Although I retired recently after working continuously in the United States for 35 years, I have been discussing retirement issues with family members, relatives and friends for about two years. As everybody retires sooner or later, I have studied this issue thoroughly, and developed strong views I would like to share.
One very important thing to reinforce at the very outset is everyone will have to decide for oneself when to retire, where to live after retirement, and what criteria to use to make these decisions. There are no silver bullets and a 'cookie-cutter' approach or 'one-size-fits-all' paradigm will simply not work. For example, in our case, weather is the least important criterion because if we have retired, we don't have to commute to work, so snow, sleet or ice doesn't cramp our style. Besides, my wife and I are not very outdoorsy and can do indoors all the exercises we want to do, all year around -- like stretching and exercise-biking. We will ultimately want to move close to the kids after we both retire, irrespective of where they live.
With respect to the timing of the retirement, I strongly feel one should retire as soon as one can financially afford to do so, especially if the kids are financially independent. Nobody on his deathbed regrets he didn't work long enough! It's best to enjoy life while one is still healthy enough to do so. What's the point in accumulating money all your life? After all, as they say, 'you can't take it with you, anyway!'
Don't pay attention to the formulae and spreadsheets financial planners use to scare you when they tell you how much money you should be making after retirement and what assets you must have in order to make sure you have the same standard of living after retirement as you do before it.
First of all, there is no need to maintain the same standard of living throughout your life. You need to gradually simplify your lifestyle so you can save money for long term care in your old age and to make things relatively simple for your kids after you are gone.
Too often, people blow too much of their savings on travel and frivolous items, thinking Medicare will take care of health needs. Well, Medicare doesn't pay for care for an extended period of time and while Medicaid does, you have to be in a very low income bracket to qualify for it. Therefore, unless you are filthy rich, you do need a lot saved up.
One very good reason to retire is to provide opportunities to the younger generation to move ahead. I will never forget the smile on the face of the person who got promoted in the wake of my retirement. Too often, people just keep working because they have no other interests outside of work. That is bad for the employer, for other employees, even for themselves. One needs to develop hobbies and non-work related interests way before one's retirement.
I have also noticed some people get emotionally attached to their co-workers and the very thought of retiring is depressing to them. Well, getting emotionally attached to co-workers makes as much sense as getting emotionally attached to a rental car! However, it does make sense to keep a good working relationship with co-workers.
There are definitely certain distinct advantages to leading a retired life, in that it allows you the freedom to do the things you always wanted to but never had time for. To me, retirement means I can do whatever I want to, whenever I want, as long as whatever I decide to do passes the 'SMEL' test -- where S stands for 'sustainable' (physically, emotionally, intellectually, financially, socially, and spiritually), M for 'moral', E for 'ethical' and L for 'legal'.
Pradeep lives in Michigan, USA.
Illustration: Dominic Xavier