Several things give me clues that I might have a happy retirement. Friends and family often comment on how I am reaping the fruits of my past labor. My retirement escapades have been written about by several journalists and I’ve been invited to share what I’m doing on retirement podcasts. My two travel books on Amazon can also be taken as written tokens of happiness.
Reviewing the retirement goals I’ve set, I can also say that my retirement is happy because I achieved them. I retired at 54, which was early for most people at the time, but I was burned out from a hectic (but fulfilling) computing career. And early retirement might be just the thing for today’s “Great Resignation.”
My retirement wish was: “Teach a little, paint a little, travel a little, write a little and love a little.” The latter was a must because I had been a single parent for 20 years. I emigrated to America and am happy to report that everything on this little list now has a tick – albeit some small, some big – next to it.
I found my husband so love has a huge check but I only have a painting to my name so this check is small. Teaching at a university and two colleges led to another full-time career that I had to give up. At almost 74 I still travel 6 months a year and that has automatically translated into a not-so-small amount of writing. I have no idea when both will slow down.
But the bigger question is: what have I done that has led me to such a happy retirement? I can name eight reasons. There can be more. And the first four are prerequisites for the last four.
1. Set aside adequate retirement savings
If we don’t have enough funds to save for our retirement, we may not be able to retire, or not at a desired time. As a management professional, I knew that businesses thrive when they grow revenues while controlling expenses to maximize profits. It is not difficult to apply this principle to our personal lives. I focused on personal gains (savings) that I could use towards retirement.
When my marriage broke up, I had to work doubly hard to provide for the present and prepare for the future. We lived so simply that whenever I made big gains in my job or salary, whether at the same company or a new one, I didn’t increase my expenses accordingly. Spending changed, but very little from my time as a junior manager to my appointment as CEO. When my kids asked for cell phones, cars, or designer items, I resisted. I taught them how to stick to a strict budget. A focus was on having payment on hand for buying a new home close to any new company that hired me.
I didn’t want the added stress of Manila’s notorious traffic, and more importantly, owning four homes by the time I retired helped me. They became a source of rental income (albeit in pesos). When I moved to the US and managing real estate became difficult, I sold it, bought two houses in the US and now have a source of rental income – in dollars!
2. Maintaining optimal health
Next to wealth is health. Wherever we are and whatever the healthcare system in that place, optimal health is the goal. It is the best gift we can give ourselves. I came to the US weighing 101 pounds at 5ft 2 inches – tired and burned out. But the health system, which is quite good, got me back into the game physically. I’ve learned to eat my fruits and veggies, exercise, and sleep well everyone Day. There is no substitute.
3. Changing my perspective
When my three daughters started their own successful careers and I reached C-level in management, I got to see the big picture. I started not seeing the world in dollars and cents anymore. My mind wandered from needing to make money (and constantly improving my skills to make more money) to life balance, quality of life, greater purpose, and connection. I came across the School of Practical Philosophy, which combined the teachings of East and West, and it propelled me on a new course of self-discovery. I wanted to be a better person, citizen, mother and want another chance to be a better wife.
4. Find significant other
Being alone in retirement was not part of that worldview. I wanted people to share my hardships and happiness with. I immigrated to the US to be closer to my children who had settled in North America (the youngest later settled in Australia). I missed a lot to raise them so I spent at least 3 months with each of my seven grandchildren. I even gave one 2 years because the mother needed me for it. Those were some of the happiest times of my life.
But grandchildren grow up to have lives of their own (just like children do). The elders accompanied me on a few trips, but a life partner was the companion I needed. It was so important that I didn’t want to leave it to chance. In fact, I “projected” it. I set a goal, made a schedule and planned the steps to find love.
I found him at the young age of 59 in one of the trendiest places, the internet. We married a year later and spent what seemed like an endless honeymoon in the camper van. I was fortunate that he is also a travel enthusiast. He also had two houses that brought him rental income (plus more from mutual funds) and was just as temperamentally frugal, if not more so. Our retirement together became much more comfortable.
These first four tips—saving, staying healthy, changing perspectives, and finding a significant other—are essential to a happy retirement. Once you have them, the next four—Travel, Hobbies, Some Work, and Giving Back—will follow. However, it will not be automatic. We also need to plan and prepare for each one.
5. Enjoying traveling in retirement
Retirement gives us a lot of free time. What better way to spend it than getting to know new things, places and people. During our first phase of retirement, the entire North American continent became our bucket list. After 8 years we were in 49 states, nine Canadian provinces and six Mexican states. Since then we have visited Hawaii and other places in Canada and Mexico.
Renting out our condos and motorhome driving full time has been a financially rewarding way to travel if you follow a few rules. As we wanted to travel more of the world, we used those savings to purchase timeshares, which are only discounted stays if used continuously and regularly. Through her we have been to 25 countries together and more with my BFFs. There are plans to do more when travel opens up.
6. Settle down in a place that suits our interests
Aside from the timeshares, we also purchased a basic living base in a resort lifestyle community in Phoenix. It features country clubs, golf courses, tennis and pickleball courts, a softball park, swimming pools, hot tubs, saunas, ballrooms, a restaurant, library, billiards, card, arts and crafts, and other spaces. I chose Writing/Editing, Photography, Computers, Poker, and Karaoke from about 50 clubs available. I even have a small mahjong group. My husband has played tennis and golf and is now thinking about pickleball as well.
All the things that interested me but didn’t have time when I was so career driven suddenly became doable. I’ve won photography awards, blogged and published travel books. Give me more time and I think maybe I’ll become a painter after all! And I would really like to go back to ballroom dancing.
7. Finding work to earn some money, relieve boredom, or find fulfillment
We think we have enough money not to have to work. But with the rising inflation we’re all experiencing, there may come a time when we need to top up what we’ve saved. If and when this happens, I think it’s important to find an enjoyable, non-stressful job. Hopefully we can also earn something with it, alleviate boredom and/or give fulfillment. My friend, who enjoys gardening, is very happy with her part-time job at the Home Depot nursery. Luckily I found a voice at travel waiting!
8. Finding ways to give back
And when retirement goes well, we want to give something back. My husband became a CASA, a court-appointed special counsel who helps youth who were born into dysfunctional families and who have also broken the law to find their way out of the legal and social quagmire. I found mine in the University of the Philippines alumni associations (state and national) which raise funds for deserving needy students back home. In Mazatlan, where we spend 3 winter months each year, we are part of a feeding program for the poor.
But everyone is different. The goals of your own retirement and the details of your preparation may not be the same as mine. But I think the principles we all need to follow are essentially the same.
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