From a fiscal point of view, most of our friends can retire now, but they have no plans to do so. In most cases, that is because they can’t think of what they want to do next. A very legitimate concern. If you really like your job and the social connections it affords, there may be no reason to retire anytime soon. But if your job isn’t that great and you have a long list of other things you want to accomplish, perhaps you should seriously think about retiring sooner rather than later.
My father worked into his 70s because he loved his job. He was very concerned about my well-being because I retired in my mid-fifties. He asked many times how I plan to keep myself active and engaged for the next, 40 years. When you think about our life expectancies, I have another lifetime to lead “in retirement.”
Benefits of Retirement
There are different benefits to retiring depending on the age you are when you retire. For us, early retirement meant that we had the time and freedom to travel the world. But that was our goal, it might not be your goal. Hopefully, you can spend some time thinking about what you will do in retirement. Always remember your decision isn’t cast in stone, you can always change your mind.
If you retire early your nest egg has to last longer than if you retired later. I can tell you that our savings balance is the same as it was 4.5 years ago when we retired and we don’t scrimp. So, experience shows that you might not need quite as much as you thought you did. Early in your retirement, you are probably more physically active than you will be, say, 20 years later. That means that your spending profile should go down over time. If you are very young when you retire, there may be many more places you want to go and adventures to spend your money on in the short term.
Some people retire early and find themselves with little to do so they go back to work but in a field of their choosing. Since, financially, they don’t need to work, they can pick a volunteer or for-pay job that is of special interest to them.
Even if you continue to work well past the traditional retirement age of 65, you’ll still need to make a plan for what you will do all day when you do finally retire. As you get older you will slow down, this I know for a fact. If you have a long list of things you want to do in retirement, you need to balance that with how long you work. There is nothing sadder than someone who has worked all their lives, looks forward to retirement, and then gets sick and dies. I surely didn’t want that to be me.
Pitfalls of Retirement
Regardless of when you retire, it is not uncommon for one’s health to worsen early in retirement. This can be driven by a multitude of factors:
- Loss of identity and social stature
- No fixed schedule
- Increased isolation from no longer going to work
- No compelling reason to get up or dress for the day
- Lessening exercise due to depression
- No mental stimulation from the challenge of doing meaningful work
It is really the last one that I fear most. No mental stimulation, leading to a condition I call Brain Rot. IMHO, it’s not enough to read the paper, work out, and meet friends at the coffee shop on a daily basis. Some sense of purpose is key. And for me, it must be intellectually challenging.
My father’s best friend passed away a few years ago, at the age of 100. While his body was infirm at the end, his mind was still pretty sharp. He was working at his law practice the week that he passed away. AARP provides games as another way to gain mental stimulation to maintain mental acuity, but I’m not willing to bet my life on their efficacy.
Ideas for a Challenging Retirement
In thinking about this conundrum, Diana and I have come up with a number of ideas for how to provide mental stimulation and challenges, including evidence from International Living magazine.
- Live outside of your comfort zone, you could live in another city or even country.
- Learn a new language. This kind of goes with the previous idea, but you could do it from home.
- Develop new hobbies, like woodworking or breeding roses.
- Keep your body active, and join a Zumba class. For Diana, she just does rehab after surgery (oops, that was my inside voice).
- Find meaningful ways to give back to your community. You could volunteer to teach English to newcomers, help at an animal rescue, mentor business owners, etc.
- Start a new business.
- Go back to work doing something just because you enjoy it, like travel planning.
In the past few years, even before retirement, we have tried a few of these things. Diana tried working on her French and Spanish. I spent more time on my photography. Diana also tutored English to a Korean immigrant and of course, rehabbed from a few surgeries, but nothing really stuck until we came up with the idea of a blog.
What Is Working for Us?
First, we were presented with many obstacles around our decision to be “home free” and travel the world. We discussed these challenges with our friends and found lots of people seemed to be interested in what we were doing and how we were doing it. As we thought more about it, we decided that starting a blog and writing about our experiences fulfilled many of the ways to create a stimulating retirement described above. For example:
- Writing is creative and mentally stimulating.
- Considering our blog to be a business that offers challenges and responsibilities.
- Setting a schedule for ourselves to publish one or two articles a week.
- We have sought out new experiences specifically to have topics to write about.
- Our travels are looked at differently now, we always looking for more interesting angles.
- Establishing and maintaining the mechanics of the blog has been challenging.
To be sure, we will still pursue those hedonistic activities, dutifully reporting on the dive spots we visit, the castles we climb, and the 1 and 2-star meals we suffer through, all for the sake of journalism. We do it for you, our readers. 😉 Seriously, though, the thought of heading into retirement without a plan to avoid brain rot was frightening. I was quite relieved when this plan came together. So far it has more than served its purpose, to keep us moving, to have a schedule, and most importantly provide enough mental stimulation.
What is your plan for retirement?