Every Sunday, The Simple Dollar reviews a personal finance or other book of interest. Also available is a complete list of the hundreds of book reviews that have appeared on The Simple Dollar over the years.
The vast majority of retirement books I’ve read focus on maximizing every dollar to actually arrive at retirement. They don’t look at the period of retirement itself.
The relative freedom from time constraints that retirement offers opens the door to a lot of things that would otherwise be impossible, and this is where How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free by Ernie Zelinski comes in. Rather than looking strictly at retirement savings as part of one’s plan for retirement, Zelinski looks deeply at the personal choices made in retirement as part of that plan.
It’s an interesting and fresh perspective on retirement, and Zelinski’s breezy and friendly tone certainly helps push it along.
Thank Heaven for Retirement!
If you do not plan for an active retirement, you’re setting yourself up for a difficult and expensive retirement. If you work until late in life under the pretense that you’re setting yourself up on easy street due to your big pile of savings, you’re going to find that you don’t have a lot of years to enjoy it. Instead, a much better path is to live relatively lean, work toward an early retirement, and plan for a retirement life that’s active and full of adventure.
Retirement: A Time to Become Much More Than You Have Ever Been
A good retirement doesn’t involve sitting around and doing nothing all day. It means applying yourself to something that you’ve always wanted to apply yourself towards but never felt that you could due to the need to have an income-producing job. If this new activity produces income, great! If it doesn’t, it’s still filling your hours with lots of contentment and enjoyment of life, and not filling those hours with idleness or expensive activities.
So Many Worlds, So Much to Do!
Zelinski makes a challenging suggestion for anyone who’s retired. On the first day of retirement, unplug your television set and unsubscribe from cable. This will force you to be more active, which will improve your health. It will also push you to actually take on the big dreams you have rather than putting them off until tomorrow because there’s something good on television.
Take Special Care of Yourself – Because No One Else Will
Some degree of physical activity is an essential part of a healthy retirement. Zelinski recommends a daily walk at a minimum – and preferably more than that. Long walks, bicycle rides, and other activity should be part of your life every single day. This will not only improve your quality of life, but the length of your life as well. If you allow yourself to be sedentary, you’ll gain weight and lose the energy you need to live an active and vibrant life. A walk through your neighborhood or through nature is also a free form of entertainment, something that can’t be said for many other forms of entertainment.
Learning Is for Life
Much like physical activity keeps your body healthy, mental activity keeps your mind healthy. Zelinski recommends a commitment to lifelong learning in which you strive to learn something significant each day. One way to do this is to take a college course in a topic that’s interested you at your local community or public college. As an aside, I had a friend whose grandfather was in college at the same time as him. The grandfather actually wound up being in an assigned project group that I was in and my interactions with him were some of the best experiences of my college years. Going back to college does not mean you’ll be out of place.
Your Wealth Is Where Your Friends Are
A good, reliable friend is something invaluable to have, but you can’t build friendships by sitting at home alone. Seek out community activities related to things you’re interested in, or just get involved with a volunteer activity. Doing these things will essentially force you to meet like-minded people, and there are few better situations from which to build a friendship. A friend is a person who will be there for you when you need them and bring joy into your life when you don’t need them as much, and that’s an invaluable thing to have.
Travel for Fun, Adventure, and More
Retirement travel can actually be really inexpensive since you’re not tied to the traditional idea of the “tourist season.” You can travel to locations on your own schedule, not those of school calendars or professional guidelines. You can also travel like a migrant, meaning you can move slowly, scoop up deals as you go, and do things at your own schedule. This makes it easy to travel almost anywhere surprisingly cheap.
Relocate to Where Retirement Living Is Best
In my opinion, Zelinski’s best single piece of advice comes in this chapter: move to a college town. A large college offers tons of cultural opportunities, speeches, performances, groups, and countless other things to get involved in, most of them for free. The college town that I once lived in was a vibrant place with a lot of older people involved in the college community. You couldn’t go to an event without a lot of older people there, which made it interesting both for me and for them.
Happiness Doesn’t Care How You Get There
Don’t leave this world with songs unsung that you wished you had time to sing. The last thing you want to have in your final years are regrets of things that you could have easily done. Your retirement years are often the time to do those things. Most of the things that people wished they could have done are things that require time, and time is what you have in spades in retirement. Use it.
Is How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free Worth Reading?
Rather than approaching retirement as merely a savings goal, How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free looks at retirement as a period to capitalize not so much on the money you’ve saved, but the asset of time.
In other words, saving for retirement isn’t about saving money. It’s really about saving time. The more you put away for retirement, the more time you give yourself to accomplish all of the things you dream about accomplishing, whether it’s writing a novel or learning a musical instrument or camping in every national park.
It’s a great perspective and a useful one, and Zelinski writes about it with an irreverent and breezy tone that makes this a fun book to read, too. This one’s highly recommended to anyone within ten years or so of their retirement, on either side.