I’m sitting in my favorite chair at the moment, legs crossed, computer in my lap, sipping my coffee and enjoying my morning immensely. On a normal day, I’d just now be sitting down in my office, getting ready to tackle another day. But today I’m at home with my immediate family, thinking about the extended family I just left.
Last week we traveled to spend time with family that lives over a thousand miles away from us. It was a chance to let our kids play with cousins that they don’t get to see very much, and for my wife and me, it was a chance to reconnect with our siblings, and most importantly, to spend time with our aging parents.
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THERE ARE WORSE THINGS IN LIFE THAN WORKING
Three things were made very clear to me last week:
- Time is precious
- Relationships are priceless
- Retiring from work isn’t enough
TIME IS PRECIOUS
Because we don’t see our family on a regular basis, it’s easy to spot changes in physical appearance when we finally do see them after several months away. When it comes to our parents, it’s painfully easy to see how quickly they appear to be aging. If we continue to see our parents at our current average of about twice per year, then then we have precious few visits left with them. And they have precious little time to enjoy their lives.
At one point during our visit I was sitting on my dad’s back porch one evening, talking about nothing really. Just shooting the breeze mostly until the topic of retirement came up. My dad has already passed by society’s normal retirement age and he’s starting to think seriously about retiring. Actually, he’s been thinking about it for years. For the past few he has been saying I’ll think I’ll keep working “just one more year.”
I’m terrified that he’s fallen victim to the “one more year” syndrome. He’s terrified of the unknown. Status quo is like a security blanket to him.
RELATIONSHIPS ARE PRICELESS
We unexpectedly traveled to be with our family last week because my father-in-law had just been diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer. He’d retired only six short weeks ago. With that context, I was mildly upset with my dad for his foolish decision to keep working “just one more year,” and I let him know it.
Why is he wasting his time punching a clock when he could be out enjoying the freedom that he’s been working his entire life to achieve? I told him he needs to retire. Walk away. Spend his golden years with his bride of over 50 years doing whatever they want to do, whenever they want to do it.
My dad’s a polite man, so he let me go on and on, but I could tell he wasn’t buying it, and I was getting annoyed that he wasn’t lapping up my unsolicited advice. Somewhat exasperated I finally said “I don’t want you to end up like my father-in-law! Don’t work your life away, dad!” His response was both surprising to me and completely true:
“There are worse things in life than working.” – Ty’s dad
Although I had been getting worked up during our chat, his response was calm and measured. Dad was at peace with his situation. He went on to explain that by continuing to work he gets to feel useful, to be part of something bigger than himself. He also likes going to work so that he can keep his mind sharp by dealing with the problems that need to be solved – things he fears losing in retirement. Thankfully, his current job is ridiculously flexible, allowing him to basically come and go as he pleases. If it weren’t that way, I have a hunch he might be a bit more eager to call it quits.
Then there’s the money side of the equation. Because my dad is past the full retirement age he’s currently able to collect his social security benefits and get paid for his full-time work as well. He calls it ‘double dipping’ and for someone that has always held blue collar jobs and had a blue collar income, he is using this time to save and accumulate wealth like never before. On top of that, there are other benefits to remaining in the work force, like taking advantage of his employer’s health insurance and padding his 401(k).
Okay, fine I guess. But he should still consider my sage advice, right? I mean, doesn’t he know that I’m a personal finance blogger with a bit of cachet?!
Two quick things: First, no, he doesn’t know that I’m a personal finance blogger and second, I have zero cachet. I just like to flatter myself from time to time.
Could it be that dad knows his own situation better than I do? Could it be that I was trying to force my own strategy on him? Yes. Yes, that could be exactly what was happening. I was so laser-focused on my own goal of retiring early, that I ignorantly assumed that early retirement is a goal everyone could get behind.
James over at Retirement Savvy has a great post titled Four Benefits of Working Longer. It’s a very good post in which he address some of the reasons one should consider working longer. Retirement isn’t an easy decision to make. From what I can tell, it’s actually very scary for most people to walk away from the security of a steady paycheck. Although that’s exactly what I’m trying to do (and do so as soon as possible) I get that there are definitely some psychological barriers that make it very difficult to actually go through with walking away from work.
RETIRING FROM WORK ISN’T ENOUGH
It turns out, I was indeed trying to force my personal plan onto my father. I should have known better; should have known that my dad is doing what’s best for him, based on where he’s at right now. Because of choices he made long ago, my dad needed to enter the work force early. He was self-employed for most of that time, and there were no doubt times when the money was good, but there were also times when work, and money, was sparse. But because of the inconsistencies, he never really had the job security, time or money to pursue hobbies; things that could be picked up during retirement to keep him busy, sharp, entertained, feeling useful.
As a result, he’s had nothing to retire to, only something to retire from. Let’s say he retires tomorrow….then what? Their whole lives my parents have worked and taken care of their family. Now that both of those things have largely been taken away, or are about to be taken away, I think their identities have been somewhat shaken. No plan to pack up an RV and travel the country. No goal to slow travel South America. Nothing really to retire to. Only something to retire from.
But this time, fingers crossed, I think dad might actually mean it. This might really be the final year. I think my dad instinctively knows that retiring to nothing is probably a recipe for disaster. Only recently did my parents lock in their plan for what to do with their time during retirement, and how they’re going to pay for it (which was a huge obstacle as well).
I won’t get into the details of their plan, but it’s pretty solid. Even I, a personal finance blogger with some no cachet, if I do say so myself, thinks their plan is pretty solid. Which is both reassuring to me as their son, and inspiring as a wannabe retiree.
When you don’t have something to retire to, there is little incentive, other than to stop working, for someone to walk away. This is something that I need to start spending more time thinking about. What the heck are me and my wife going to do once we’re financially independent? As of right now, I don’t have a good answer. All I know is that I want out, but until then I’ll keep my dad’s advice in mind: there are worse things in life than working.
Until I reach financial independence, I’ll keep enjoying each day, looking for hobbies and passions that I can pursue once my time is my own, and I’ll also remember that there isn’t a one size fits all strategy for retirement. I should have known better and I’ll keep this in mind as I create future blog posts.
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