Is free time overrated?

Roger Schlesinger
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Posted: Nov 06, 2006 1:02 PM

A question that I ask myself all the time is what would I do with all the free time most of the world thinks I need? I have reached the age where people are supposed to retire and slow it down a bit, and the thought of that scares me to death. Yes, I do not have enough time now, but having all the time isn't the answer. I probably get more done on a daily basis than a lot of people, and less done than some very organized people, but giving me all the time I need is way too much. An extra 20 minutes an hour would do it for me. Come to think of it, that is eight hours a day more! That is two and a third more days a week or approximately four more months a year. That works. Who said a year should be 12 months? What's wrong with 16 month years? Heck, I would still be in my 40's and that makes a lot of sense to me, because that is about how old I feel.

Why am I pondering this? Too many of my friends and associates who have "slowed it down a bit" are about as happy as a benchwarmer on a football team: excited that they are on the team and aggravated that they do not get to play. They are genuinely people who are as stimulating as watching grass grow. I have my thoughts of what's going on and I will get to that shortly. They are on their way to joining the "pill popping" generation who find that they have traded living life to watching life being lived by a whole host of other people: kids, grand kids, neighbors, etc.

Stress is definitely a problem for most of us in the working world and lack of stress is a problem for most of those who have left the working world. There is a happy medium. How do you find said "medium"? And having found it, how do you stay in the zone to have a happy, healthy life? I am not a doctor or healthcare professional, just an observer of people. And here is what I see.

People retire at the wrong time for the wrong reasons with the wrong retirement package. Age has nothing to do with it; money has a lot to do with it. The overall guiding force is one’s personality or how they have lived their life. Some have spent the better part of their life preparing for the achievements to come, and others have achieved what they have to prepare for rest and relaxation. Neither is right or wrong in what they have done and will do, but I believe the first group is going to be happier and healthier than the latter and much larger group.

Retirement should be an extension of what you are doing or at least enjoying all your life (lifestyle), and not the beginning of a budgetary nightmare. I am an undisciplined soul with an accountant (CPA, actually) wife. I like to do what I like to do when I like to do it and she keeps the cash flow managed to allow that type of lifestyle. I have said to her many times that I have no interest in retiring if I have to change one iota of this because "we have to watch our money". If she tells me I would have to, then I am not going to retire ever. (That is easy for me to say, because I haven't the slightest desire to even consider it.)

The people I know – relatives, friends and business associates – that have retired are the ones who bring out my fears. The things we have done together are now limited by their budget. Is this because they don't have a sufficient retirement? Not really. It is my opinion that they have never really grasped the importance of understanding their finances and therefore they are afraid of making a terrible mistake that would make them run short before they departed the earth. Who wants to live in fear during the golden years? I would rather not retire. (I actually have said that before).

People retire because they can. They can grab some social security and take their pension and maybe get a little more from their employer for an early termination and that is the deciding factor. They are free. First they have to conquer the monotony and then the fear. Get some stress in your life and the monotony will be gone. Have a financial plan, and there goes the fear.

The plan has to include the proper insurance, the proper income and CASH! Which is generally the missing ingredient. The income you are getting from your retirement package is never enough because of inflation. I know it is inflation adjusted, but that is just a figure, and one that is unrealistic for almost anyone. You need enough cash to see you to 100. You may not get there, but financially you need to figure you will.

If you think you can live on a budget and that the budget is covered by a combination of factors, then simply double or triple it. If the budget of $3,000 a month seems pretty good for your lifestyle, then call it $6,000 or $9,000. If you retire at 65, you need 35 years of this extra budget on hand. That would figure out to be $1,260,000 or as much as $2,520,000. That is a lot of money! Most people couldn't come close to that, they think. I use it as an example because most people are thrilled with $126,000 or $252,000 in the bank to make it through. It isn't enough! Maybe my figure is too high, but a mere 10% of it will lead to a fearful retirement for sure.

That gets me to the conclusion. Look to your house and you probably will have all of the retirement money you will need locked up in the house you have free and clear, or at least pretty close to that. See "Retire the Retirement Plans" August 15, 2006.

I hope you enjoy your retirement if that is what you choose. I for one am off to change the calendars to 16 months and shelve the retirement plans for another few decades!