Sooner or later, each of us will come to a point in our life when we cross over to join the ever-growing group of retirement-age people. Many of us will wonder how it is possible that we have become 65 years old. Hopefully the shock will be momentary, and we will get on with living.
Of course, to experience a fulfilling retirement life we have to plan and prepare for this moment. Rolling into age 65 without having taken the necessary steps to prepare can result in confusion, stress, and boredom. Worst of all, those who don’t prepare risk missing out on opportunities to take on inspiring second careers or exciting new hobbies.
It is not easy to plan and prepare for retirement when today already seems to consume 110 percent of our time and effort. One can easily become overwhelmed with the myriad of investment options and convoluted requirements for Social Security and Medicare.
Amid all of this complexity, there is one rule of thumb to understand and follow. It readily applies to financial preparations for retirement but also extends beyond that: Live within your means. Or to put it another way, don’t spend your money before you earn it. This rule of thumb can help you to focus your finances before and during retirement. Here’s why living within your means is the key to a fulfilling life before and during retirement:
You avoid adding debt. Buying on credit has been the downfall of many hard working people. Granted, there may be emergency situations where you have no choice but to break out the credit card to tide you over. The problem is buying things on credit you do not need. Spending money you do not have for something you want, regardless of whether you can afford it, is a recipe for disaster. A better course of action is to save up until you can pay cash instead of charging it. Don’t spend your money before you earn it. And don’t try to keep up with your neighbors by chasing more bright and shiny things. Debt avoidance is especially important in retirement when your income is reduced.
Saving becomes easier. If you are living within your means, when you get to the end of the month you should have something left over. Since you are not spending this residual you can put a portion of it aside into savings. If you continue to set aside a little something on a regular basis it will grow. However, if you are living beyond your means, this potential savings will go toward credit card interest or other black holes.
You discover what makes you content. Living within your means gives you a better understanding of what is most important to you. Instead of buying impulsively, you carefully weigh the cost and start to make better decisions. You realize it is not necessary to always eat at five-star restaurants. Suddenly Levi jeans look just as good as $200 dollar pants. A new house is not so critical if it will lock you into a big long-term mortgage. You start to grasp the reality that material possessions do not equal personal freedom. If you cannot afford it, you discover that life will go on and you can still be content.
Dave Bernard is not yet retired but has begun his due diligence to plan for a fulfilling retirement. With a focus on the non-financial aspects of retiring, he shares his discoveries and insights on his blog Retirement–Only the Beginning.