Sixty and 6,000 Days – The Good, Bad, and the Ugly

Retirement reflections dance behind my eyelid. I’m reminded ours is a nation in decline as I slide back into my hammock hung between two ancient pines. The river roars past me making its way south to the Rio Grande. Great rivers form the earth’s circulatory system revealing Mother Earths health and well being. Rivers also provide us answers to our questions. All too often rivers prompt us to ask better questions. How many of us are truly financially prepared for retirement?

Turning on my side I ask my question directly to the river. Am I truly financially prepared for retirement? Weather is moving in, birds are chattering, the current seems to be moving faster. Feels like wading in now would result in getting washed downstream. Many would argue it is all about hitting a magic number.  It’s good to hit that number whatever it is but I still disagree.  “The American Psychological Association recently published an analysis of multiple studies. Researchers from Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand analyzed questionnaires from 420,000 people in 63 countries. “Having the freedom to change careers or pursue our passions makes us happier than does a hefty bank account.” “So while wealth can provide you with more choices; it is really having the ability to realize your dreams that leads to greater happiness,” says study coauthor Ronald Fischer, Ph.D.”

Basic needs aside (See Maslow’s Hierarchy of Basic Needs) money does not necessarily ensure one’s happiness in retirement. Hitting one’s magic number by saving early and aggressively is a remarkable achievement, worthy of praise and emulation. For others not so fortunate comparing their financial circumstances to that of others living in say Hattie may offer little comfort. Today and tomorrow’s economic uncertainty is the fly in the ointment. Health care costs are the elephant in the room. If one were to think about it; whom was it that had the most difficult time while ship wrecked on Gilligan’s Island?  Whether you are Bull or Bear or both on the next 30 years the question for retirees really is “What has yet to happen?”

Good economic news abounds; DOW is up and breaks 1300, tech stocks are back, data on auto sales, manufacturing and consumer confidence are solidifying. Job creation is rising while the unemployment rate is dropping. But what has yet to come? Answer, increased global/domestic austerity measures, and decade long painstakingly slow growth of the U.S. economy. The federal debt of $61.6 trillion equates to $534,000 per individual household and only tells us what the government owes to the public. “It doesn’t take into account what’s owed to seniors, veterans, and retired employees,” says account Sheila Weinberg, founder for the Institute for the Truth in Accounting, a Chicago-based group that advocates better financial reporting.

What is the actual size of a U.S. citizen’s bill to be paid collectively on the day (s) of reckoning on potentially eight -ten trillion dollars, likely half of this decades U.S. debt? This represents roughly 89k per household over this decade. For the sake of argument let’s say the second round of cuts (two trillion) after the initial four trillion currently in play is then followed by another two-four trillion. This third round of U.S. debt reduction will likely alter a bit the way America looks to most any retiree. However these changes will prove manageable for those properly prepared.

I assert performing creative work for compensation or not all throughout one’s retirement years is as good as it gets irrespective of one’s financial situation good or bad. It is the key to one’s happiness in retirement!

We all have something that speaks to us. I’m retired and as busy as I want to be creatively. I’m excited to see what kind of writer/speaker, High School basketball official/coach, and photographer I will become in older age. I am neither bored, nor unprepared nor needy the root of unhappiness. I’m happy because I executed my plan, and I’m growing creatively every day. I get to play.

Getting lost in what one loves doing is the easiest way to find ones rhythm in life. It’s similar to being in the zone when shooting a basketball. Being in the natural, playful flow of life helps one to better distinguish between fake and authentic happiness. Since retirement is not a rehearsal this distinction is critical. When we perform creative work we get to play. Play stimulates creativity and we get lost again in what we love to do, that which we are best suited to do.

Creative work helps keep one’s mind sharp, maintain a routine, make new friends, and develop new interests. Creative work also serves as an insurance policy for those who may find they want or need informal income in retirement. When feasible performing creative work as a second job grows a bigger nest egg and ensures healthier streams of informal income more quickly in retirement. Due to rapidly changing economic paradigms and or health related issues too many workers may be forced to leave the work force sooner than expected. Effective transition to creative work helps ensure individuals will outlive their money.

Baby Boomers will hit entitlement program budgets hard while at the same time they will be exiting their big spending years. Unfortunately our economy relies too heavily on consumer spending. Military conflicts and increased demand from China and India will likely increase the cost of oil. The growing divide between the have and have not’s, and the European debt crisis helps fuel continued economic uncertainty.

In my view it comes down to our nation’s new economic fragility. How well we retirees weather the economic storm fronts on the horizon will be determined to a large extent by our own ability to ensure our own “future micro economic” certainty. Honestly I have no idea exactly what economically speaking is going to happen over the next 30 years. My gut tells me things will be different (more chaotic) then they’ve been over the last 30 years. Greater personal economic self-reliance is the new mantra.  Staring intently into crystal clear, braided pocket water, I smile, recalling how yesterday I was getting lost in what I love doing. Today I’m trying not worry about the things I can’t control. Instead I’m developing multiple streams of informal income from creative work without relinquishing my freedom. I schedule creative work around my life. I genuinely enjoy being as busy as I want to be creatively. I’m laser focused on what I can control fueled by the faith it is all worthwhile no matter what.


About Roger O'Keefe

My background is in education and finance. I'm a published author and photographer, former radio talk show host, and creative retirement planning expert. My work is a love of labor, I do not sell any products of any kind. I've appeared as a guest on more than 50 national and local television and radio shows. With a Masters in education, I'm a licensed educator and author of the “Future Bright Program” and the California State Department of Education “Teacher Appreciation Program.” I'm a member of the American Association of Retired Persons and the National Care Planning Council NCPC. I'm currently writing my second book and reside in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. My mission is to reshape retirement planning one person at a time. Please visit my website and take advantage of the many complimentary online seminars, resources, and retirement planning tools.
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