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The "Financial Planning Blueprint" Blog

  • Writer's pictureJason Flurry, CFP

How to start living like you’re retired NOW!

When you really think about it, everything is always built twice. Whether it’s a blueprint for a building or a blueprint for your life, you have to have a design before you can bring the idea into reality. The problem I find with those who are ambitious and focused on building a financial plan is that they defer so much of their life’s happiness to a future point in time without taking into consideration the need to enjoy the journey along the way. Maybe you’re guilty of this too.

How many times have you thought about what life will be like when you don’t have to work for a living? The word “retirement” is what most people think about when work becomes optional, but retirement has become more of an experience than an event like it used to be for most people.

For previous generations retirement was the official end of a career often characterized by sacrifice, hard work, and delayed gratification. Being retired meant having the freedom to live a life filled with joy, pleasure, and the time to do all the things you weren’t able to do during your working years, like sailing around the world in a sailboat or playing golf in some of the most exotic destinations in the world.

Is that how you envision your retirement? If so, you’re not alone. But, taking that approach is extremely risky and I believe there are better ways to build a plan that not only protects your financial future but also allows you to enjoy more of the present as you go. Let me explain.

Bad timing A colleague of mine told me about one of his clients and how disciplined he had been to save all throughout his working years. He wouldn’t go on vacations or spend money on anything that wasn’t necessary so that he could save the maximum amount possible for his retirement. There’s nothing wrong with being frugal, of course, but this guy took things to an extreme so that he could reach retirement as quickly as possible.

Well, the guy finally did reach his financial goals and my colleague congratulated him on his ability to quit working and officially retire. But the rest of the story, as Paul Harvey used to say, is that the day after their last meeting, the guy suffered a massive heart attack and died. Yes, he actually died on his first day of retirement.

It was the very day he had longed for for years. He had sacrificed everything to get there believing that once he crossed that threshold, life would somehow magically be better. He thought he would be able to have everything he’d always wanted and live the life he always dreamed of, but fate had different plans.

And the saddest part of the whole story is that his wife who had been denied any extra measure of happiness and enjoyment during her husband’s working years was now left to spend the rest of her life alone. Sure, her husband had done a great job of planning financially, so she didn’t lack for anything when it came to living a comfortable lifestyle. But, living out all of her retirement years as a widow was never part of their plans.

Now, I understand that this is an extreme example of what can happen when we defer our life’s plans out into the future, but unfortunately this type of thing happens more than anyone would like to believe. After all, do you know how long you’re going to live and be healthy? Do you know how many years of good health and energy your spouse will have?

Having all the money in the world without the ability to enjoy it, especially with the ones you care about the most, doesn’t bring happiness. And, even with the latest breakthroughs in modern medicine, we can only extend someone’s life for a short period of time – knowing that those days or months or years may not necessarily be good ones because the quality of life someone has may be severely compromised, limiting their choices on how to enjoy their final moments.

I don’t want that to happen to you, so let me share with you some ideas on how you can stop deferring your life and start living like you’re retired NOW!

Having the right mindset I heard someone say once that you are what you pretend to be. So much of being retired is the feeling that you have the time and freedom to enjoy yourself, but do you really have to be “retired” to experience that kind of freedom and joy? Couldn’t you begin to build in some of those joyful experiences along the way now? After all, a plan is a plan whether it’s a plan for today or for another time in the future, right? And, do you usually have more control over the outcome when something is happening in the foreseeable future versus some far-off distant time years and years from now? Of course, you do.

So, what are the things that are important to you that you been postponing until you have the time and the money to enjoy them? Is it travel? Is it taking up a new hobby? Is it spending more quality time with those you love? Whatever it is for you, I’d like to encourage you to move those things from your deferred life plan into your immediate life plan so you can begin enjoying them now!

Stop doubting and start doing I can almost hear you saying, “Living my best life now would be nice if I had the time and the money to do those things right now, but I don’t.”

I hear that a lot.

But my response to you would be, “Do you want to keep making excuses and missing out on the very best life has to offer or can you begin to make adjustments to bring those things that are most important to you within reach now?”

Think about it. Do you want to keep making sacrifices, justifying to your friends and family the reasons why you can’t do certain things, and stake your whole future on the dream of a happy life you’re not guaranteed to see?

Yes, making adjustments to start living more now will likely delay your future retirement date, but when you enjoy more of your life along the way, there’s not as much pressure to squeeze it all into a retirement-sized box.

Timing is everything I heard about a guy who lives in Los Angeles and he decided a while back that he was going to start riding his bike every day along this great bike path that ran along the beach in Santa Monica. From where his house was it was something like 20 miles to the end of this path, so he started riding just as hard as he could to the end of this path and back every day. He would time himself and push as hard as possible with every thrust of his legs, red-faced, huffing and puffing all the way. Everybody else on the bike path would see him coming and move over because it was clear this guy had somewhere to be and nothing was going to get in his way.

Well, after a while, he began noticing that without fail his bike ride always timed out at around 43 minutes. But, as the months went on he noticed that he was feeling less psyched about going on the bike path because just mentally, whenever he would think about it, it would feel like a lot of pain and hard work.

So one day he decided to just go out and enjoy his ride. Instead of giving it his all, like he had done every other time, he decided this time he would go at a good pace, which was maybe half or two thirds of what he had normally been doing. As he rode, he happened to notice that he was looking around more. He saw some dolphins playing in the ocean and some pelicans flew over his head for a while keeping him company. He was able to experience his experience in a new way and he discovered so many wonderful things he had missed in all of his previous trips blistering down the same path. It was such a nice time that he could only describe as being “purely pleasant.” There was no red face – no huffing a puffing. He was just cycling.

And here’s the most interesting part of the story. When he got back from his ride, he looked down at his watch to see how long it had taken and much to his surprise he had made the full trip and only 45 minutes. He thought, “No way. 45 minutes!” That was only two minutes longer than it took him to plow through all of his other trips where he was tired, hot, and exhausted when he got back.

That’s when it hit him. He had been stressing himself out all red-faced and huffing and puffing for a measly 2 extra minutes. In other words, it was basically for nothing. He wasn’t competing for anything where maybe all of that extra work would’ve been worth it. He simply recognized that with much less effort he had finished in 96% of the time he normally did but with way more satisfaction.

And I think that’s a lesson we can apply to our lives, as well.

There so much emphasis on optimization today. It’s easy to feel like we have to get the maximum dollar out of everything or the maximum use out of every second in the day. But why not consider taking this approach of intentionally enjoying the journey now, in the present, while you have it and not worry so much about how long it takes you to finish? You don’t have to be all stressed about everything and you don’t have to roll the dice on your future hoping that things turn out to be as good as you had wished them to be before you got there.

Rose colored thoughts Daniel Gilbert, a Harvard professor of psychology who has studied happiness for years, found that when people imagine an event, they overestimate the likelihood that it will occur. Because we get more practice imagining good events than bad events, we overestimate the likelihood that good events will actually happen to us, which leads us to be unrealistically optimistic about our futures.

Our brain offers us an interpretation of the way things are and because those interpretations are usually so good, we don’t realize that what we are seeing is actually just an interpretation. Instead, we feel as though we are sitting comfortably inside our heads, looking out though the clear glass windshield of our eyes, watching the world as it really is. This is especially true about our perceptions of the future. We forget that our brains are talented forgers, weaving a tapestry of memory and perception whose detail is so compelling that its inauthenticity is rarely detected.

Don’t be fooled by the philosophy that you have to spend your working years working and your retirement years living. Your brain will sometimes tell you that it’s the only way to make it happen, especially if you want to truly be happy one day. But don’t you listen. Don’t listen to anyone who tells you that you have to put your dreams on hold so you can save for them later.

Most people think they will regret foolish actions more than foolish inactions, but 90% of them are wrong. People in all walks of life seem to regret NOT having done things much more than they regret things they actually did. I think that’s because it's harder to manufacture positive and credible views of inactions than actions. So, when our inactions cause regret, we can't console ourselves by thinking of all the things we learned from the experience - because there wasn't one.

I believe you should definitely have some money set aside for a rainy day, but you should also plan to enjoy some sunny days along the way too. We never know how long we have or what can happen to those closest to us. And, when you mix in a good balance of work and play into your master plan, the lines between work and play have the ability to fade away. You don’t have to make the distinction between what’s work and what’s play, because when you’re truly living a life of happiness and purpose based on what’s most important to you, every day is a chance to live fully, make a contribution, and focus on things that are far more rewarding than the balance in your retirement account.

The future is now! If you’re noticing the nagging pain of deferring your life to some unknown future point as you look at where you are today, that’s a possible clue that maybe your plan needs to be adjusted so that you can invite more joy and happiness into your life now. Unfortunately, it’s not in most financial advisors’ best interest to encourage you to put off spending because they make their money based on how much savings you have under their management. But, I want to make sure that whatever you decide to do that it’s in your best interest not in someone else’s. That’s why I write these articles and that’s why you’re reading them too, right?

If you have any questions or need help building a game plan that allows you to live your best life possible now, let me know. You’ve probably heard it said that today is a gift and that’s why we call it the present. I agree and I can think of no better present to give yourself then to make a change today that will help you live your best life possible. You can do it now and it would be my pleasure to show you how.


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