My father was the textbook example of balancing a modest lifestyle with enjoying the fruits of hard work. He kept few possessions, was intolerant of waste and preferred DIYing to hiring repair services. But we also traveled internationally every summer and enjoyed fancy dinners out often. When he retired, he treated himself to a sports car, which he drove wearing polyester pants. He modeled for me what it meant to live within one’s means while also working toward and enjoying life’s indulgences.
Following his lead, I opened a 401(k) as soon as I landed my first real job and have been dutifully contributing to it since. I had never stopped to consider, though, how I would actually live in retirement.
That’s changed recently, ever since my oldest child fell in love with rock climbing and took part in competitions that have taken us from our home in New York to far corners of the country including, most recently, Bend, Oregon. Even though he’s only a tween, it struck me that our son would likely make the West his home one day. I told my husband, Matt, “We’ll just have to buy a condo nearby that we can rent out when we’re not there.” It was the first time I had envisioned any detail of a future retirement.
That moment became the impetus for lots of discussions between Matt and me. Where would we live? How would we fill our time? Are we making choices today that are in line with this vision? So many questions hung in the balance, but as we got planning, things got fun.
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WHERE WILL WE LIVE?
Sending our children into the world and seeing them twice per year is painful to think about, even though we have another 15 years or so until that happens. We know remaining involved in their lives will always be a priority.
Living in New York means we’re not likely to have a home large enough to host them and their families. We talked about potentially downsizing to purchase apartments near their home bases if they are far away, which feels like an exciting alternative. Or, establishing our home base in a more affordable country, placing us closer to travel opportunities. We get to be nearby and helpful to our kids without being burdensome, and also create an additional investment opportunity. Inviting the children into the conversation reinforced family-first and modeled the practice of thinking about the future.
The whole conversation left us excited about the future.
HOW WILL WE SPEND OUR TIME?
I know once they’re adults, my children won’t want me by their sides as much as I might want to be there. To that end, another reality emerged while Matt and I pictured our retirement: I felt I had lost my sense of self a bit. Who was I beyond parent, spouse and professional? Had I given up on fostering my own growth?
So Matt and I each drew up a list of ways we envisioned spending time on our own and as a couple in retirement. I listed several creative endeavors and a physical one. There are pottery studios in every state and most countries around the world. I love to cook, and one of my dreams is to have a garden to grow at least some of my own produce. Matt and I both love to run, and run clubs are a fantastic way to remain fit and to jump into an established community almost anywhere. He has a fantasy of selling ethically sourced rock-climbing apparel, and we got excited about looking into it now. In a perfect world, we will establish a small business on the side that we devote more time and resources to when we retire.
WHAT CAN I DO NOW TO MAKE IT HAPPEN?
Several action items emerged. The first was to quit throwing away unopened retirement account statements. We needed to keep a closer eye on these numbers and stop being complacent about what the future holds. We made a commitment to review these statements quarterly and have become more interested in reading up on retirement investment strategies. For instance, when we have a few extra bucks at the end of the month, we now add those dollars to our retirement portfolio or our kids’ 529 accounts (as we want to be doing both). We were also inspired to get back on track with budgeting. Being intentional with our resources now means we’ll have more indulgences to savor in the future.
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