I talked recently with some friends about their money struggles. The Recession ate their Retirement. They intended to stop working in two years and enjoy the nest they’d feathered lo these many years. Now they just don’t have enough money. Our conversation inspired me to offer a free tele-class on Rethinking Retirement. The Your Money or Your Life approach liberated their thinking – and I think the conversation itself liberated some new ideas in me. The teleclass will be a rich conversation with prompts – ideas and questions – from me, but lots of time for you to share your woes and wows and discover together what retirement means now. But back to my friends… Like me, they had a lifelong preference for simple living and service, but as they succeeded in their professions and their income increased, their sense of how much was enough ratcheted up as well. Until this year. Then their practice ratcheted down while servicing their debt remained at pre-crash highs. What to do?
1. First they argued. The one who did the books tried to constrain the other. That didn’t work. So they took a weekend together and did a financial review.
Discovery: They looked at where their assumptions got them overspending for no real benefit. For example, they have no children but carry life insurance basically because they are so far into debt they don’t want the remaining partner to lose everything else when they lose their beloved. Yes, but… they decided to shrink rather than expand their debt – and use the “profit” from their canceled policies to do it. The wife is the daughter of an insurance salesman, growing up with the notion “You can never have too much insurance.” But they did. Paring down to the truly practical and necessary cut tens of thousands of dollars off their annual bill.
2. They were struggling with all they were losing – not just the money but the sense that they could have whatever they wanted ad infinitum.
Discovery: I asked them: “What has gotten better because of what has apparently gone wrong?” Their life is getting simpler – again. They lost simplicity in their years of professional success. They had staff and too much property to take care of. We looked at what among there expenses could be eliminated that would give them relief and freedom, rather than deprivation. How many are enough musical instruments? How much is enough remodeling? How much is enough ambition, if it means supervising and paying a large staff to make it happen? In other words, they were beyond their enough point by miles. Their habit of accumulating to find happiness had gone over the top. Now it’s time to shed possessions, expectations, responsibilities until that enough feeling comes back. They needed to digest what they have, not pack more in.
3. They were despondent that the option of retiring soon had skittered away from them.
Discovery: When we talked about their professional lives it seemed that the fame and fortune that had once been thrilling now felt like a burden. Why? Turns out they’ve become well known for a specialty that is lucrative but isn’t what rings their chimes now. They actually don’t want to stop working. They want to stop working too much in ways that bring no joy. It was clear that they loved the profession but wanted to do it differently.
Rethinking retirement does not have to be a tragedy. It can be a golden opportunity to question assumptions, comb through habitual spending looking for the unnecessary unto the ridiculous and re-examine what kind of work is right for you now, knowing that until the day you die you can be happy and productive.