3 – Two Big Mistakes to Avoid in Retirement
Adapted from Devotions for Couples (Zondervan)
Once I was invited to preach the Father’s Day sermon at a particular church. When I arrived I was taken back by how few men appeared to be of fathering age.
I asked the youth pastor, “What percentage of the congregation would you estimate to be elderly?” (over 65).
“Seventy percent,” he immediately responded. “And of those, what percentage would you say are lonely?” I further inquired.
“All of them.”
Recently a retired man told me, “The notion that when you retire your financial needs will go down is a myth. The trouble is that you build yourself into a certain lifestyle. It’s not that easy to just up and change everything.”
“How much money is enough, then, to retire?” I asked.
“You can never have too much retirement income,” came his reply.
There are two great problems in retirement: loneliness and money. First, let’s discuss the problem of loneliness.
THE PROBLEM OF LONELINESS
As a general rule, the quality of our relationships in retirement will mirror the quality of our relationships today. Loneliness is a choice, one that we make years before we retire — a decision we are making right now. True, some people won’t be lonely even if they retire to the North Pole and talk to penguins all day. For most of us, though, the decisions we make right now determine whether we will be lonely in retirement later.
We can avoid loneliness in retirement by sound planning and making some investments in other people’s lives. The Bible proclaims that we reap what we sow. Here are several ideas. Take them to heart:
Retire to something instead of from something. Plan for the future, don’t merely escape from the past. Identify activities you want to undertake.
Give your children now the time you hope they will give you then, no strings attached. Run your home on grace, not law. Make it a refuge they want to run to, not flee from. Nothing will make you happier than spending time with your grandchildren, which will correlate directly to the example you set to their parents now.
Contentment comes from making investments in people and relationships, not from accumulating money and possessions. Plan your finances, but don’t count on them to make you happy in old age. Develop a few close friendships with other couples around common interests (e.g., bridge, golf, ministry). Try to form most of these from your church family.
Develop a common interest together with your spouse now, apart from kids, friends and business (e.g., walking, collecting, travel, tennis).
There are two ways to be lonely: One is to be alone; the other is to have nothing in common with your mate. No married person ought ever to be lonely.
THE PROBLEM OF MONEY
The second great problem in retirement is money a lack of adequate financial resources. There are two reasons couples come up short of money in retirement: poor planning and catastrophic illness which wipes out savings. (This is an article on money, not medical catastrophe, but let me say parenthetically that you must insure yourselves against catastrophic illness).
However you spend your money today inexorably determines how you will retire later. There are four lifestyle/spending approaches couples follow:
1. To Live “Above” Your Means. This spendthrift couple teeters perpetually on the brink of financial disaster. From the outside looking in they appear rich. The pursuit of self and pleasure motivates them. Big cars, fancy clothes, luxurious home, big vacations. Yet every bit of it — “financed to the gills.” Behind closed doors there are many fights and quarrels. They live up to limits of their income and beyond. They are constantly refinancing and borrowing more. Eventually, this house of cards will come tumbling down.
2. To Live “At” Your Means. This couple wants more of the good life. They are not so foolish as to borrow for “experiences” or depreciating assets, but neither are they so wise to think about a rainy day. They are stretched to the max. They are thinking about moving to a bigger home, though they cannot get a peace about it. They are like ones who hear God’s Word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it and make it unfruitful. They feel a great strain in their relationship over money. Sooner or later, this couple must make a choice. Do they start borrowing to relieve the pressure, or do they downsize their standard of living?
3. To Live “Within” Your Means. This submissive couple recognizes that the Bible calls us to be stewards of that which God has entrusted to us. Everything we have belongs to God, Who entrusts resources to us for a season. They think about and plan for the future. Not only do they save for a rainy day, they have a well thought out retirement plan as well. They tithe joyfully. They, too, are tempted by the pleasures ballyhooed by the Madison Avenue pinstripers, but they examine themselves regularly, careful lest they should be hasty and miss the way.
4. To Live “Below” Your Means. This unusually disciplined couple has decided to live a lifestyle lower than they could easily afford. They do this for the sake of their children and the sake of God’s kingdom. They want their children to walk with God and not become materialistic. They do not want to be distracted by the worries, riches, and pleasures of this world. Though they use the things of this world, they have not become engrossed in them. They recognize that the world and its desires pass away, but the one who does the will of God lives forever. They have the gift of giving, and would rather make eternal investments than spend up to the limits of their income.
Only couples in the third and fourth categories can reasonably expect to become financially independent in retirement. Which category do you live in?
PROVIDING FOR ONE ANOTHER
Is it right for a husband to spend so much on a lifestyle today that his wife will be forced to abandon it when he is gone? Should a husband allow his wife to spend too much money today to her own eventual harm? Is it not appropriate to provide enough for the future (through insurance, savings, and investments) so that whatever lifestyle you have together, the survivor can keep it once left alone? Should not a couple live by a lifestyle today which will allow them to retire in comfort whether together or widowed? These are not questions that can be lightly passed by.
Husband, nothing will testify more to how you loved your wife when you were alive than how she is able to live when you are dead. Husband, this may be difficult, but I want you to imagine your wife after you are gone. What adjustments will she have to make? Will she have to go to work, or have you provided enough insurance to take care of her needs? Will she ever end up waitressing in a diner somewhere? Picture her slaving away all day, then coming home to an empty one room apartment. Have you provided for your “immediate family?”
Do you find it surprising that a pastor would say that all of the elderly people in his church were lonely, and why or why not? Do you think you will struggle with loneliness if you stay on your present course? Explain your answer. Which of these four approaches to lifestyle and spending have you been using? Is it by design or default?
LONELINESS: Discuss the five ideas to avoid loneliness mentioned above and write down a few specific goals as they come to mind.
LIFESTYLE: Determine which category you should be in. What changes do you need to make, if any? Commit to a specific plan to make the changes you agree upon. Consider asking someone to hold you accountable and meet with you quarterly to review your progress.
The Bible says that “In the house of the wise are stores of choice food and oil, but a foolish man devours all he has” (Proverbs 21:20). May we each be wise enough to think about our future and not just the present. May God grant us the grace to store up both financial resources and deposits of love and affection for our golden years.
Business leader, author, and speaker, Patrick Morley helps men to think more deeply about their lives, to be reconciled with Christ, and to be equipped for a larger impact on the world.
© 1998. Patrick M. Morley. All rights reserved.