I was sitting in a beautiful theater watching a broadway production of Frozen. A woman with the voice of an angel-meets-songbird plays Anna, a young princess ecstatically looking forward to the day she can be free to start the rest of her life after years of drudgery and loneliness:
“It'll be totally strange
But wow, am I so ready for this change!
'Cause for the first time in forever
There'll be music, there'll be light
For the first time in forever
I'll be dancing through the night”
Most people would think of romance. The lionshare of the audience was singing, or at least humming, along–if you have a daughter or granddaughter under the age of twenty, you have probably heard the song. Watching her sing, most people think to empathize with Anna, trapped in a castle but yearning for freedom. You might even relate to her personally.
I am not most people. Sitting there in the theater, I instead thought of how our minds work. Our daydreams tend to inflate like idyllic hot air balloons over time. “If only I had this,” we sigh, “life would be better.”
A nicer house. A better job. A fitter body. A good night’s sleep. More money. Retirement.
And like a good financial planner, my mind settled on the last of these wants. People talk about retiring with me all the time. For many of them, there is a sense of yearning in their voice. They say things like “I would quit tomorrow if I could.” Some even have countdowns on their work computers. Once they arrive at retirement, they know things will be better and they can start living their best life.
They remind me of Anna. To be fair, Anna is not wrong. These would-be retirees are not wrong, either. For many, retirement is an opportunity to reinvent yourself–a new chapter of self-discovery. The allure of future days filled with freedom is enough to inspire many people save more. These people are willing to buckle down today to reach that independence sooner.
Then I think of a study by the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research. They concluded that “delaying retirement by 3-6 months has the same impact on the retirement standard of living as saving an additional one-percentage point of labor earnings for 30 years." This held across all kinds of different scenarios of income, return on investment, and households.
Simplified, working longer–even if only a little longer–is incredibly powerful. It can be a much more powerful lever than increasing our savings when we are older.
More than that, however, is that work is not always as bad as people think. There are psychological and physical benefits that work creates from a sense of purpose and community and structure. Without something to fill the void that retirement creates, people tend to struggle.
This is why retirement planning is not simply making sure you have enough money to keep you comfortable across your lifetime. Successful retirement planning means having a plan for how you might occupy your time. Hobbies, new goals, plans to stay physically active, people you will spend time with…these are elements we see successful retirees incorporating into their life. Without these things, we see people fall into patterns of watching television most of the day, feeling lonely and isolated, and cognitively declining with health problems much earlier than expected.
That is not truly living! So, we often advocate for delaying retirement–or at least finding a new job. It can even be volunteer work if you no longer need the income. For those committed to retiring, we want to hear a list of things our clients are looking forward to doing and trying–and the longer the list, the better. Put real time and creativity into identifying what you want; in true Disney fashion, you are limited only by your imagination!
Circling back around to Anna and her hope for a beautiful new chapter in life, she actually has the perfect spirit for what we wish for our clients. She sings about all the things she is ready to do and be and enjoy–meeting new people, dancing, listening to music, finding love, and even sampling chocolate. The grass can indeed be greener on the other side of the fence if we are determined to make it that way. And if we don’t have Anna’s list of to-dos and be-comes quite yet, perhaps retirement can wait a little longer? You will be all the more financially prepared for the day when you are truly ready, and in the meantime continue to enjoy the things work can give us.
So, after all that thought, I settled into the show and started to hum along too.