Great retirements start right now

The title of a recent book claims you can "guarantee a great retirement.'' That makes sense: Who'd want to plunk down $19.99 to read that post-paycheck life is merely wandering a grim moonscape ?

But as the co-authors point out:

"If you make it to 65, you should expect at least two decades of activity — much of it at the same pace and intensity as earlier decades . . .

"You will likely (become) a new version of yourself, (perhaps) more reflective, more passionate, more appreciated and more inquisitive.

"Or you may also find yourself more lonely, more bored and more short on cash.''

To avoid that last situation, you'll need to look both inward and outward, Richard Stim and Ralph Warner advise. And you'll need to get to work planning now — a word that is capitalized in the book's subtitle.

Co-published by USA Today, the 248-page paperback Retire Happy/What You Can Do NOW to Guarantee a Great Retirement copies the formula the newspaper created: numerous brief articles and lots of graphs.

Thus, this book has 44 mini-chapters and dozens of charts.

Setting Retire Happy apart from the shelves of similar titles aimed at the boomer nation is that this book quotes dozens of everyday retirees, and a pinch of experts, who explain how to avoid mistakes when entering this life phase.

Stim and Warner say their retirement recipe has just four ingredients: "money, good health, a network of friends and family, and engaging and enjoyable activities.''

The authors add, "The Catch-22 of retirement is that it's much harder to acquire these elements after you retire than before. For that reason (we) stress that you begin your retirement preparation now, before you leave your job.

"Just as you will find it hard to save money after age 65, so, too, will you find it difficult to make new friends, mend family rifts and begin new activities . . .''

Ingredient by ingredient, here's a capsule of their advice:

Good health

Echoing the advice you've read in LifeTimes, the authors say it is never too late to take care of your body. They quote a UCLA professor of nutrition science:

"All research shows that what you do now is far more important than what you did when you were younger . . . The body's capacity to get stronger and to be healthier and happier is still there.''

But, of course, there are chronic illnesses that, left untreated, will shorten your lifespan and erode the quality of those remaining years, notably smoking, obesity (being 25 percent heavier than the normal weight for your height), high blood pressure and cholesterol.

Lest you think you've heard all the arguments about the dangers of nicotine, how about this succinct comment about smoking from a University of Wisconsin researcher:

"Few diseases kill 50 percent of the people who have it. This one does.''

Following this are four pages of tips on how to quit smoking — and yes, going cold turkey is the most efficient method.

Conversion to a more sedentary lifestyle meant a staggering 60 percent increase in the number of obese Americans between 1991 and 2000.

As with the section on smoking, there are many pages of tips on dealing with obesity, cholesterol and blood pressure problems.

A social network

"Your psychological and practical need to be part of a loving, supportive group will grow as you age, just as your ability to create or solidify these relationships is likely to decline,'' Stim and Warner write. Consequently, they offer a series of hard questions to ask yourself about you and your family. Hard, because it may be difficult to be honest when deciding:

• Do you feel that your relationship with your spouse is built to last?

• Do you look forward to hearing from or seeing your children?

• Have you taken steps to repair broken relationships with family members?

The authors cite a study showing boomers are "the furthest behind the curve when it comes to achieving a work-life balance . . . that people younger than 40 are more likely than boomers to say they put family before jobs.''

The do-it-yourself tips for repairing family ties range from reducing your commuting time to "reaching out to people you feel have judged you, or turned their backs on you.''

Non-work activities

This chapter has more than one bucket of cold water to throw on stereotypical, passing-the-years dreams. Another of the "just folks" retirees is quoted:

"Don't wait until your mid 60s to 'discover' new interests. If you do, you may find you have forgotten how to become interested in new things.''

Another sobering comment is that volunteering for charitable or nonprofit causes is not always a great reward. The prime reason is that you and the organization are not a good fit — your skills aren't needed, or the prime chores are given to those who have volunteered the longest, so you might be reduced to envelope-stuffing.

And as for finally having time to develop that denied passion, Stim and Warner caution:

"If currently you do little more than consume passive types of entertainment while fantasizing that you'll become more active when you retire, your fantasies are likely to turn out to be just that.''

Money

While the authors stress money is not the sole basis for retirement happiness, they devote more than half the book to making sure you don't run out of money before you die.

The first 15 of those pages are devoted to discerning your "number'' — that imprecise, unique dollar figure that seems to promise the minimum amount you must have to survive.

The authors discuss four online calculators that claim to focus in on this number, presuming you are giving as much true financial input as you can.

But all of these calculators must make guesstimates — as to the rate of inflation, rate of return on your choice of investments, expected Social Security benefits. And the Great Unknown: your health.

The pages on providing for yourself financially contain much "in-laymen's-language" discussion of investment strategies, taxes, financial planning, protecting assets, and expenditures.

If you are among the majority of people who have never tried to calculate their financial needs for retirement, this book is worth it just for these discussions.

Robert N. Jenkins can be reached at (727) 893-8496 or bjenkins@sptimes.com.

>>the book

By Richard Stim, Ralph Warner

USA Today/Nolo Series

248 pages; $19.99

Great retirements start right now 06/23/08 [Last modified: Monday, June 23, 2008 4:30am]

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