A Satisfying Retirement With Limited Resources – Can That Work? by Bob Lowry
Here are two retirement questions that are asked on a regular basis:
“If savings and investments are not sufficient to live the way I hoped to, can retirement still be a happy experience?”
“If I must depend on Social Security for the bulk of my monthly income, what are my prospects?”
I grew up in America. I was taught that continuous consumption is good and essential to our way of life. I learned that money is important and powerful. I believed that more money and possessions equaled more happiness.
Without questioning the reasons or justification, I bought the “work hard, make lots of money, and you are a success” mantra.
I was mislead. Not until my retirement did I understand the real correlation between one’s financial situation and happiness:
a) consumption is not always good nor is it connected to a positive way of life.
b) money is not necessaarily linked to importance or power.
c) money and possessions do not equal happiness.
With that foundation, let me answer the two questions:
Yes, and good.
I’m not trying to be flippant. Rather, if nothing else after 17 years of retirement, the experience of writing this blog and interacting with tens of thousands of people, I have been allowed to see some serious fallacies behind the assumptions most of us carry with us.
Sure, having investments or a pension that produce a reliable income and savings that can cover a major crisis, lifestyle changes, monetary help for family members, or a way of satisfying some bucket list wants is nice. All of us would probably prefer that situation.
But the reality is, not all of us do. Many of us don’t even come close to that dream. Among all retirees, 21% of married couples and 43% of singles rely on just Social Security for 90% of their total income. That equals tens of millions of people. Of course, there are way too many who are desperately poor due to a combination of factors that I can’t adequately address in this post.
But, for those who might ask the questions that opened this post, what do these folks do? How do they spend their retirement years? Is it possible to be happy and have good prospects?
My most important suggestion has nothing to do with money. It has to do with accepting adjustments. Maybe you thought your retirement would include travel, maybe even a vacation home, lots of meals out, season tickets to the ballgames or orchestra…..whatever you pictured in your mind.
That isn’t the way things turned out. That is the reality. But, it doesn’t have to dictate whether your retirement is happy or not. It shouldn’t make you feel like you’re “failing” retirement because you can’t do what others can. Your financial resources may set boundaries on retirement, but it absolutely doesn’t have to determine what happens within those boundaries. That is still within your control.
Sure, living solely on Social Security or a smaller savings account means you may have to change your living arrangements: living with family, having a roommate, living in a manufactured home instead of your apartment or house. Your food choices will be more limited, but as we age we eat less and require less to maintain a healthy weight.
The number of free things you have access would overwhelm most people in the world. Libraries, concerts, educational classes, health clinics, meals and activities at the local senior center. Oh, and let’s not forget one of the real joys of life: interacting with family and friends doesn’t have to cost a penny.
Discount prescription drugs are increasingly available. Most senior centers schedule low cost day trips to the type of places tourists may spend hundreds of dollars to visit. Need a massage or hair styling? Go to a local barber college or massage school. You are likely to find vastly reduced prices since students have to perfect their skills on someone.
For many the spiritual side of life provides comfort and a sense of belonging. Churches and other organizations provide friendship and support. Even if you prefer to walk a spiritual path alone, your beliefs provide support and purpose to your life. This fits any budget.
Access to a computer opens up an endless world of knowledge, games, interactions with others, videos, studying a subject that interests you, and learning a new skill. If your budget doesn’t stretch enough to cover an Internet service, every library in the country has computers available for use by anyone.
Is your smartphone eating up too much of your budget? Several companies offer a basic talk and text service for a fraction of what the big boys charge. Can’t justify the cost of a streaming service like Netflix? I’ll point you back to the library with thousands of DVDs available to take home.
In addition to adjustments I will add one more “A” word to this post: Attitude. Being happy and content is an internal function, a decision made by you. It has nothing to do with finances. Sitting in a park on a beautiful day, eating a peanut butter sandwich and washing it down with a bottle of water costs virtually nothing but can add a tremendously positive experience to your day.
Financial resources do not have to determine how satisfying a retirement lifestyleis. Too many people don’t believe that and end up dispirited and defeated. Don’t accept that as your fate.
A satisfying retirement and limited resources can work. Trust me.
By Bob Lowry