This “age old question” isn’t necessarily that old. Pre-1950’s, retirement seemed to be a time when your body just couldn’t work anymore… then in comes family to care for your needs. The second half of the twentieth century brought upon the pension-era, which allowed workers to enjoy those golden years with an income to support it. Remember, for a large portion of that time, 401k-type savings vehicles weren’t even an option.
Over time came the era of not only pensions, but 401k’s. This allowed employees to fund these golden years, defer taxes and actually think about what retirement means to them. It also gave them the opportunity to make a plan. I am sure this ability seemed like a luxury to our elders, who, in past eras, were forced to retire because they had to, not because they wanted to.
But with choice comes creativity. Creativity creates markets. And the culmination of this creates a quality of life that our present generation is lucky to have. Another example of how we must thank our elders for putting in the arduous work to get us here. Although, at the time, they were just doing their job to feed their family and create a better world.
Now we all have the luxury of asking that question, “what does retirement mean?” As humans, we are built to move, to excel, to always move forward. Unfortunately, history paints a picture of many retirees who dream of sitting still, slowing down and just stopping. Many just watching from the sidelines. Is it mindset? Is it health? It is likely a combination of both. But this mindset and vision about retirement begins at an earlier time in our working years. We learned what retirement meant to our grandparents, then our parents and to some extent, investment firms telling you what retirement should look like. All in an effort to hawk their next product to make your dreams come true. Or better yet, the Social Security Administration slapping the term “full retirement age” onto your benefits and retirees taking this age literally. Think about it: if Medicare coverage started at age 62 instead of the current age of 65, would people consider age 65 the benchmark for retirement? (Don't be fooled, annuity companies and many in the investment world like savers, not spenders. They will be the last to encourage living simpler on less, earlier that absolutely necessary) This paints the picture that we know. Fortunately, we are seeing a new mindset around retirement in today’s working generation.
Many folks have shifted from a “things” mindset to an “experience” mindset. No matter how old you are, you can have more things. But health can dictate the success around experience. This is likely why we are seeing the FIRE (Financial Independence Retire Early) Movement, as well as seeing people look for smaller homes, as opposed to a “bigger is better” mentality. A large home can be a time suck—taking away from the opportunity to go and enjoy experiences.
Retirement is now taking on a meaning that is different to everyone. For some it is travel. For others it may mean downsizing, purging and simplifying. And for many, it means getting out of the rat race to work at something they always dreamt of doing, without the stress of making ends meet. Less can actually mean more. A recent New York Times survey asked readers about retirement dreams and 30% cited some form of paid work: 13% percent pursuing an encore career, 13% starting a business and/or 11% continuing to work in the same field. At the end of the day, they do it out of passion and hit that enlightened state.
We live in an amazing time—a time when retirement truly can be “part of the ride” instead of “extra innings.” We have a unique opportunity at our fingertips, especially the fact that we have better healthcare than at any other time of existence. Regardless of how old you are, the game of life doesn’t have “time outs,” nor does it have a time clock. So I say: “Make it count. Enjoy the ride!”