The very concept of retirement has changed so drastically that in order to describe how it has changed, we must first level-set what everyone can agree is the meaning of the word retirement. The Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines retirement as: withdrawal from one’s position or occupation or from active working life.
Well, now that we have that out the way, let’s consider what a working American means when they say retirement. Retirement is the span of time after you complete your working life with enough financial security to continue a fair standard of living without employment. I hope this definition seems fair because what used to be a standard practice of careers and aging has become a pipedream for most Americans.
Right now, only a portion of our future social security is budged to be funded. Raising taxes to cover this delta is not realistic. Our nation’s political climate has become so charged with party alignment that a meaningful solution is mathematically unlikely. So given this reality, we need to be honest and practical about being prepared for what is coming.
First, consider you will not be as physically strong and mobile as you are now, especially if you have a job that requires your movement. Sure, we all hear stories about that 90 year old great-grandmother who does her own gardening but that is not most likely for all of us. Consider how your health is now and what it will be like when you are in your mid-seventies and eighties. Consider shoring up any weak points to keep medical cost down now and then.
Next, consider where you will live in retirement. When you are eighty, can you realistically manage a full flight of stairs with a laundry basket? Will have you energy for intensive lawn care? Will you have the finances to afford the home you life in now if and when you retirement income is considerably less than now.
Next, really diagnose which expenses matter most. Consider that your life is more than just the things you leave behind but the memories you lived and shared. Try having less but doing more. Hold off on that new car but do take that vacation with the family. Reconsider the big house for more weekends with friends. Every expense can be reallocated to those things that really matter to a life well lived.
Lastly, embrace that you are not alone. Retirement used to be a promise that when you worked all your life that you would get to relax for the last part of it. With the sheer number of retirees beginning to draw on the system and no fixes in place, only a small portion of the nation will be able to retire without having to work. The rest of us need to prepare now for jobs and careers that provide a life long opportunity for satisfaction and reward.
We need not be caught of guard by our changing world, let alone feel victim to it. Celebrate that with the right planning, your legacy won’t be sitting around watching television and eating ice cream but that you worked at something that mattered to you and to the world until the very end.
Times are changing but with change comes opportunity.