In order to write about living successfully on a retirement income, I need to define what I mean by success. My favorite definition, and the one I am using for this post, is one I am borrowing from author and career coach Dan Miller: “[Success is] a progressive realization of worthwhile goals.”
A Bible Story
When Jesus encountered the Samaritan woman at the well (see John 4:4-34), he incrementally revealed to the woman who he was (from a Jew in verse 9 to a prophet in verse 19 to Christ in verse 29). His disciples, in the meantime, had gone to buy some food. When they returned, they were astonished that Jesus was not hungry. His response?
“My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.” – John 4:34 NIV
Here is my point: As Jesus was living out his purpose in life, he was nourished spiritually. In the same way, when we are doing what we were created to do, we will not be tired, exhausted and depressed. To the contrary, we will be energized, excited and enthusiastic. In fact, I believe that Jesus’ words in John 4:34 are a great guideline to let us know when we are on track.
I believe that retirement is, for many of us, the years of do-over and second chances. Hopefully, we figured out our purposes long before retirement came along, but many of us (myself included), got caught up in a career which paid the bills but never quite plugged us into the joy of being in the center of God’s will.
As an engineer, I never hated my vocation but I was never passionate about it either. I did my job; I was good at it, and it provided for my family. But over the years, I often voiced to my wife what became a running joke: “I wonder what I will do when I grow up.” After engineering, I led “listening skills” workshops, both for my church and for industry . . . an activity which definitely fed me. I then began to counsel people regarding their finances – a new challenge which utilized my analytical skills from engineering, my listening skills, and my teaching skills (I have taught adult Sunday School classes for 35 years). Is my retirement successful? According to Dan Miller’s definition (a progressive realization of worthwhile goals), I would have to say yes. Have I somehow arrived? No. I on a journey, but I am excited about whatever future worthwhile goals the Lord will place in my path.
Your Retirement Income
You might be saying, “Sure Joe. This sounds good for retirees who have a decent income. But we don’t, and the task of making ends meet on our retirement income seems to drain us both financially and emotionally. What about us?”
First, I want to encourage you, regardless of your income, to seek the Lord’s guidance for this stage of your life. Who knows? His plans may lead to an income which you never considered.
Secondly, there are several practical things you can do to help your retirement cash flow:
- Get out of debt. All of the money which you are currently paying to creditors will become additional income once your debt is gone.
- Pay off your house. I realize this is a biggie, but if you didn’t have that $800 house payment, your retirement income would jump by $800 per month. If paying off the house is not feasible, consider selling your home and using the equity to downsize.
- Get rid of a car. Many married couples have assumed that they will always need two cars, but, during retirement, one will often serve your needs. Saving on upkeep, insurance, and payments could make a big difference in your retirement budget.
- Eat right and exercise. You obviously want to be healthy during your retirement years, so be intentional about taking care of yourself. The good news is that you don’t need to spend a fortune to do so: a Community College in my Southern Illinois town offers very inexpensive exercise classes for senior citizens, giving them access to all the high tech exercise equipment offered at pricier health clubs. Besides feeling good, you will also save on an expense which can decimate retirement incomes: healthcare.
- Delay Social Security. If, instead of starting your Social Security pension at age 62, you wait until Full Retirement Age, you will receive 25% more each month for the rest of your life. Besides, if you continue to work until that time, whatever retirement nest egg you are building will continue to grow and won’t be needed for as many years once you actually tap into it.
How about you?
My hope is that your retirement will also be a progressive realization of worthwhile goals. After being in the workplace for many years, you may have been so caught up in earning a living that you never had a perspective on exactly where God has been taking you. But retirement gives you that perspective. It is time to look back, look up and look forward. Your life is about to get very exciting as you discover more of yourself, more of God, and more about serving others. When your journey becomes one of connecting the dots which brought you to where you are today, and as you celebrate this stage of your life while looking forward to the next one, you are living a successful life.
Whether you are currently retired or planning to retire some day, what would you consider to be a successful retirement? Leave a comment!