Category Archives: 50+ Money

Rightsizing Your Life

“We shape our buildings, and afterwards our buildings shape us,” said Sir Winston Churchill. That is a good preface for a review of Ciji Ware’s new book, Rightsizing Your Life: Simplifying Your Surroundings While Keeping What Matters Most (Springboard Books 2007). This is a well-organized, lively manual on creating an environment that supports our choices in the second half of life. It includes relocation – whether to, where, when, and how – which, after money and health, is a major concern for many of us as we grow older. This is due, in part, to the size of the continent we inhabit, and our propensity for moving for work or family. Sometimes those moves take us far from our homes of origin, for better or worse, and sometimes on the periphery of what we value most.

The other factor the book tackles head on is our possessions. To stretch the Churchill quote just a little, we have become possessed by our possessions. How to maintain, preserve, protect and store our stuff have become industries in their own right. So Rightsizing Your Life is, among other things, an exhortation to simplify in the second half of life, to pare down to what we consider the essentials (a revealing exercise if there ever was one!), and thus create space for self-discovery, creativity, an exhilarating new freedom, to name a few benefits.

Following an excellent Foreword by Gail Sheehy, Part I covers just that. Part II is where the rubber meets the road: a seven-step how-to that makes rightsizing sound, if not easier, than doable and necessary. I was particularly taken with Chapter 6, “Identify Your Favorite Things,” a discussion that goes far beyond the thing itself. You will no doubt recognize yourself somewhere in the list “Ten Reasons We’re Prisoners of Our Possessions.”

If you feel yourself more than ready to rightsize and simplify but feel overwhelmed by the task, go directly to “Call in the Professionals” – yes, there is a small army of people who can help you declutter, sort, organize, move, retrofit, remodel. Great resources throughout, including websites and other readings.

Saving Too Much?

Huh? When was the last time you heard that in this country? It is certainly an attention-grabber, which explains why A Contrarian View: Save Less, Retire With Enough is the number one emailed article in today’s New York Times. Naturally, the surprisingly consistent conclusion of a ‘loose confederation of well-regarded economists’ is getting a frosty reception from the folks who profit the most from managing large retirement portfolios. And critics of the research have a point in arguing that it could be a disincentive to save, which is a tough sell as it is.

We are squarely in the contrarian camp ourselves on this subject, if for a different reason. In fact, one book we recommend to people 50+ and older is Retire on Less Than You Think written by Fred Brock, former Seniority columnist for the Times, now ‘retired’ as a professor of journalism and author. Brock’s case is not for saving less, but for cutting expenses, and he offers specific and compelling examples of how to do that, including his own.

What isn’t at all new in the report is the persistence of the idea that people are retiring, as in ceasing to work, and therefore in need of adequate funds to keep them out of soup kitchens. This flies in the face of every survey conducted recently, and disputes the abundant evidence of people working past age 65, even if they can afford not to. Why older people in the workforce or starting businesses remains newsworthy, is a puzzlement.

Prisoner in Paradise

A coach and certified 2young2retire facilitator tells us of an affluent, retired client who is struggling to find something meaningful for the next part of his life. He describes himself as a ‘prisoner in paradise.’ Sounds like a nice problem to have. You’ve heard the saying,we know that money won’t buy us happiness, but we want to find out for ourselves? The irony here is that the wealth many of us aspire to, that we imagine will bring us freedom and unlimited choices — not to mention material goodies — can have just the opposite effect.

There are any number of reasons we need to be challenged throughout life. Strength or resistance training comes to mind. When we contract muscles to lift progressively heavier weights, we are deliberately causing minute ‘injuries’ in the muscle fibers. The body’s healing response actually makes the muscles stronger. In humanistic psychology, resilience is the “human capacity and ability to face, overcome, be strengthened by, and even be transformed by experiences of adversity.”

“You gotta have heat in everything you do,” says Wynton Marsalis. Advised Eleanor Roosevelt: “Do one thing every day that scares you.” To live richly, whatever your financial status, make these your mantra.

Trailer Park and Cat Food Blues? No Way!

Don’t know about you, but we get pretty steamed by these patronizing articles about Boomers and their money, see It’s Crunch Time for Retiring Boomers. And technically, we’re not even in the Boomer cohort! OK, maybe you guys have had a run of living too well too long, to borrow from the Paul Simon song. But there are two reasons, at least, why we believe that singing the trailer park and cat food blues is wrong-headed and should be rejected.

First, the assumption that you are too addicted to the so-called live-for-today lifestyle to adapt. We’re not buying it. Let us tell you that it is possible to go from 0 in the reserves to a chunk of change that gets the attention of financial advisers. We did it, starting in our 50s, and we’re no smarter about money than any one of you. Here are two things that worked for us:

1. We started paying ourselves first. In our case, it was stashing the maximum amount then allowed in a 401K, and fully funding a KEOGH account we created for our small business. We did this every year, and didn’t even miss the money after a while. Know what? It adds up.

2. We began to pay cash for just about everything. This is a recommendation you hear often, but here’s how it affected our bottom line and could impact yours. When you use cash, it puts the brakes on impulse spending. We didn’t like walking around with cash-fat wallets, so it forced us to think twice, put it off. Procrastination, whether about starting an exercise program, a diet, or making a purchase, is very effective. Just keep passing those ATMs!

Second point: the assumption that retirement — the dated model of full-time leisure — is inevitable. Take this away, and the whole picture changes. Find work you enjoy or create it, and plan to do it in some form for the rest of your life. After the technology bubble popped, one Boomer who thought he was headed to the golf links forever, revised his plan to become a golf equipment rep.

You need to build up a financial reserve. If you haven’t, beating up on yourself is pointless. Just start now. Working longer is an option well within your grasp. And don’t give up too easily or settle for the first thing. If you’re like a lot of folks (like us!), you did that the first time around. What could you happily do for the next 20 years or so? Where can you make a meaningful contribution? Those are the questions to ask yourself now. More about career change from Career Journal.