at least be thinking about it and narrowing your choices down to a short list.
As I mentioned above, if you want to get into a country that has restrictive immigration requirements, it may be easier to immigrate while you’re still working.
Another big reason is so that you can budget for how much it’s going to cost you to live in the place of your dreams, and still have time to save accordingly. A couple who are good friends of mine want to retire to San Francisco, one of the most expensive places in the U.S. Fortunately, they earn a decent income, have no kids, and are still 15 years or so away from retiring, so they are able to save extra money in anticipation of realizing their goal.
Downsize More and Accumulate Less
Many retirees, whether they choose to relocate to a different locale or not, still downsize at some point. Some people may downsize for economic reasons, others may choose to live in a smaller dwelling in order to have less to clean and maintain. Those who have grown children may not want all those empty bedrooms any longer.
American culture is one of the most consumption-based cultures in the world. We buy, buy, and then buy some more, and ultimately move to bigger houses in order to have room to store it all.
Having more possessions does not equate to more happiness; in fact, it more closely equates to having more things to attend to. Most people in the world live happy lives owning much less.
If you’re behind on saving for your retirement, making the decision to accumulate less along the way will also free up more money to save. And you’ll have more money to travel! Most people who have travelled a lot will agree that experiences trump possessions in terms of what is truly meaningful in their lives.
Create a Retirement Budget
How much money will you need to live after you retire? That question is first and foremost in most people’s minds whenever they contemplate their upcoming retirement. You have, no doubt, seen many formulas – anywhere from 75% to 100% of the amount you spent monthly during your working years. Other “experts” quote a specific figure, saying that you’ll need at least a million dollars of savings, or even 1.5 to 2 million.
As I’ve written in a previous article, these guidelines are averages, for average people. They are good for starting points. But you may need a lot more or less, depending on many factors including how and where you plan to live, how much you plan to travel (and what type of traveling you hope to do), and what activities you hope to pursue.
One of the smartest things you can do is to define, as best you can, what you want your retirement to look like. Then, you’ll be better able to estimate how much monthly income you’ll need to live that lifestyle.
The farther in advance you can get an accurate handle on what you want your retirement to look like and how much it will cost, the more time you have to adjust your rate of saving accordingly.
An eye-opening exercise would be to try living on your proposed retirement budget for a year. Granted, you can’t simulate all of your conditions, especially if you intend to move to a different place. But this trial run at living on your retirement income will let you see whether or not you have estimated well.
If you can honestly say you exercise regularly and you’re in great shape, congratulations!
If you can’t make that statement, you probably have excuses like how much you have to work, you hate going to gyms, you’re a bit out of shape but you seem to be doing okay, etc. Or maybe you just don’t care. Maybe you would rather be able to eat and drink anything you want than be concerned about how much weight you’ve gained.
Sooner or later, it’s going to catch up with you. You’ll either die sooner (and therefore have fewer years to enjoy retirement), or your retirement years will be consumed by dealing with chronic and expensive health issues. Or both.
You won't be able to enjoy yourself as much if you are dealing with health problems in retirement. It will curtail your ability to travel and to participate in some of the activities you hope to enjoy. Retired life will be much more fun if you’re healthy and able to enjoy it.
It’s true that after you’re retired, you’ll have a lot more time to enjoy your hobbies. And sure, your busy working life doesn’t leave much time for hobbies, especially if you’re a parent or you’re pursuing your continuing education while you’re working.
I’d like to suggest that you find room for at least one or two of your favorite hobbies, even if only for an occasional hour or two. It beats watching TV or going to the movies.
While I was working, I sometimes had the opportunity to teach classes. During the time near the beginning of the class when the participants would take turns introducing themselves to the rest of the class, I always asked people to share one thing about them that was interesting, that had nothing to do with work.
One lady shared that she is an artist, and she always tries to find a little time each weekend to paint, even if it’s only an hour or two. Then when she retires, she plans to paint more and hopefully sell some of her artwork.
This lady has it right! Not only does she have a positive vision of what she wants to do after she retires, but she is keeping her artistic skills fresh. If she never painted for thirty years, she would have to devote a lot of time and effort to recover her abilities. Plus, she would have denied herself the enjoyment of painting for all those years.
This gets back to a question at the beginning of this article: Why postpone happiness until sometime in the future? You should enjoy your life today as well as tomorrow.
Discover Your Passion
I’ve seen various surveys and articles which assert that only about 20% of us are doing work that we are truly passionate about. If you’re not in that enviable 20%, you may have a job that is moderately satisfying and mostly tolerable, or you may be miserable and actively hate your job.
Many of us had to make a choice early on in our lives between doing what we’re truly passionate about and what will earn us a comfortable and reasonably secure living.
In my case, I would have ideally liked to play jazz on my trombone. But an honest assessment of my skills, my (lack of) discipline for practicing and the job market led me to pursue a career as a software engineer. I sufficiently enjoyed my jobs and was reasonably talented as a software engineer (and instructor and manager), and I did indeed enjoy a secure and comfortable career. But my first passion has always been music.
Now, in retirement, I can truly do what I choose, and I’m playing more music. I’m going to start composing and arranging again soon. I don’t have to be concerned about whether or not it’s going to earn money I need to survive.
What talents and interests have you left behind, that you can enjoy again with the time afforded by retirement?
Don’t wait until you’re retired to think about how you will spend your time in retirement and what you truly want to do. If you are planning to launch new undertakings in retirement – whether that be volunteer work, starting a business, pursuing your artistic gifts, or anything else – are there things you can get started on now? Perhaps there are courses you can take or skills you can develop while you’re still working.
In any case, having some clarity around what you plan to do with your time after you retire can provide you with something positive to look forward to and plan for.
©2014, 2015 Dave Hughes. All rights reserved.
Hiker at Grand Canyon: Moyan Brenn. Some rights reserved.
Travel guides: Vanessa Chettleburgh. Some rights reserved.
House: Jonathan Lin. Some rights reserved.
Calculator: 401(K) 2012. Some rights reserved.
Running on treadmill: E’Lisa Campbell. Some rights reserved.