What you need to know before you get to retirement
by Rick Kahler
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What's at the top of your retirement bucket list? If you are like most folks that I help prepare for retirement, travel is high on that list.
As I've grown older, my views on retirement travel have changed. I used to buy into the dream of retirement as the "Golden Years." I thought of it as the time in life when people are free to do what they want, when they want, with whom they want.
Working with older clients has taught me that my younger views of the glory of retirement were a bit naive. While certainly some people do experience years of unlimited and unfettered travel, many more don't find it so easy.
Doing "what you want, when you want, with whom you want" assumes three things we often take for granted: good health, adequate finances, and meaningful relationships.
Health. When it comes to travel, good health may not be essential, but it will make your experience more fulfilling and enjoyable. Of course, we aren't typically in either "good" or "poor" health, but fall somewhere on a continuum. With limited mobility, you may be able to shop at the bazaar in Istanbul, but chances are you won't hike the Grand Canyon or explore the Acropolis.
Like most things, good health typically requires a conscious intention to create and maintain it. Someone who has a money script of, "When I retire I'll have the time and money to take better care of myself" may be in for a surprise. Most people who chose not to take care of their health before retirement won't do so in retirement. As one retired friend said, "If you didn't have the energy to work out when you were young, you sure won't have it when you retire!"
What's even more uncontrollable is the health of those with whom you wish to share your travel adventures. Even if you've taken care of yourself, your significant other may be unable to travel. Instead of strolling a beach in the Bahamas, you could end up at home being a caretaker.
Money. On average, baby boomers have saved less than $100,000 for retirement. That won't pay for many around-the-world cruises. If you want to travel after you retire, you need a serious commitment during your working years to live frugally and invest as much as you can. Otherwise, you may end up with just barely enough to cover your basic living expenses.
Relationships. If you spend your career working 80-hour weeks, you may accumulate enough assets to fund plenty of retirement travel but by then you may be traveling alone. Saving for the future is out of balance if it's done at the expense of enjoying life and close relationships today.
By now you may think I'm suggesting you have no better choice than to spend your retirement years at home. Not at all. Here's one possibility: If travel is one of your dreams, what would happen if you did some of it now? Use your vacation time while you can enjoy yourself. Take that motorcycle trip through Europe or go scuba diving in Belize while you're in top shape. Do the international travel now when you can better negotiate airports, handle travel delays, and power through jet lag. To save on expenses, plan ahead, use a credit card that awards frequent flyer miles (which you pay off monthly), and use cost-saving options like home swaps and off-season travel.
Then, after you retire, when you need more access to medical care and less demanding travel, you can stay closer to home and enjoy the opportunities in your own backyard.
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