How to Live Successfully on a Retirement Income

Retirement Ahead

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.

Living Successfully

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!

  1. Damain

    Debt is always the biggest enemy (in my opinion) when retiring because of the fact that most retirees are living on a fixed income. I would suggest that if your home isn’t paid off when you choose to retire then you’ve done something wrong!

    • Joe Plemon

      Damain–Agreed about getting the house paid off before retiring, but it is amazing how many people don’t even have that thought on their radar.

  2. Michael

    LOL. euro banksters are boldly in the open for all to see in Cyprus. They just take what the demand at will now. My guess no bankster there will even miss a bonus pay out this year. Bonuses where delivered to bankster same year as US bank bail outs. How long ya think befor we go from no interest for your savings to being charged to save. There is only one way to drop below zero and that’s negative numbers and just how do you think thats gonna get done? Hmmm? He that givith can takith, who makes the script ( fed res dollar ) you now may be puting your faith in to store your wealth?

  3. Penwell

    I love reading these articles and I have benefited from the financial planing advice. I just have to tell you on this one I think you are off. Not in regards to financial planning though. You state that if we are doing what we are created to do that we will not be tired or depressed, on the contrary doing what we are created to do would leave us energized and whatnot. I totally believe that is wrong. I think there are people out there who are doing what they were created to do and they are doing really hard things like defending those who have no one to defend them and fighting evil. I believe those people are often depressed and tired. William Wilbourforce used his life to fight evil and he exhausted himself in the process. We live in South Asia and we are tired, depressed and exhausted, nevertheless we cling to God knowing that we are walking as he would want us to walk.

    This is really just a little thing, not earth shattering. I just do not agree. I would hope that people who are fulfilling their calling AND struggling would not give up thinking that because they struggle they are not walking in God’s way for them.

    Blessings on your ministry! We need good financial advice and we can get it here!

    ~ A Family in South Asia

    • Joe Plemon

      Penwell — That was the nicest disagreement I have ever read. I certainly hope that this post would not cause anyone who is fulfilling their calling to give up just because they are struggling. And I have to admit that I have not been in your shoes, nor have I faced the years of opposition that Wilberforce faced.

      Still, when I read that James says to count it all joy when you meet trials of various kinds, or that Jesus endured the cross for the joy that was set before him or Paul telling the Romans that “in all our affliction, I am overflowing with joy”, I can’t help but believe that those who are in the center of God’s plan for their lives, while sometimes experiencing exhaustion and depression, will nevertheless have lives which, overall, are buoyed by God’s spirit and the knowledge that their labor is of eternal value.

      I truly appreciate your comment. It certainly has caused me to think through what I say and also be more sensitive to those who are struggling.

  4. William Cowie

    Good article. I agree with the point about one car. We found it’s cheaper to actually go and rent a car for the few occasions when two cars is essential. The total cost of rentals for a year was less than the insurance on a basic cheap runabout for six months.

    • Joe Plemon

      William — I hadn’t even considered the occasional car rental in lieu of owning a second car. Great idea and thanks for sharing it.

  5. Brian @ Luke1428

    Thanks for the post Joe. A successful retirement for me would mean that I am 1) able to financially provide for my needs and 2) able serve others and impact people. I don’t want to sit around the house every day watching TV and reading books.

    • Joe Plemon

      Brian — The term “retirement”, while used often in our culture, is not a consideration to living out the Christian life. Therefore, your priorities of serving others and impacting people are spot on!

  6. Steve Myers

    I believe as a Christian we need to rethink retirement. Retiring workers began in Germany as an economic step. The concept was introduced to other countries and by our Great Depression it began in the USA. Is it biblical? No it isn’t. There is no indication of people retiring in the bible. Many may argue on an economic or social platform, but who do we follow? The world or Christ? God created us to be productive persons and there is no arbitary age where that stops. Unfortunately, the last 80 years has taught us to accept retirement this as a fact of life. This has led us to accepting government entitlement in place of faith. Retirement often robs us of our character, creativity, and drive to live life at its fullest. And, look at what has happened to the elderly and sick – warehousing in nursing facilities. What has happened to us? We have surrended family, life and our freedom to a materialistic society and increasing influence of government in our lives.

  7. Godwin Francis

    Thanks Joe. I have been following your articles for quite some time now and have been blessed . I just wanted to check if there are any identical articles of “christian personal finance” focused out of US. Like for example I am from Dubai, more of the advises has link to US finance system. Any pointers on this will be helpful.

    God bless
    Duba, UAE

  8. Laraba

    I agree with Penwell that sometimes doing what God calls us to do can exhaust us! I’m not nearly as stretched as Penwell is, but I’m a homeschooling mom to 8 children (the eldest is 13) and right now I feel rather burned out. I know that I know that I know that I’m doing what God has for me. I know that only through Him will I have the strength to raise our children (with my husband’s help) in the way the Lord wants. But yes, totally wears me out sometimes.

    I think the Apostle Paul was pretty strained out sometimes. He talks about his constant concern for the churches. Yes, he learned contentment, but I think there was much struggle too.

  9. Michael

    Bitcoin, a free market alternative from printing addicted fed res and thieving socialism. Free yourself.

  10. Diane Mawr

    Fantastic advice. We have been preparing for my husband’s upcoming retirement for the last few years, and preparing for our future careers-for-love in advance. This advice is good for anyone of any age, too. If a just graduated college student pinned these simple goals up on the “TO DO” board of their lives, it would serve them well – no credit, no house payment, one car, long-standing health, and a plan to be able to retire as late as possible. Thanks, Joe!