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The Prevailing Approach to Retirement Planning is Backward

I am not the first to say it, but everything we are told about planning for retirement is “financial”. That is the wrong orientation, and I will tell you why.

From the time we begin our working life we, are encouraged and incented to set aside savings for retirement. There are 401K accounts which our employers contribute to. There are IRA’s, SEP’s, etc. to give us a home for our money to grow and support the time when we stop earning income. Social security is an important financial component to support us in our older age. This is all good!

But here are the problems:

  • This financial orientation to retirement sets up the paradigm that having enough money is the goal. In reality, money is an enabler…. not any assurance of happiness and fulfillment in retirement.

  • Financial planners and financial calculators seek to project how much money you will need/want in retirement. Many use the rule of thumb that you should plan on 80-100% of your living expenses prior to retirement. How can you know what you’ll need in your life after full time work if you have not thought through specifically what it will look like, be comprised of, where it will be located, and more?

The overplayed financial orientation to retirement planning undermines the importance of two other intertwined requirements: being healthy and being happy and fulfilled. Each of health, money and fulfillment call for at least equal planning and foresight. Realistically, your life after full time work will be subject to the weaker link between health and happiness/fulfillment...not money.

As for being healthy, there is no shortage of advice, regimens, diets, programs, and other content to guide you to a healthy lifestyle. It is there for you to commit to healthy habits. We are all subject to our genetics and disease. So, we are all subject to what we can do and what befalls us. The point is, being healthy in your retirement years is not a black box. We can take affirmative action, and we should.

But what about being happy and fulfilled in your life after full time work? If this takes just as much planning and preparation as money and health, which I believe it does, then how do we do it? Non-financial retirement planning is a process of self-reflection, of finding purpose, and mapping out a portfolio for your life that promises to be all you imagined.

Let’s not turn the dial down on financial preparation for retirement. Rather, let’s turn the preparation dial for healthy living and being happy and fulfilled up to an equal level.

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