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It’s now 18 months since I retired. As I look back at my decisions about retirement lifestyle, I am pleased that most were right for me — up to this point.
To retire with spirit and make the most of the third age that is unencumbered by career or child-rearing responsibilities is a privilege. But it requires a plan as well as a purposeful problem-solving approach.
If you know yourself well and are comfortable making decisions, retirement choices will be easy. If you have neglected the work of introspection, now is the time think about the retirement lifestyle you want, where you want to spend your retirement, and how you will use your time.
What you might want to think about
Begin with a Financial Plan based on your resources. About one year before I retired, our financial planner made us do a detailed budget. We did about three iterations of our planned spending. Every time we thought the plan was complete, he reviewed it and suggested other categories of spending that we had overlooked. Then we looked at retirement income from pensions and investments and happily there was a match.
The process of creating the retirement budget was as arduous as I remember the budget process at work. But, at the end of the first year of my retirement, we did a review of actual expenses and income and found that our projections were close to the estimates we made. Some categories were higher but others were less than estimated. We will continue to track spending and do an annual review as we expect that some expenses will change over time.
Having a financial plan that includes money for travel and for fun — and living within available resources — reduces stress and worry in retirement.
Closely associated with your financial plan is the choice of where you will live in retirement. For now, we have opted to stay in our family home which is comfortable for our current lifestyle. Many friends are selling their city homes and moving to smaller towns where housing is cheaper. Others want the freedom of moving to a condo or an apartment with no yard maintenance. Many Canadians opt for a second home in the South where they can enjoy sunshine and golfing. Moving is a lifestyle choice that requires serious thought and will likely be re-evaluated during your retirement years.
Making a fitness plan and staying with it is as important as making a financial plan and sticking with a budget With retirement there is more time for regular exercise which is essential for keeping a fit body and a fit mind.
Chris Crowley and Henry S Lodge in their book Younger Next Year advocate exercise 6 times a week. I haven’t been able to achieve that target, but do manage 4 or 5 trips to the gym every week for aqua fit, swimming, yoga or weight machines. Your choice for fitness may not be a gym or health club but consider how you can keep your body as active as possible — perhaps joining a walking club or doing tai chi or gardening or taking up a low impact sport will better fit your lifestyle. The trick is to keep moving and not retreating to a sedentary pace.
Most experts claim that staying physically strong and flexible is one of the secrets of aging successfully. Fitness activities take time, determination and effort. There is, however, a big pay off in terms of general health and weight management. Depending on the activity, there are also benefits in terms of socialization with others. I now have gym buddies to chat with regularly and sometimes to have lunch with in the gym’s restaurant.
Closely related to physical fitness is a plan to eat properly. As North Americans, we are able to get access to a variety of foods thus allowing for a nutritious diet at a reasonable cost. Making the choice of preparing meals at home and taking pleasure from using local foods — especially fresh fruits and vegetables adds variety to what you eat.
Cooking from scratch takes longer but allows control over levels of salt and sugar as well as portion control. There is more chopping and washing and peeling involved but the benefits of this choice are worth the time. Eating nutritious food helps to maintain a healthy weight and keeps you feeling satisfied which prevents snacking on junk food with empty calories. Food choices affect overall health so making thoughtful decisions about eating right will bring huge dividends in overall health.
Retirement means that you have more time for yourself; however, time management continues to be a challenge unless you just want to drift through each day.
When I first retired, I resisted making any firm commitments and languished in all the free time I had. After a few months I realized that I would need more structure for the available days, weeks and months or I would just fritter away my retirement. I now have a moderately flexible schedule that allows time for writing my blog posts, for hobbies, for visiting friends, for volunteer activities and for new projects that keep me learning.
I make sure to allow time to ‘goof off’ and I don’t stress if I have to make schedule changes to fit in last-minute opportunities that arise but aren’t part of what I planned. After all, these activities — like attending a concert, or playing bridge, going on an excursion with a friend or taking a weekend trip — make for the adventures and experiences that keep life interesting.
Sometimes, life happens and gives a nasty shock
Health changes can affect you and/or others in your family and may call for major lifestyle changes. The shock of needing a hip replacement shortly after I retired meant that I was housebound for most of last winter as I learned to walk again and regained mobility. One of my good friends has recently had a recurrence of breast cancer and is undergoing chemotherapy with some horrible side effects.
Health needs can mean many physician appointments that create changes in your daily schedule or influence where and how you need to live in retirement. Previous lifestyle choices will need modification — either temporarily or on a longer term basis.
You may face the loss of a life-long spouse/partner through death or divorce. As I watch another friend cope with his wife’s sudden death a few months ago, I see him re-thinking every previous retirement decision and making new choices. Will he continue to live in the family home which is too large for just one person and which has too many memories? What changes must be made to support his lifestyle on a reduced income? Different choices will be inevitable — not only as he deals with the grief that comes with such a major life change — but also with the associated fallout of becoming a single person after years of marriage.
Other family issues that involve new choices include adult children who may need to move back into your home for periods of time. This economy has a nasty way of de-railing careers for young people who find that retreating to the basement of the family home is one way for them to cope with a job loss or moving into a new career with reduced income. The empty nest fills up again. Grand children may need care and sometimes you might become the person who provides child care while parents work.
Your retirement income may drop due to poor investment performance thus creating the need to down-size housing or otherwise curtail living expenses. Travel and recreation expenses may become luxuries. Previous spending patterns will need review with new choices and a change in lifestyle.
Don’t get too attached to your retirement plan
Some life changes force situations upon us where choices seem limited. Keeping retirement plans flexible and keeping options open allows for changes to the plan as the changing circumstances of your life require. Just as it was during the career years, it is essential not to get too attached to your retirement plan. Some things work. Most things need adjustments and tweaking. Many plans need to be completely overhauled as life changes occur for retirement happiness to continue.
While the choices made in the early years of my retirement feel right and have made me happy, I know that other choices will need to be made in the future as my life continues to evolve and change. Someday we will need to downsize as taking care of both a house and a cottage — each with yard maintenance — will not be possible as the years go by. In the meantime, we are happy enjoying the city and its amenities with escapes to the quiet of the lake when solitude beckons.
Conscious choices to optimize happiness in retirement require visualizing the near-term future as well as considering a variety of options for the longer term. Keeping flexibility in your plans allows you to alter the plan as your life changes and current choices no longer serve your lifestyle.