In financial circles the big push is to get people to save enough money so that they can retire in comfort. That’s a noble goal, but the fact is that more and more people aren’t going to be able to retire, at least not in the way that they dream about. Pensions are a thing of the past, Social Security is iffy at best, and many people simply haven’t saved enough to cover both ridiculous health care expenses and a life of leisure.
We all dream of the life of leisure, the daily golf game, and the fantastic trips, but reality is likely to be somewhat different than our dreams because the money just won’t be there. Nobody wants to talk about what happens at that point. So what happens if you arrive at your retirement age, or you get close, and you discover that you don’t have enough? What can you do, beyond saving as much as possible?
The most obvious answer is to work longer. Putting off retirement for even a couple of years gives you a chance to save even more money. You don’t have to work at your current 9 to 5 job, either. Maybe you take this opportunity to start your own business or take a job in a field you always wanted to try. If you have to keep working, no one says that it has to be in a job you hate. In fact, continuing to work well past retirement age, even if only part time, not only allows you to save more money, it may save your sanity. We all think we want to quit working but a lot of retirees, after living the life of leisure for a couple of months, find that they are bored and that they miss making a contribution somewhere. They miss the socialization, too. If you can find work that you love, you may find that you prefer to keep working.
The other thing you can do is to adjust your expectations for your retirement. In other words, get real with yourself. If you know you don’t have a lot of money, don’t delude yourself. Don’t retire and then go on a binge of trips and leisure activities and drain your resources within the first five years of retirement. Adjust your expectations downward. Realize that you can’t take five luxury trips a year and be happy with one budget trip. Realize that you may have to work and find a way to be okay with that. Accept that you may have to sell the big house and move to a condo. Don’t dwell on what cannot be or waste your remaining time asking “what if.” Get out there and do what you can, but be realistic about it and accept that maybe you have to reduce your expectations a bit.
Retiring into a life of leisure is a fairly recent concept. Our grandparents worked until their health failed and they had no choice but to stop. Maybe they scaled back on their hours, but they still worked. The idea of simply sitting around and doing nothing or traveling full time is a new idea (made possible by a marketing machine that wants to push seniors into all kinds of activities) and it’s an idea that simply may not be possible or even advisable. We live longer now and if you retire at sixty-five, your money may very well have to last thirty years. Unless you have a lot of money, the retirement ideal that is pushed by the marketers is a distant dream. Thanks to rising health care costs, even with the best savings habits in the world you may still not have enough to support yourself without working at all for the remaining years of your life. And if you can? Great, but keeping yourself active and involved in something is likely to keep you healthy and mentally strong much longer than doing nothing but playing golf all day.
The better answer may be to gradually phase working out of your life. Maybe at sixty-five you trade in the 9 to 5 desk job for a job in a museum or something else that you really enjoy. Or you piece together a couple of part time jobs. Then at seventy you scale back to part time hours. At seventy-five, maybe your income comes from a hobby that you can pursue at home and turn into a little cash. Maybe you work at that until your health prevents you from working at all. You can still have some of the joys of retirement on such a plan because you’re working a “job,” no longer chasing a “career” that sucks up all of your time. You can travel and spend time with the grandkids, but still have some money coming in on the side while keeping yourself engaged in society.
Certainly you should strive to save as much as you can during your prime earning years. Whatever your “retirement” consists of, you can bet that big health care expenses are going to be part of it and you’ll want enough money to take care of yourself without subjecting yourself to government assistance. But if you end up having to work a little longer than you hope or you end up with a smaller retirement budget than you dream of, it doesn’t have to be the end of the world. There are positives to a “retirement” that still includes work.