Two Roads

From: The Road Not Taken

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
                          -ROBERT FROST

How many retirement plans do you have? Just one? Here’s what I do and it’s a technique that I hope you will at least consider.

One of the reasons that people are dissatisfied with their retirement years is disappointment. That disappointment comes from retirement not living up to their expectations. That, right there, is the reason that it is so important to put together an inclusive retirement plan. If your retirement plan has been to put away as much money as you can and besides that just dream about how great retirement can be, you are setting yourself up for disappointment.

Money is great, you need some. But it is only a part of the retirement puzzle. It is, in most senses, just a means to an end. It is the place where your dreams of the future meet the cold hard facts of reality. It begins to define the world in which you are going to be living. The rest of it is all about choices and coming to grips with them.

So this is what I choose to do with my retirement planning. I imagine two futures. (Well I actually think of a lot more than two, but I have two “anchors”.) My future plans look something like this.


My actual plans fit somewhere between poverty and luxury. WWIII is the nightmare scenario where everything falls apart. It’s beyond my control so I just don’t worry about it. Lottery is just what it would seem, one of the tickets I buy once a year wins me four hundred million dollars and I buy a jet and an island and a bunch of new friends (just kidding.) Again, that is really nothing I can control.

The ideal thing is to have your “luxury” plan to be your actual retirement goals. After you sit down and get honest with yourself about what your actual reality checked best retirement would look like, this is the plan you are shooting for. Not some dream, but an actual goal with actual concrete steps involved. But, as they say, life might have other plans for you.

So as well as trying to imagine what that retirement will look like, I like to think about what will happen if none of that comes to pass. If my plans don’t work out, if life throws me a curve and I can’t make it happen for whatever reason.

If that happens, I will have to live on social security alone. I will admit that I had a few good years in there, and given that I was raised in a household that was far from rich, the living I can have on my social security, though meager, is not what I would call poverty stricken.

I will be able to afford a small place to live, I can have a car and food on the table. And I’ll be able to eat out or go to a movie occasionally, and if I am good, should be able to afford a couple of days away now and again.

If I throw in a small hobby to occupy my time, and remember to get out and among people now and again, that is a small quiet life that I can be content with.

I’d rather be able to afford a couple of trips abroad a year, and have a nicer car and a bigger place, but the point is that I can be ok if none of that happens.

So go ahead, decide what you want your retirement to be and work like the devil to make it happen. There’s no reason to settle if you don’t have to. But have a fall back plan.

If you get fired tomorrow, if some hardship chews up all of your savings, if it happens that you won’t be able to work part time in retirement – if any of those things should happen, what will you do? For me personally, spending twenty or thirty years being miserable because my golden years haven’t lived up to my expectations just isn’t an option.

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