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How To Mess Up A Retirement

by Bob Lowry, Satisfying Retirement

I subscribe to a dozen different Google Alerts to help me get ideas for blog posts. It works like a newspaper clipping service used to operate. Once a day Google sends me links from the Internet and relevant blogs that contain information based on key words I supply. For example, any time the words "retirement blog" or "Senior Health" appear in a blog or a news story, Google sends me a link.

For the past nine months or more, the number of links that contain negative information have dominated these e-mails. Almost all financial stories are doom and gloom. The inability of seniors to retire, or the negative effects on health from stress and worry fill these alerts. If I believed that was the full story I'd pull the plug on Satisfying Retirement, since apparently no one is having one anymore.

Like you I know that negative news usually trumps good news. Politics is a prime example. Only bad news about the economy, a misstatement that causes embarrassment, or the leveling of a totally erroneous charge against the opposition will make the news. Entertainment reports are filled with divorces, deaths like Whitney Houston's, or stories of plastic surgery gone bad. That is what attract viewers. And, don't get me started on the tabloids (I had a Martian's baby?).

So, if you want to ruin a perfectly good retirement only allow these type of stories into your life. Believe that everyone is close to living on the street, we are all eating dog food, haven't been to a doctor in two years, and divorce is right around the corner.

Actually, there are five more ways to mess up what can be the best years of your life: insist things be the way you want them to be. Can you relate to any of these?

Insist that your retirement look like your parents' retirement. The world is a different place than it was just one generation ago. Retiring with a solid pension, a good health plan, a dependable Social Security check and Medicare coverage made mom and dad's retirement years generally rather safe and steady. Golf, travel, sleeping late, and lots of reading filled their days.

Well, wake up and smell the deficit. Those carefree days are gone and not likely to return. Most of us wouldn't be content with such a laid-back lifestyle for 20 or 30 years anyway, but the security and stability would be nice. Hold out for what dear old mom and dad enjoyed and you will be disappointed.

Insist that that it follow exactly your plan. As I noted in The Illusion of Control a guest post on Galen Pearl's blog, control is something we crave, expect to maintain...and are kidding ourselves. Plans are important, but not necessarily reality. John Lennon had it right: "Life is what happens while you are making other plans." By insisting that the retirement you plotted out for yourself oh so carefully follow that script without deviation is folly. A satisfying retirement requires flexibility.

Insist that "they" are responsible to provide you a nice lifestyle. There is no more "they." Neither business nor government can guarantee you anything. Life doesn't work that way. If you don't take responsibility for your own investments and savings, for living beneath your means, and bypassing immediate gratification for a more secure future, I'm afraid 'they" will not be there to rescue you. Life isn't particularly fair, but blaming someone else will really get you nowhere.

Insist that you will not get sick and need help. There is no need for health insurance, long-term care plans, or prepare for when it is time for a nursing center. You have great genes and a family that will take of you. Both those facts may be true, but if you don't plan for poor health you are buying yourself a boatload of trouble. The human body is designed to wear out. Our lifestyle and dietetic choices hasten that process. You can do a lot to delay the decline and improve the quality of your later life. But, the prudent person also makes plans for when all else fails.

Insist that no one else saves much and they are fine. We read all sorts of stories of 50 year olds with $25,000 in their retirement account, or folks living off just Social Security and doing fine. Both stories can be true, but what is missing is the quality of the retirement these approaches produce.

If you are in your 50's (even 40's) and have saved virtually nothing for retirement you have two choices: have a rich, older relative who has you in first position in his/her will, or plan on working until you die. Those are the only ways having such an insignificant savings account will work.

Yes, you may be able to exist on just Social Security with Medicare help, but your daily lifestyle will be quite restricted. With the average payment just over $1,100 a month you will have little or no discretionary income. After the necessities are paid for the money will be gone.

Every one of these reasons you find yourself in trouble instead of in the midst of can be the greatest time of your life doesn't have to happen. Each of the five is controllable by you. Can the economy or government screw ups, bad luck in the health department or an unavoidable accident ruin even the best laid plans? Absolutely. But, why contribute to the odds of problems?  Don't mess up your chance at a truly satisfying retirement lifestyle by denying personal responsibility for what happens. If you look for a scapegoat it is very likely that it will look a lot like you.


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