Don’t Be a Passenger to Life on the Road to Retirement

When it comes to retirement, financial advisers can sound like broken records. Plan, plan, plan. It’s monotonous and, a lot of the time, it works. But, as Brett Schatto writes, sometimes it works too well.

Don’t wind up in retirement without the funds you need for the lifestyle you want. How many times have you heard financial advisers say this? In our defence, the repetition is in response to the behaviour of those I call spontaneous spenders, people who procrastinate saving because retirement is too far in the future and there are too many shiny, glossy things staring them in the face right now that need to be bought.

But this piece isn’t about that group. It’s about their counterparts, the ones who fall into the habit of all work and no play, the people who procrastinate their life.

Stop waiting and start living

Having goals for your retirement is both fantastic and vital; to ensure we squirrel away enough money for our non-earning years, we need something to look forward to, something that spurs us on. But this shouldn’t come at the expense of the life we’re living today.

‘When I retire, I’m finally going to get fit and take care of myself.’

‘When I retire, I’ll finally be able to go on that trip to the Galapagos Islands.’

‘When I retire, I really will take up windsurfing (or yoga, or fly fishing, or the zither).’

How many times have you heard people utter similar sentiments? How many times have you? If you keep saying you plan to do something “one day” it will probably never happen. The most important question to answer is this:

Why aren’t you doing it now?

Too many people are sacrificing the present moment for the future, neglecting themselves, their passions, their relationships, simply because they are too busy working so they can fix it all once they’ve retired.

Here’s the reality check: money won’t fix it. Rich people are just as good at divorcing as anyone else, not to mention alienating their children, getting cancer, dementia and dying alone. In these circumstances, a cash rich retirement will be cold comfort.

I’ve spoken to a lot of people about money and retirement, and the consistent theme isn’t that people want to be millionaires, but that they want to live like millionaires. They want to not worry about finances, have the freedom to go out to dinner without checking the bank account, to take advantage of that luxury cruise offer that just landed in their inbox.

What this tells me is that money isn’t the spice of life – spontaneity is. This is the true fount of happiness.

What needs to change so you can be more present?

What do we look forward to about retirement? Is it the chance to finally start doing the things we’ve always wanted to but never had time for? Or is it simply the fact we won’t have to work anymore?

The western world has been brutally moulded into a rigid nine to five, one-month-off-a-year work model. It works for some, but not everyone. That job you had your heart set on in your twenties can leave you wrung out and full of hate by your forties – not because of its nature, but because of the hours and time demanded. You’ve changed and so you should. Your priorities change. That’s life.

So why not change the way you work?

Rather than working full time and retiring at 65, why not negotiate with your employer to double your annual leave and have one month off every six months? Your attitude towards your job will improve and you’ll be able to stay a part of the workforce for longer because you enjoy it, instead of waiting for retirement to happen. Reducing hours might also be an option, but that doesn’t give you that block of time away from work – what Tim Ferris calls mini-retirements – to stay fresh, happy and motivated.

Can’t afford to travel twice a year? Why not spend three of those four weeks at a location cheaper to live at than your own home? Rent your house out on Airbnb to cover the costs of running the fridge, insurances and council rates while you spend less per day at a resort drinking cocktails at the swim-up bar in the pool.

Make the most of Qantas and Virgin frequent flyer points to purchase flights. Woolworths, Coles and Foodland don’t offer discounts for cash so why not take advantage at the checkout by collecting points towards your next mini-retirement?

An eye on today and one on tomorrow

In his youth, the philosopher Alain de Botton thought anyone who stopped to appreciate the moment was a loser. He couldn’t understand it, had the blinkers on, moving always in a straight line. Asked later in life what advice he’d give his younger self: ‘Appreciate what’s good about this moment. Don’t always think that you’re on a permanent journey. Stop and enjoy the view.’

If this blog is filling you with anxiety rather than inspiration, we need to change the way you think. I’ll put my hand up and admit that, to some extent, the obsession with retirement to the detriment of life is the fault of the finance industry; we do harp on about having enough tucked away for later in life. But if you can’t see a way of slowing down, of taking more time to do the things now that you have planned for later, of embracing your passions before you’re too old to do them justice, then you need to rethink your strategy. There will be a way for you to enjoy today more fully while still keeping an eye on the future.

Travis McGee, lone sleuth of John D MacDonald’s novels from the 60s and 70s, was well ahead of his time. Utilising a work model we could all take inspiration from, he would take a job, complete it, put his feet up ‘til the money ran out then pick up the next case. As Travis puts it, ‘Instead of retiring at sixty, I’m taking it in chunks as I go along’.

Not a bad life.

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