Mix These Four Essential Ingredients to Cook Up a Happy Retirement


Recently I attended a colleague’s retirement party.  It was the first time I had seen many  co-workers since I left the workforce four years ago.  I was surprised that so many of them were surprised by how happy and relaxed I appeared.  Several asked me what “my secret” is.  I didn’t have an answer then, because I hadn’t given the matter much thought.  But given my current abundance of free time,  I’ve been able to ponder the subject deeply and have come to the conclusion that the “secret” isn’t so secret at all.  It all boils down to four really simple ingredients.  I hope you are enjoying the cooking analogy–after years of “on my radar, teeing things up, drilling down, hitting the ground running, and pushing the envelope”, I figured it’s time for a change.

You ready?  The essential ingredients for a happy retirement are:

  • Strong personal relationships
  • Adequate financial resources
  • Good health
  • Oomph

I told you it was simple, but hey,  Tom Jefferson got a lot of mileage out of stating ‘self evident’  truths, so let’s see how it will work for me.  Besides, ‘knowing’ and ‘doing’ are two very different things.  I think we all know that family and health are important, but how do we behave?   I certainly was guilty of letting the work day spill over into family and friend time.  I skipped exercising and ate far too many fast, easy (and less nutritious) meals.  So, today’s post will start with the ingredient that has a tendency to crowd out the others:

Adequate Financial Resources
Isn’t that the reason we put in all those hours–to ensure that we have “adequate financial resources”?   Over time, I learned that the most important word in that phrase is “adequate”.

Although I benefited greatly from working for insurance companies that regularly flooded me with information about financial planning, saving, & pensions, what was probably most helpful was a wonderful book by Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin, “Your Money or Your Life”.   This easy to read book helps you become aware of the trade offs that you unknowingly make by overspending. My favorite quote:

Rich only exists in comparison to others, but financial independence means that you have enough and then some.

Without trying hard, I’ll bet we can easily think of someone that has greater financial resources than 95% of the world’s population, but they always seem to want more.  They haven’t quite grasped the concept of enough.

Two of my closest friends have traveled all over the world on very little money.  For example, they managed to spend a month in Greece and two weeks in Ireland on what they had saved from two years of Peace Corp salary!  They know what is important to them, and their spending reflects what they value.

When I was growing up, my dad  used to tell me  “Your wants are many, but your needs are few”.  He was so right.

So, for all you young ‘uns out there, before you slap down your credit card, you might want to take a minute to think about to how you are allocating your dollars and your “life’s energy”, as Dominguez and Robin put it.

How did we get those resources?
I’ll admit it–we have been lucky.  We haven’t had any major illnesses or financial catastrophes.  And, although we both were impacted by mergers and acquisitions, we were able to find other employment relatively easily.

We also decided to give Lady Luck a helping hand.  As our incomes rose, we didn’t increase our spending.  Instead we opted to increase our contributions to our no-load mutual funds.  We didn’t run up credit card debt, only charging what we could pay off by the time the bill arrived.  We saved so that we could pay cash for our cars, maintained them and kept them well past their first decade.  Instead of a monthly car payment, we made those “payments” to ourselves, so we weren’t paying interest, we were earning it.  And guess what?  We never felt deprived.

It all goes back to knowing what is important to you, and making sure that your behavior aligns with your objectives.  Simple in concept, sometimes challenging to do.  But SO very worth it!

Next post–Good Health!

10 thoughts on “Mix These Four Essential Ingredients to Cook Up a Happy Retirement

  1. I so appreciate your Dad’s distinction of “wants” and “needs.” I wish I had learned that in my twenties. Now in my sixties ….”When I let go of what I say I need, I free myself to make a difference with what I have…. and when I make a difference with what I have, I expand what I have.”

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  2. Fortunately, I have always been a saver (and, I must admit, I was extremely lucky to have something to save in the first place). If I received a monetary gift, a refund, or a bonus, most of it would go into savings. My husband is the same way. I am amazed when I read about how little many people have saved for retirement. I’m even more amazed when they think that small amount is enough… especially if they hope to maintain a similar lifestyle. It is imperative that we are honest with ourselves and realistic in our expectations and projections.

    I’m looking forward to your next post! Maintaining good heath is important always, but especially in retirement.

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  3. Wow, I could have written this, Shelley, because it mirrors my philosophy and actions exactly. It was that exact book -read when I was in my early 40s – that gave me the validation that I was on the right track by living within my means and searching for meaning in non-material experiences. I wish this valuable lesson you’ve provided could be part of high school financial education.

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    • Thanks for your comment, Sammy. I wrote this post in the hope that more people would discover the book and would incorporate those principles into their lives–especially those that are just starting out.

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  4. Shelley, we were also big fans of Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robins back in the day. They wrote a lot of truths that I hadn’t read before and their book helped us to change our focus. The keys to our financial life change was radical downsizing, simplifying, and the reality that money we didn’t spend, was money we didn’t have to make. It sounds simple, but some people never figure it out. Like you, we were lucky, but in today’s financial world, you have to prioritize to make some of your own luck. We wish you all the best for a healthy and happy 2016. ~James

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    • James, thanks so much for your comment. That book certainly was life changing for us. Thanks to them, and the way they opened our eyes about money, my husband and I are able to do all of the things that are important to us– which, like you, is travel. I hope more people discover this fantastic book and benefit from Vicki’s and Joe’s wisdom.

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