A few weeks ago I interviewed author Ernie Zelinski on my radio show, Money Matters with Wes Moss. Ernie is an international best-selling author who has written about my favorite topic – early retirement. His book, How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free, is a wonderful compliment to my own book, You Can Retire Sooner Than You Think. While I work with readers through the financial and psychological side of retirement, Ernie focuses on how to enjoy the money you have saved in retirement.
When we retiree we lose three key elements that work automatically provides for all of us:
1) A sense of purpose
2) A sense of community
3) Structure for our day
In the same way that you need to financially ramp up for retirement, you also need to ramp up your approach to leisure and personal time when you get closer to retirement. You have to find your purpose in retirement, your own sense of community, and set a structure for your days of leisure.
While the idea of ramping up your leisure time might sound like an odd concept, it’s not uncommon to see people lost in retirement when they lose these three elements that work provides.
If you don’t have many hobbies or what I call “core pursuits,” you should try Ernie’s “Get a Life Tree” exercise:
Step 1: Take out a blank piece of paper and a pen, and draw a medium-sized open circle to represent your retirement.
Step 2: Draw out branches from the circle, and on each branch write down activities you enjoy right now. (Examples: golf, gardening, spending time with your grandkids)
Step 3: Draw more branches, and write activities that you used to enjoy but for one reason or another have stopped doing. (Examples: volunteering, writing, singing in the church choir)
Step 4: Now draw even more branches, and write down activities that you think you would enjoy. (Examples: traveling, learning a new language, joining a book club)
Step 5: Last step, draw a few more branches, and write several physical activities that you think you would enjoy. (Examples: yoga, tennis, being the umpire for a little league team)
While you hopefully have a lot of ideas written down now, keep in mind that Ernie and my research agree that not all activities in retirement are created equal. Social activities and activities that engage your mind make for happier retirees.
Ernie actually suggests that on your first day of retirement you unplug your TV and unsubscribe from your cable provider. While this might sounds extreme, watching television is a passive mental activity, and according to the American Time Use Survey released in 2013, retirees spend an extra hour or more than the overall population watching television. Ultimately, watching television doesn’t help with filling the three elements of purpose, community or structure that can make for a happier retirement.
One way to keep engaged and motivated to fill these key elements is to retire to a college town (by the way I consider Atlanta a college town with GA Tech, GA State, Emory, etc.) Many colleges and universities offer lifelong learning programs that will provide you with some sense of structure and foster a sense of community. On top of this, they will help keep your mind sharp, something that the Real Housewives of Atlanta will not do.
Now if you’ve done this exercise you probably have more activities than you have time for right now… unless you’re retired. Get out there and have a happy and active retirement.
Certified financial planner Wes Moss offers financial and accessible investment advice to Atlanta Bargain Hunter readers.