By Dave Hughes, August 17, 2017, US News and World Report
When you retire, a wide array of new possibilities become available to you. You have the opportunity to create a life that’s determined by your interests, desires and priorities, unencumbered by the constraint of having to earn a living. Yet many people don’t take advantage of the possibilities that retirement offers. They just continue with their daily routine, minus the job. Here are nine suggestions for how to get the most out of your retirement years. Most of them cost little or no money, but they may require some effort, new habits and a positive attitude adjustment.
Be open to adventure. Most of us are creatures of habit and routine. If you don’t add some new things to your life when you stop working, then everything that’s part of your current routine will just expand to fill the time vacated by work, probably supplemented by more time spent watching TV. After you leave work, try some new things. Be open to new adventures. Don’t say yes to things you don’t want to do, but don’t say no due to fear of leaving your comfort zone.
Create a new identity. When you are working you have a job identity, such as doctor, engineer, teacher, accountant or manager. When you meet someone new and they ask what you do, you have a ready answer. After you retire, what will you say? Saying you are a retired doctor or a former teacher lets the other person know what you did, but not what you’re doing now. Simply saying you are retired doesn’t tell your new acquaintance much about you either. Being retired shouldn’t mean there’s nothing interesting about you.
So create a new identity for yourself. If you are working on your memoir or writing the great American novel, you’re an author. If you plan to travel a lot, you’re an explorer. If you have dusted off your trumpet and you’re playing in a community band, you’re a musician. Create a role for yourself that is descriptive, inspiring and opens the door for further conversation. You may have several roles.
Set some goals, and then create a schedule and a plan. You probably have some ideas about what you want to do after you retire, such as places you want to travel, hobbies or interests you want to spend time on or new things you want to learn. You may have compiled some of these goals into a bucket list. If you haven’t written them down yet, you may find doing that to be very helpful. But simply creating a list is only part of the process. Unless you create specific plans for accomplishing things on your list, then all of these goals are likely to remain things you’ll do someday – and that illusive someday may never arrive.
So look at your list and select the first few things you want to accomplish. Set a date for each of them. Write down what you’ll need to do to make each of them a reality and get started. For example, if one of your goals is to visit France, decide that you’re going to go in May of next year. Create a list of steps such as making airplane reservations, making hotel reservations, renewing your passport and gathering information on what you want to see once you get there. Do this for each of the first few items on your list, and then update your list and your plans periodically.
Make plans for upcoming birthdays, holidays and special events. While major trips and events come along only occasionally, smaller special occasions occur far more frequently. Taking advantage of them just requires a little advance planning, but that effort will result in memorable, quality time spent with those you love and a life filled with purposeful enjoyment. As an added benefit, you’ll always have something coming up to look forward to.
All you need is a wall calendar or scheduling software for your computer or phone, such as Outlook or Google Calendar. Enter each significant birthday, anniversary, holiday or other event in the tool, and then set them to recur annually and set the advance notification feature to remind you at least two weeks in advance. If you use a wall calendar, make sure you allow yourself time at the end of each year to transfer all of your important dates to next year’s calendar. You may want to use sticky notes on the prior month’s page to remind you of events coming up.
Create and nurture a network of people you enjoy. Friends come and go throughout your life. When you leave your job or move, you’ll leave many of those friends behind. It’s up to you to keep the flow of new friends coming into your life to replenish those who naturally drift away for one reason or another. Just as the curator of an art museum seeks out the best artwork to display at his or her museum, you can think of yourself as a curator of quality friends for your life. Choose people who are positive and supportive and have qualities you value. Steer clear of people who constantly complain and gossip about others. Of course, you should be civil and polite with everyone, but you are not obligated to be friends with people just because you are related to them, you work with them, they go to your church or you’ve known them for years.
Continue to learn and grow. After you leave work, you may be grateful to be relieved of the stress of making difficult decisions and the pressure to keep up with industry trends and new information. That doesn’t mean you should shut off your brain and coast for your remaining years. One of the best ways to keep your days enjoyable and purposeful is to indulge your curiosity. Learning can be fun during retirement because you can choose to learn about the topics that are most interesting to you. You don’t have to worry about studying for exams or being graded. You can read books, visit museums, take classes, seek information on the internet, engage people in discussions – the possibilities are limitless. Staying mentally stimulated is one of the best ways to keep your retirement interesting.
Spend your money – wisely, of course. You would be surprised how many people live through their whole retirement and leave most of their money unspent. Throughout your working years, you have been conditioned to save money for retirement. Often, it’s difficult to adjust your mindset so that you can allow yourself to spend some of that money you have saved. While everyone’s situation is unique, a widely accepted guideline is that you can spend 4 percent of your portfolio each year and not run out of money. Check with a financial advisor to determine how much money you can safely spend each year. You may find that you can take that vacation or buy that convertible you have wanted. Live a little.
Get rid of possessions you no longer need. Just as it’s important to adjust your mindset from saving money to spending it, it’s also helpful to adjust your mindset from accumulating possessions to getting rid of them. Maybe you have amassed a large collection of books, movies or music that is just sitting on your shelves collecting dust. Your closets may be overflowing with clothes that you haven’t worn in years. Perhaps your guest bedroom has turned into a walk-in storage facility and your garage is so full you can’t park your car in it. Regardless of whether you sell, donate, recycle or throw away all those things you’ll probably never use again, you’ll feel better once they are gone. You will have fewer things to clean and keep organized. If you move, you will have fewer things to pack. Most people who declutter and tidy their home are glad they did it. People rarely miss those old possessions after they get rid of them.
Enjoy each day. Despite your best intentions and plans, you may not get to do everything you hope to do during your retirement. You may experience a physical setback that eliminates some things from your bucket list. You may realize that there are a few things you won’t be able to afford. Or, sadly, you may pass away before you get to everything. While it’s wonderful to have goals and plans for the future, the most important determinant of whether you will have a happy retirement is whether you enjoy each day as it comes along. As you are getting ready for bed each night, think back on your day. Did you enjoy it? If not, why not? Figure out what you can add or eliminate from your life so that you will enjoy each day a little more. Sometimes an average day can turn into a great day with a little spontaneity. If it’s a nice afternoon, find something to do outside. On a whim, call a friend and ask if they would like to have lunch or dinner with you. If the day seems too routine, do something out of the ordinary. When you’re retired, you have more freedom to do what you want with each day. Avail yourself of that freedom. Time spent doing something you enjoy is time very well spent.
To Your Successful Retirement!
Michael Ginsberg, JD, CFP®