We are lucky to be able to retire. It's an opportunity not available to many others in the world and, except for the rich and famous, was never available here in America either, until well into the 20th century. The problem is, there are no guarantees that come with retirement. So as we go forward we should remember that there are a few things retirees simply cannot afford to do . . . and maybe you know a few others that I haven't identified here.
1) We can't afford to ignore our finances. It doesn't matter how big our nest egg is or how generous our pension, we have to remember that we could easily live another 20 or 30 years -- all without a paycheck. We will inevitably go through a financial crisis or two, and perhaps another bout of inflation. The purchasing power of a pension that looks good today could dwindle if inflation returns. Ask your parents who lived through the 1970s and 80s. So we need to make sure our investments are diversified and our incomes derive from several sources, so if one asset runs into trouble the others will pick up the slack.
2) We can't afford to ignore our health. This is right in front of our eyes, but sometimes we don't see it. As we get older, our bodies become less tolerant of injury and more susceptible to disease. An injury we could recover from in two weeks when we were in our 30s now takes two months -- or we may never fully heal at all. So we need to get our checkups, eat right, sleep well, avoid stressful situations and get some exercise. But don't be foolhardy. Say yes to walking, hiking, playing tennis or golf. But don't go skiing, skateboarding or skydiving unless you really know what you're doing.
3) We can't afford to hold on to a large home. We like our suburban house with its backyard and tree-lined street. Perhaps we want to keep the old place so the kids will come home and show the place to the grandchildren. There may also be sentimental memories attached to the house. But again, remember that we now are getting older, and we are less able to clean and maintain a big three- or four-bedroom house, especially if it's showing its age and may need a new roof and new windows. We don't want to end up rattling around in a big old house that's falling down around our feet.
4) We can't afford to skip planning ahead. Retirement is not a destination; it's a starting point and may involve some time for transition. Life goes on, and so we can't think that all our decisions have been made. Someone may need to plan ahead for their creaky knees or painful hip and live in a place with a bedroom on the first floor. Maybe a divorced child will want to come back to live at home, or perhaps there's a grandchild in the future (as there now is in ours). Our job is to look ahead, as best we can, and set ourselves up for the most likely possibilities. We're retired, but we still may have to adapt our lifestyle to new situations.
5) We can't afford to lose our friends. Many older people are lonely. They've lost some friends and others have moved away. The kids may be halfway across the country. So we can't just plan where we're going to live and what we're going to do. We have to figure out who we're going to do it with. So we can't be shy about signing up at the local senior center or trying out a new activity where we can meet new people, whether it's joining a card group or taking a dance class. If we're going to relocate, we need to consider where our friends are going and whether we want to join them. Also, we need to make sure to find a community that will welcome us as newcomers, whether it's a retirement mecca, an over-55 community, or (what we're looking for) just a neighborhood with lots of friendly people.
6) We can't afford to take our family for granted. Our kids, or our siblings, may have been around so long that we assume they will always be there for us. But they can move away for a job or a new lifestyle. We need to make the effort to stay connected to family. Before anyone retires to Hawaii, Key West or another country, they should think about the family. And (as I keep reminding B), we shouldn't underestimate the pull of children and grandchildren. For most of us, they're worth sticking around for.