Benjamin Franklin is often quoted as saying, "Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man (or woman) healthy, wealthy and wise." With a little stretch this same quote can be applied to having a successful retirement. Being healthy is the first requirement for enjoying one's sunset years, followed by having an adequate income. And finally, the accumulation of experience and wisdom will give this final phase of your life significance, value and meaning. To encourage you to think along these lines, these three concepts are expanded below.
The first concern when planning for retirement is health and wellness. If you are not in great shape for your age and have lost strength and vitality, the other concerns such as "will my money last?" or "what will I do during those sunset years?" are meaningless. An interesting survey from the National Bureau of Economic Research by James Poterba, Steven Venti and David Wise shows that being healthy in retirement cuts both ways: individuals in their 50s who were in the healthiest 20 percent not only had three times the assets of the least healthy but also spent down their capital more slowly. Poterba states, "People in good health have lower health care costs, so they have less of a drain on their resources."1
Today, whether you are in your 30s or are only a few years from retirement, it is important to know your biochemical numbers:
What is your cholesterol level? If it is under 145 mg/dL it is unlikely that you will have heart disease, but if it's over 200 mg/dL you are twice as likely to have a heart attack as even the average American.
What about your hypertension numbers? Is your blood pressure in the excellent range of 110/85? Or sadly, you don't know what it is and might be among the 20 percent of adults totally unaware that they have high blood pressure or its consequences on their cardiovascular system.
What about your glucose? Is it under 95, the ideal, or will you go into retirement like a third of Americans who are unaware that they are diabetic and with no thought of the after-effects of daily dialysis, kidney failure or neuropathy?
Even if your family history indicates that you are prone to high blood pressure or high glucose, you don't have to resign yourself to that condition. New research on genes, called "epigenetics," indicates that 70 percent of your health and well-being is up to you, not your forefathers. Learning as much as you can and putting into practice the fundamental wellness principles of nutrition, physical exercise, positive attitude, beneficial sleep habits, loving people and reducing stress will add years to the retirement phase of your life.
In today's volatile markets relying on your portfolio can sometimes seem futile. However, if during your working years you matched your employer's 401k or 403b contribution, added at least 10 percent extra in savings and diversified your stocks and other money funds, you can expect to draw between two to four percent during your retirement years.
Two additional areas that will make life a little easier are having a part-time job and having absolutely no debt.
After age 45 your knowledge and life experience are more important than your credentials. This is also true at 65 or 70 when for whatever reason you need or wish to stay in the work place. Employers like to see that you not only are competent, but still learning and adapting. Taking short courses in areas of interest and pursuing projects that force you to master new proficiencies or technology will help your marketability.
Being debt-free should be the goal of every individual and couple as they face their sunny retirement years. One of the guidelines my wife and I determined to follow for retirement was that we could not even think about it until we had retired our mortgage, and fortunately, now that we are at retirement age our house is debt free. However, surveys indicate that 70 percent of Baby Boomers are planning to pay off their house in their retirement years. Add to that the fact that more and more individuals of retirement age are straddled with school debt and that over 20 percent were not on track to get credit cards paid off. Some financial planners call the five years before retirement the most important block of time in your life. It is the time during which you should give serious planning to your budget and expenses for your retirement years.
An area that secular retirement specialists fail to talk or write about is how we spend the last third of our lives. I believe some of that time should be devoted to giving back to our families, our congregations and the larger society. Not only should you be having fun with your grandkids, taking trips you have dreamed about and doing other things on your retirement bucket-list, but it's a good time to volunteer at your local congregation in its ministries. It's interesting that the only text in the Bible that speaks of retirement is concerning the high priest who by Levitical rules was to retire at the age of 50. Numbers 8:25 goes on to say that he was to continue to assist the next high priest, not just 'ride off into the sunset'.
By now I'm sure you realize that a successful retirement is a combination of factors and having each in balance will determine whether those golden years are lived to the fullest
1 "Six Secrets of Retirement," Money Magazine, March 2013.
Originally published in The Stewpot, May 2013