Living Wealthy vs. Real Wealth

“You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.” Maya Angelou

The Creative Caretaker – Paradise on a Shoestring


Dylan’s “Times Are a Changing” plays on Jack’s IPod and Bose speakers. How could turning 55 a year ago, discovering his retirement plan was somewhat inadequate due to heavy losses in the market, be a blessing? A year ago this bachelor was living downtown, in a big city, in a tall building along with countless others. What to do? Slug it out in the corporate world for another 15 years and make – up his loses? Jack is bored to tears by this prospect. What happens if he is forced to leave the workforce sooner than expected? What to do?

Today he lives outside a small town in the Mountains on ten wooded acres, home to deer, elk, and fruit trees next to a river filled with wild trout. After a quick review of his finances it was clear that unlike Johnny Depp he wouldn’t be buying an island in the Caribbean to “bug out” on (if warranted) anytime soon. Unlike Johnny Depp, he was quite concerned about outliving his money. He decided to get creative. He created options for himself.

First he addressed his housing costs, killing two birds with one stone he also determined where to best live in retirement. Jack’s able to continuously reduce his housing costs to almost nothing depending on how hard he wishes to work at it. He lives in a beautiful guest house and is the groundskeeper of a multi-million dollar property. He’s joined a local farming co-op where he meets new people and works the land a couple of hours a week in exchange for healthy food. He is also considering becoming a WWOOfing (willing workers on organic farms) providing opportunities for him to learn organic farming which he himself will do next spring. He catches trout and hunts elk which he freezes for the winter. He recently began canning and freeze drying. At harvest time, he volunteers at local fruit and nut growers in exchange for fruit that he cans for the winter. Jack has also benefited from local online barter networks, trading his time for tee times as well as membership to a gym.

This approach is really driven by a genuine interest in organic gardening, eating healthy, playing golf and working – out at the gym. It is also a great way to meet people, exercise and learn new things. Jack over – budgets his monthly food expenditures, and still lives well below his means. The fact he saves 20- 25% of his monthly food budget is icing on the cake. The savings is not a factor today but down the road it is nice to know he has these savings in his back pocket should he need it. Jack has created his food & energy emergency fund in which all food & energy savings are deposited for a rainy day.

To help control his energy costs he works from home eliminating his commute to work. He often rides his bike, he also has an electric bike too (charged directly by solar panels).  Jack enjoys moving his body every day. Biking for exercise and sometimes for his food (bikes to the store) motivates him. The mountain scenery and all the folks he meets along the way are a plus. This lifestyle approach cut his gasoline expenses in half. All his lights, heaters, fans, TV’s appliances, etc. are on surge protectors that he can easily turn off in each room when not in use. He has also learned how to make his own solar panels for less than $200.00 each. Jack drives often enough, whenever he wants really but he enjoys biking too.

A wood-burning fireplace offsets much of his winter heating bill. Wood is abundant on the property because trees are regularly trimmed to prevent forest fires. He also collects rainwater,  and can access river water legally easily utilizing a solar pump for his future organic garden.

Jack over – budgets his monthly energy expenditures, and still lives well below his means. The fact he saves 25% – 50% of his monthly energy budget is icing on the cake. The savings is not a factor today but down the road it is nice to know he has these savings in his back pocket should he need it. Jack has created his food & energy emergency fund in which all food & energy savings are deposited for a rainy day. In the event that rainy day never comes these monies will be used to fund the final remaining items on his bucket list.

Jack has baked in the risk of future higher food and energy costs, inflation and a weakened dollar into his monthly budget. This approach still allows Jack to live well below his means. Since he over – budgets food and buys organic today he can always reduce his food expenses in the future before tapping into his emergency food fund.

His focus long-term is simply to keep an eye on whether or not his traditional retirement income streams are keeping up with the inflation rate which is tied to the CPI and does not include food and energy price increases. In the event they are not then he recognizes he may need to add a small stream of informal income from creative work or that he’ll have to get by on the emergency food & energy savings fund or both. Having multiple informal streams of income from performing creative work, and multiple ways to reduce his monthly food, energy and housing expenses has resulted in economic security. His pension benefit has a (COLA) cost of living adjustment so this approach protects his pension since his COLA does not include the cost of food and energy. More importantly it also protects his nest egg which has no COLA. His traditional retirement plan covers all the bases, his creative retirement strategies are in his back pocket if he needs options down the road. Jack has peace of mind.

Jack has created the life he wants for himself in retirement. For Jack the freedom to enjoy outdoor activities and connect with nature is key to his happiness. Trading his time for housing costs gets him exactly where he wants to be. Having the time, physical health, and where – with – all to spend his retirement days having fun surrounded by nature is a blessing. The fact most outdoor recreational activities are inexpensive or free is priceless. Since he lives in the mountains if one day the winters become too much he has an RV down in Mexico he can enjoy during the winter months catching Marlin instead of trout.

For Jack life has become a much simpler equation. Does he want the latest 4×4 SUV, fly fishing, snow skiing cycling, tennis and golf equipment, and all the financial responsibilities that comes with them? Or is Jack happier with the lesser financial responsibilities and the older equipment that comes with that approach? Jack loves fly fishing, snow skiing, cycling, tennis, and golf. Jack finds real pleasure in doing these things. Thanks to planning creatively; Jack finally has the right amount of time, the right amount of money, and he lives in the right place, the perfect place for him. He’s taken the uncertainty out of living in older age.

No one retirement fits all, just as no single tree is exactly the same as another in the forest. Creating a retirement for oneself that is “spot on” is real wealth. The kind of wealth that last’s a lifetime, a lifetime of happiness and economic security.


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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