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Monday, September 26, 2011

Not the retirement we hoped for

My lovely wife and I were watching the news the other night. Main stream media is finally starting to cover people who are affected by the poor economy. There’s the typical stories about young people with degrees who can’t find jobs. The news covered families who’ve suffered job loss, foreclosure, or other major economic setbacks. Recently it was retired people in the news. Their big complaint was “This is not the retirement we hoped for.”

Okay, then. Stuff happens. The thing is, they had a place to live and weren’t missing any meals. Their big complaint was that they had planned on traveling and now they could not. Their investments are in the tank. Yes, they got screwed, but so did a lot of other people. Many homeless and hungry people would love to trade situations with them.

These people feel betrayed. They played by the rules all their lives. They worked, saved and invested. Sacrifices were made so that they’d have wonderful golden years. Now the golden years lack the pot of gold. People a few years ahead of them were able to cash in on the deal. Many whiled away their last years flying to Europe, vacationing on cruise ships, and enjoyed days on sunny golf courses. Many retirees no longer have the funds to do such things. They may have even gotten a taste of the good life before the punch bowl was taken away, but it’s over now.

Some of these people are just sitting around hoping that their investments will rise from the dead. Life is on hold. I’ve got news for you people. Don’t hold your breath. If the markets come back, it might not be in your lifetime. Do you expect to live forever?

If something is really important to you, find a way to do it. My lovely wife and I have traveled a fair bit and seen a lot of things. Often people say they wish they could travel like we do. They don’t really mean it. It’s not that hard to throw a tent and some camping gear in a 15 year old vehicle and wander the country. They could never travel that way. They’d need at least an RV or to say in good hotels every night. Let me tell you something. The sunset at Key West is just as nice if you’d gotten their in a jet or cruise ship or if you’ve driven down in an old car burning waste vegetable oil. We save enough money traveling the way we do to occasionally treat ourselves to really good restaurants.

Now we are “cruising.” We’ve seen a lot of interesting places in our old 19 foot sailboat. We won’t cross the ocean with it, but that’s not what we want to do right now. Our boat might be smaller than most, but we sleep and eat on it just fine and go to the same anchorages as the expensive boats. As an added bonus, we can get our small boat into places the big ones cannot get to. That opens up more experiences for us. In my book, it’s all seeing and experiencing things.

I’ve friends who’ve accepted that the old fashioned retirement probably won’t happen for them. A fair number have taken the attitude that their unemployment check is as a close to a retirement as they are going to get. Many make the most of it. No, they can’t fly to Europe or see the great wall of China, but they aren’t sitting in front of the TV either. They spend a lot of time hiking, canoing, kayaking, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, fishing or hunting. They are making the most of what’s available to them.

For some, they might be better off than if they’d stuck to the normal retirement path. How many people actually are healthy enough to enjoy their retired. years? The retirement investment industry loves to show those trim and fit seniors walking on a beach somewhere. In reality, how many of us will look like that at 70? How many won’t be on a beach then because our bad joints act up on uneven surfaces, or the walker legs sink into the sand?

How many stories have you heard about people who retire and pass away soon after? How about the guy who buys that big sailboat, launches for the around the world cruise and dies of heart attack leaving the harbor?

So what can we do? If you are retired on a lot less money, don’t just sit back lamenting your reduced circumstances. As long as you still breath, you can find something interesting to do. For younger people, don’t fall into the put life off until retirement trap. If you want some freedom now, there are ways of getting free. There are always choices, just maybe not the ones you thought you’d get to choose from. In the end, all we really have is today. What are you going to do with the present?



  1. I know I'm retired on a third of what I used to make and I'm much happier now. It's surprising how little you really need in this life if you wanna break free from those chains.

  2. You make a lot of sense; the decisions you make affect your life and retirement. The secret is to make the best out of any situation.

  3. Here the retirees are whining about the city closing their "senior centers" where they go soak up "free" air conditioning all day. What happened to playing cards at a neighbor's house? What happened to "quilting bees"? I can't feel sorry for these people, they pretty much killed the goose that laid golden eggs, then sent the next generation a bill for doing so. They better get used to the "new normal" of their own making, because me and my family sure have to...

  4. Dizzy: you have to be able to adapt to changing conditions.

    Criag: People are going to have to reestablish community. My personal hell would be living in a retirement park. I don't care how nice the facilities are. When the generations don't mix, everyone loses.

  5. This was the topic at our book group today. We said little about this month's book but plenty about the whiners who think changes shouldn't affect them.

  6. treesong: too many think they can isolate themselves from the rest of the world. That's not a very human thing to do.

  7. sixbear im 48 and on a mini retirement for a year.It can be done at a cheap price if you want to take a break and travel.this summer me and my wife have spent 6 weeks in differant areas of the south.WE camp in a teardrop trailer 25$ a nite max in state parks.Travel is what you make it our last trip was 2 weeks ago spent 5 days in the smokey mts.We spent 240$ including gas traveled 900 miles and ate out twice.Isnt it amazing how good a ham or baloney sandwich taste next to a river or lake miles from anywhere.people all ages have forgotten how to have a great time cheaply. ps. saw 9 black bear 3 elk and more turkey than can count took in 3 mtn life mueseums.

  8. gary: you know exactly what I'm talking about.

  9. This is so true. After having a health incident at 28, and having a close friend diagnosed with a fatal disease, I took a year off work and traveled, backpacking, hitchiking, and staying in hostels. People said I was crazy, it would ruin my career, I should wait for retirement. My career is fine, and I am extremely grateful that I went ahead and did it - if my health deteriorates, I can at least enjoy the memories...