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Redefining our Definition of Retirement

For the better part of this decade, the federal policy on retirement has been to ‘ease’ employees past the age of 50 out of the workforce.  Certainly as a society, we have developed a mythical concept of retirement that can be compared to some nirvana of ancient greek lore.  After retirement our days are spent on sandy beaches, not a care in the world, enjoying the fruits of a lifetime of hard work to FINALLY fulfill our dream.

I’m not sure that was ever a reality but that definitely changed in 2007.

I admit it, I bought into the American dream and after college I had to make the calculated decision between exploring my 20’s or investing in a career to be able to enjoy life and (hopefully) retire early to have the financial freedom that would allow me to do things otherwise outside my reach.  Isn’t that the ultimate carrot?

I chose the career.

I admit it may not be the strictest sense of a career, but I worked hard and built a business and re-invested for the long term to achieve those goals.  Things went somewhat bumpily according to the plan and my wife and I looked forward to cashing out in 2007 with the completion of the pinnacle of my construction and development career and start a new life in a small town raising a family.

We all know what happened in 2007 and most of us are feeling the repercussion of what is mildly called a ‘market correction’.  After spending more than ten years following an ‘unconventional’ conventional approach to saving and investing we found ourselves starting over again with the same decision to make almost 20 years later- work now and have fun later or pay the price and have fun now with the realization there may not be a security blanket there for your golden years.  Only now, the decision may be between work hard now to have SOMETHING for the future or play now and have NOTHING for the future.

Maybe it’s time we redefine our definition of retirement and adapt it to a more realistic vision for the future.

I don’t believe that civilized man was ever meant to be idle.  I believe that the mind thrives on challenges and the body needs to be used in order to function properly for a long and healthy life.  Careers, Pensions, and Retirement Accounts all historically meant a long term (lifetime long term), trust between two parties for the benefit of each other.  Now the employers, the fund managers, invest brokers, and even employees have lost that trust and no one deep in their hearts really believes that a career lasts a lifetime, a pension will reward you for a lifetime of hard work, or that investment brokers are looking out for your golden years.

By that same token, maybe we should consider the era of the ONE job is over.  There will be MANY jobs, MANY mini-careers, but if we have the fortitude and discipline there will always be savings for the future.  Not one retirement account, not one IRA, but maybe a collective tithe that we ALWAYS invest for every dollar earned to the ‘church of good hope for the future savings account’, or more appropriately, the ‘someday’ account.

I admit, we Americans are not very good at saving.  Our forefathers made a change.  After the great depression people were frugal for the rest of their lives, never knowing if economic hardship would return with such force.  I believe our family will remain affected by our personal economic great depression/  That the lessons of thrift and savings will stay with us long into the future.  I never want to be in a position of need so dire due to my failure to provide for an adequate savings.  I sound like my grandfather.  After the great depression his legacy was a family business that is still owned and operated by his grand children and supports two generations of his family.

What will be our legacy?

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2 comments to Redefining our Definition of Retirement

  • BrokeNotBroken

    I think that it comes down to turning off the tv and cancelling the subscription to Money magazine or Kiplingers and to start paying attention to those that have gone before us. I look around at the retirees in my area (Florida and yes we have plenty of them) and try to make observations on their lives. I look to my mom and my grandparents and see how their lives in retirement are/were. I am starting to realize that my viewpoint on retirement is changing drastically.

    Before, I was sold on the idea that I need to save a nest egg big enough to spin-off 80% of my pre-retirement income to have a great retirement. I was sold on the mantra of save X% of your income for Y years at an annual rate of Z% and one day, you will have money coming out of your ears and you’ll be able to finally start living the way you want to. But now I am starting to realize what it all costs.

    I’m selling my todays for tomorrows.

    If I ever reach retirement, what will life really be like? Will I really want to sail the world or at least the eastern seaboard? Will I really live that life of adventure, seeking out those experiences that I postponed for so many years? I think not. I think that if I continue to buy into the mantra, I will wake up at 65, finally retired, and realize that I gave up the best years of my life for a more comfortable but a lot less exciting lifestyle.

    The retirees I see are playing golf, gardening, walking on the beach, and similar activities. I have to ask why. Why have they chosen to live as they do? Were they any less adventurous at my age than I am?

    Did they plan on retiring to a life of gardening and golf? I think not.

    I think that they thought about their exciting life post retirement and dreamt about all of the exciting things they would finally get to do only to finally reach that age and discover two things; they’re worn out and they no longer have that sense of adventure. They’re worn out because they gave the best years of their lives to their company and they’re less adventurous because they just spent the better part of 30-35 years supressing that natural desire to explore and experience.

    So, I started thinking that if my post 65 life isn’t going to be as exciting as the glossy magazine articles lead me to believe then perhaps I don’t need to save so much, work so hard or invest so aggressively.

    In summary, I agree, most of us need to start thinking about retiring with a little ‘r’ so that we can start living with a capital ‘L’.

  • big cheese

    BrokeNotBroken-

    Ultimately it boils down to a very tough question-When is Enough Enough?

    I’m convinced I can start right now and rebuild a financial fortune (by most accounts a fortune anyways). But the question becomes, am I doing this to compete with others for the personal satisfaction of my ego? And what is the ultimate cost, not necessarily in dollars, for this economic triumph?

    One time I went with a friend to meet a couple for dinner at a chinese restaurant. For some strange reason my friend, who had never met the other couple, felt compelled to prove to them she could eat an entire ball of wasabi right off the plate.

    We thought she was nuts! Why was she so strongly compelled to prove she was better than us by such a small token?

    Of course afterwards she turned red faced and sweated bullets the rest of the meal quietly keeping to herself through her agony.

    Then and now, we thought the act bizarre. She had nothing to prove to us, why suffer the cost for a moment of triumph? Was it worth it?

    I fear the same whenever my inner capitalist kicks in and I start thinking about HOW MUCH money can I make. Who am I trying to impress? What will be the cost and will it be worth the sacrifice?

    Would you rather hear a story about a strange and far off land (ok, maybe just Key West) or a story about how much money I made?