Financial Life Focus

How to clearly navigate your financial life

Denying Deniability

For many, finding happiness in retirement represents a significant challenge!

"I'd thought about retirement but it never really made much sense. In fact, I assumed I'd never retired. Me and my business were one and the same. There was no business without me, and there is no me without my business. I never thought I'd sell the business....but the offer was too much to walk away from."
I listened to my client intently. The intensity of his feeling and emotions were plain to see and feel. His story is not unique.

Today is your last ever day of work. A golden light emanates from above. As much as you love your business, the thought of freedom brings great joy. Ahhhhh....heaven on earth. You've made it!

"Six years have gone by. I've done everything right, including a slow transition from working every day to complete retirement. I play tennis, take care of my granddaughter, read, take classes and even do some volunteer work, but six years later I still feel like I'm in transition. To be honest, it's been tough. I wonder if it would have been easier to just keep working."

We're born and we age. It's like the tide sweeping onto the shoreline-inevitable. But for some reason, many of us turn our backs and ignore the oncoming wave. There are two choices: to consider, imagine and try to prepare for the future, or to distract ourselves into believing that it will all take care of itself. For the former, retirement is still a transition of monumental proportions. For the latter, it is a full-fledged Tsunami coming right to your shore. The choice is yours.

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I watched my father in retirement, puttering around the house, fixing, painting, doing, until my mother decided it was time to move into a condo in Florida. The rules prohibited puttering, fixing, painting and doing. He withered and died. It's a story I have heard or witnessed countless times. The players and locations change, but the outcomes are constant.

The fact is, we can't know what is over the horizon. But that should not prevent us from thinking about it very consciously. To prepare for retirement, and really for any transition, we should look closely at the various facets of our lives: Work, Health, Finance, Leisure, Family, Community and Personal Growth.

Have you ever assessed your current state of satisfaction in each of these departments? Regardless of your current life stage or age, it's time to quantify each area. Try the following exercise: Write the list of the categories listed above. Next to each item, rate them from 1-10 (10 being the highest level of satisfaction). Don't rush through this. Take the time necessary to rate your satisfaction.
Once completed, think of what steps might be necessary to increase your satisfaction one point. For example, if you looked at your health and rated it a five; think about what six or seven might look like. What steps would you need to take to increase your level of satisfaction in this area? Write down these steps and make them specific and doable. So, flying or invisibility skills are not allowed to be included as a specific step in increasing your happiness.

This exercise is an important step in assessing your current life and thinking about what the next step might be like. For example, if your financial health is shaky, certainly you wouldn't want to be facing retirement in that state. What do you need to focus on now, in order to position yourself for success and satisfaction? What habits do you need to build, or break, in order to support your goals? For example, if you want to lose thirty pounds in the next year, it might be best to create an eating and exercise plan that puts you on track. Let's take the example a bit further. Losing thirty pounds means you need to lose a little more than one half pound per week. How many net calories do you need to reduce to achieve that goal? Figure it out. Don't just assume it will take care of itself. How many diets work that way? It's the same with spending and savings.

It would be just so perfect if these complications didn't arise or the unimaginable didn't occur. Mickey Mantle, my childhood hero, was quoted as saying "If I knew I was going to live this long, I'd have taken better care of myself." If only I'd had the chance to work with him!

In a recent meeting, with a young couple in their 30's, I broached the topic of building a life that is about more than making money. I heard exactly what I'd expected.

"We have no time to thinking about these other things; community, leisure, growth! Growth, what's that?"
"It's whatever you want it to be." I replied. "It could mean reading something that interests you, or exploring something you've always wanted to learn."
"Between the baby, work and paying the bills, we have no time for anything else!"
"Are you satisfied with your life?" I asked.
"Hah!" The looked at each other and rolled their eyes. "We don't have time to even think about it."
"Take a minute now and think about it. Think about how you feel. "If you could make one small change, what would it be and how would it improve your life. I'll be back in ten minutes to talk about what you've discovered."

Ten minutes later, I returned to the conversation. "Well, what did you two come up with?"

They looked at each other again, this time without rolling their eyes. "Okay, we thought about this and came up with one thing each. I would love to be able to increase my workout time from two to four times a week and Shelly wants to get back to taking two yoga classes a week. If we could do that, we would feel better balanced and it certainly wouldn't put a strain on our budget. The biggest problem is child care."
I listened intently to their simple, yet heartfelt ideas that would increase their level of life satisfaction.

"Could you enlist your father to fill in during those few hours? He's retired and I cannot imagine he'd turn down the opportunity to spend time with his granddaughter!"

 

Michael F. Kay, a Certified Financial Planner, practitioner and a CPA, is president of the firm Financial Life Focus.

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