Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Thinking About Retirement, And What It Means To Me

I love being inspired by other bloggers. Yesterday I read a post by Frugal Dad about retirement. He asks the simple question, "What does retirement mean to you?"

As I commented on his blog... I don't really know.

In a way I find this strange. Here I am trying to get my financial house in order, looking at long term investments, contributing the max amount to get matching on my 401K - - and yet I don't really know what retirement means to me. I think part of the problem is that I am so focused on the here and now. Right now while I am concentrating on "this week" or "this month," it is hard to look too far ahead.

That isn't to say that I don't have goals. I have quite a few. At the end of last year I made my list of Goals for 2009. I also have a Three Year Plan that involves going back to school and getting my Master's Degree. I have even gone through the effort of sitting down and figuring out long term financial goals, as in how much do I need in my emergency fund to feel safe? But what I'm having a hard time with is long term goals. I feel like my life is in such a place of transition, I don't know where I want to be in the 10, 20, or the 30+ years until retirement. I have some vague glimpses, a rough idea of what kind of job I'd like and how I would like to live, but it is like trying to see through a jar of Vaseline - everything is very blurry.

Here are a few things I know -

1. I know I don't want to be scared of my financial situation ever again. Oh, I know there will be good times and bad - there will be times when investments will go up and times when we will have horrible economies, like the one we are in now. What I mean is, I never want to be in a situation like I am now - not knowing how the bills are going to be paid, not sure if the paycheck will cover the mortgage. Once I get through this period and things settle down, I am going to made great strides to prevent this type of situation from ever happening again.

2. I know I don't want to work multiple jobs and I don't want to work anywhere I don't have a passion for. Currently I have several jobs, and while I am deeply grateful for each and every one of them, this is no way for me to live long term. I need a different work/life balance, and as long as I am working, I want to work at something I care about.

However, neither of these two really answers the "What does retirement mean to you?" question....

I keep thinking about it and considering what I want in my life. I want to have time to write, to putter in my garden, to sit on the shore of my cottage... but the thing is, I don't want to wait until I am 70 for that. I want it now!

And I realize that that is the problem I am having. First, I can't quite imagine myself at 70, but also (and far more important) I don't see why I should have to wait until then to have the things I want. Okay, so maybe instead of trying to see what my life would look like through a crystal ball, I need to start with some simple truths:

- I don't know if I will ever marry again. Whether I do or don't, I refuse to be a financial burden on anyone. This means I will have to make sure I have enough money to comfortably - not excessively, but in a lifestyle I am comfortable with. I no more want to wait to start my life until I am 70, than I do want to have to drastically change it just because I am not working. This means making plans for short, mid and long term savings.

- I don't want to be a health concern for others. So, I need to work on staying active and continue to take care of myself. I also need to be cognizant of various health insurance programs. As my mother ages I begin to worry about her, especially about her health. It isn't something you can always control, but there are steps you can take.

- I refuse to be miserable in my own life again. I went through a period with my past marriage where I stopped making honest and authentic choices and instead I compromised. I compromised so far that I lost sight of myself. I never want to wake up again and look around and think "What am I doing here? How did this become my life?" So, moving forwards I will make choices that are true and genuine. I may make mistakes, but the only way I fail is if I stop listening to my own intuition.

- I don't want to spend my retirement looking back at the past. No sitting around saying "Shoulda, woulda, coulda." That means following my dreams now and keep on following them, whether I am 48 or 84.

- I want to live somewhere I love. I've experienced what it is like to dislike your home. I refuse to let that happen again. While I realize that a home is exactly what you make of it, I also know that there are places that make me happier than others. I am such an introvert that my home is a real extension of who I am. Moving forward, wherever it may be that I hang my hat, I will make sure that it makes me happy to do so.

So, what does this all mean? Looking through this list, I see that it is a prescription for how to live now, but still doesn't say what retirement means to me. So, I guess that is an answer in itself. It doesn't mean a thing. Retirement for me is simply a transition, perhaps working a little less, volunteering a little more, and making sure I get my Senior Citizen Discounts, but that's it.

That means that the trick of my retirement planning is not in how my life will change once I retire, the trick is in making sure it doesn't.

Photo by: SSynth


Fit Wallet said...

"I am such an introvert that my home is a real extension of who I am. Moving forward, wherever it may be that I hang my hat, I will make sure that it makes me happy to do so."

This really struck a chord with me. I'm an introvert too, and if it weren't for my sociable partner, I would probably spend even more time at home. It's so important to love where you live.

Kristy @ Master Your Card said...

Wow FF! I guess I didn't realize you were working multiple jobs! It's a tough situation and I certainly feel for you! But, you're persistent and determined, so to that end, I think you'll make it out ahead.

As far as retirement, I want to be a lazy dilettante...seriously. I mean, I'm already working on becoming an screenwriter anyway, but I'm also working on the other things I want to do, too. So in retirement, my goal is to continue my travels, but to write my stories based in the places I'm visiting. I'll still be working I suppose, but writing is a when you want kind of thing - in most cases - so I don't really view it as work in the sense that I need to retire from it.

Good luck with figuring out what you want to do! Sometimes that's the biggest hurdle we face.

K-Money said...

Retirement means to me that I will not be making more money so I better have enough already. Enough means I can pay for health care, live in a paid for home, and have the financial freedom to enjoy my free time (travel, hobbies, keep up with technology).

Retirement also means I have the good health to enjoy it.

Frugalchick said...

The part about not sitting in retirement wondering about the past really resonates with me. I fall prey to that kind of thinking so often, and I always need to remember to just live out my dreams every day. Even the small things can add up to a great life.

Dawn said...

Fit Wallet - I have an amazing group of friends and a strong volunteer streak, but were it not for those two things - I'd be at home all the time!!

Kristy - Thank you so much! I work all sorts of jobs to make ends meet. It is a temporary situation, fortunately. Your retirement sounds wonderful - and best of luck with your screenwriting!!

K-Money, I couldn't agree more. I think that is pretty much the same conclusion I came to. For me retirement planning is about planning for tomorrow... and today.

FrugalChick - AMEN! I don't want to put off having a good life until "fill-in-the-blank." I want that now, even though I don't have a lot of extra money. But then again a good life isn't hedonistic uncontrolled spending, because worrying about the bill collectors is not part of an enjoyable life to me. So, it is just finding the things that make great memories - big and small that are important.

Catie said...

So many people think of life as a series of destinations. "When I get a promotion", "when the kids go to college", "when the house is paid off".... And it's true, there are things that give you more freedom in your life either by providing more time or more money. On the other hand, I think if you are always waiting for your happiness and basing it on future events... well, that's not the life I want to live.

I think you're in the right mindset. You are trying to prepare for something more than 30 years in the future, how accurate can you get?! Set aside the finances you can as quickly as you can so they can grow, and then putter in your garden (free!) and sit by the lake at your cottage (free!) and enjoy your life right now the same way you suspect you will want to enjoy it half a lifetime from now.

Dawn said...

Catie - that's it exactly! That is what I was struggling with and trying to get across. It occurs to me that if I wait until "fillintheblank" to do start my life, well, there are no guarantees - who knows if I will be physically able to do the things I want. Best to enjoy life to the fullest - and plan to continue to be able to do so!

Miss M said...

I don't know exactly what retirement means for me either, but I want to be prepared for it. Right now it mostly centers on being free to pursue my interests without worrying about money. So I save as much as I can and I'll figure out how to use it later.