By Cheng Huang Leng
Four Pre-Conditions for Retirement
I retired in year 2000 at age 52. I am now 61, thus I can claim that I got more experience at retirement than most! I thought I should share my experience with mariners because I have seen too many friends and neighbours who became so bored that they have become a nuisance to their spouse and children and to others!
A few of them have solved the problem by going back to work. They were able to do so because they have a skill/expertise that is still in demand. The rest (and many are my neighbours) live aimlessly or are waiting to die – a very sad situation, indeed.
You can retire only when you fulfil these 4 pre-conditions:
1. Your children are financially independent (e.g. they got jobs),
2. You have zero liability (all your borrowings are paid up),
3. You have enough savings to support your lifestyle for the rest of your life,
AND most importantly,
4. You know what you would be doing during your retirement.
DO NOT retire till you meet ALL 4 Pre-Conditions. And of course you should not retire if you enjoy working and are getting paid for it!
The problem cases I know of are those who failed to meet Pre-Condition #4.
When asked, “What would you be doing during your retirement?” some replied, “I will travel/cruise and see the World”. They did that, some for 3 months and then ran out of ideas. The golfers replied, “I can golf every day.” Most could not because they are no longer fit to play well enough to enjoy the game. Those who could, need to overcome another hurdle - they need to the find the “kakis” to play with them.
It’s the same with mahjong, bridge, badminton, trekking and karaoke – you need “kakis”! Most could not find others who share their favourite game and playing/singing alone is no fun. AND when they do find them, a few of them found that they are NOT welcomed like my obnoxious neighbour whom everyone avoids.
Thus if you are into group sports or games, you must form your groups BEFORE you retire. You need to identify your “kakis”, play with them and discover whether they “click” with you.
The less sporty “can read all the books bought over the years”. I know of one guy who fell asleep after a few pages and ended up napping most of the time! He discovered that he did not like to read after all. We do change and we may not enjoy the hobbies we had.
Routine Activities To Fill Your Week
For most people, your routine work activities are planned for you or dictated by others and circumstances. When you retire, you wake up to a new routine – one that you yourself have to establish as nobody else would do it for you!
The routine to establish should keep your body, mind and spirit “sharpened”. A good routine would comprise:
a) One weekly physical sport – you need to keep fit to enjoy your retirement. If you are the non-sporty type, you should fire your maid and clean your home without mechanical aids. Dancing and baby sitting are good alternatives.
b) One weekly mind stimulating activity – e.g. writing, studying for a degree, acquiring a new skill, solving problems or puzzles, learn or teach something. You need to stimulate your mind to stay alive because the day you stop using your brain is the day you start to die.
c) One weekly social activity – choose one involving lots of friends/neighbours. Get yourself accepted as a member to at least 3 interests groups. Unless you prefer to be alone, you do need friends more than ever as you get older and less fit to pursue your sport.
d) One weekly community service activity – you need to give to appreciate what you have taken in this life. It’s good to leave some kind of legacy.
With 4 weekly activities, you got 4 days out of 7 covered. The remaining 3 days should be devoted to family related activities. In this way, you maintain a balance between amusing yourself and your family members. Any spare time should remain “spare” so that you can capitalise on opportunities that come your way like responding to an unexpected request to do a job or to take advantage of cheap fares to see places or to visit an exhibition.
Mind stimulating activities
Most judges live to a ripe old age. They use their brains a lot to decide on cases. I am sure MM Lee’s brain works overtime. He’s 80+ and still going strong. In “Today” you would have read of 2 inspiring oldies. One is a granny who learned to play the guitar at age 60 to entertain his grandchildren. She’s 70+ today and those grandchildren have grown to play with her. Another is an Indian radiologist who on retirement, qualified as an acupuncturist. He’s age 77 and still offers his services (by appointment only) including free ones to those who have no income. I guarantee you that they are happy people who discovered a “2nd wind” to take them to the sunset with a smile on their faces.
Mind stimulating activities are hard to identify. They require your will to do something useful with the rest of your life, a mindset change and the discipline to carry it through.
Your Bucket List
Despite your busy routine, you will at times be bored. Then it’s time to turn to your Bucket List.
Your bucket list contains a list of things to do before you kick the bucket. They are not routine and are usually one off activities. You need them to have something to look forward to. These include anniversaries, trips (and pilgrimages), visits to friends and relations abroad, re-doing your home, attending conferences (related to your hobbies), acquiring a new set of expertise. 4 such activities that are spaced our quarterly would be ideal.
Retirement Is A Serious Business
If you can afford to retire and want to, do prepare to live to your fullest. You need to be fit to enjoy it – therefore get into shape now. You do not want to get up on a Monday and wonder what to do each week, therefore identify your set of weekly routine activities now and try them out to confirm that they are the activities that you will be looking forward to doing each week, week after week. You bucket list of “rewards” or “projects” or “challenges” is needed to help you break away from the routine thereby make live worth living. Start listing what you fancy and refine it as you chug along in your retirement. You will have so much fun, you would wish you were retired since your turned 21!
I will be happy to share my personal retirement experience with mariners. Just write to me.
Cheng Huang Leng
How to Retire – Q&A
My article on “How to Retire” triggered many mariners to pose questions like these:
Q: Any problems if I share your article with my other friends?
A: No problem! Do feel free to share my thoughts with any person whom you feel would benefit. There is no need for acknowledgement or to ask me for prior permission.
Q: Should I not create a "passive" income - so that even when we are not working, there is something coming in?
A: I think it’s neater to saved enough money to support the lifestyle of our choice WITHOUT depending on (or expecting) any other sources of income during retirement. However, any such “income” that comes your way e.g. rent from property, dividends from shares, and money from your kids or the will of your favourite auntie, should be treated as “bonus” that could be used to pay for your “dream” list. A dream list comprises items that you would dream of doing if you got the money! A bucket list should comprise items that you can already afford to do before you kick the bucket.
Q: How much is “enough” to save for retirement?
A: Enough is a relative word - hence none can agree to a number. I am told that Aristotle Onassis used to get his crew to fly his personal jet from London to Paris every morning to buy a loaf of bread for his breakfast! For him, I suppose a million a month would just about meet his living costs! On the other hand I know of many who are quite happy living in Singapore on $1,000 a month. You can live comfortably elsewhere for $200 a month. For my current lifestyle, my wife and I spend about $36,000 annually.
Q: It’s good to carry on working and get paid even after 55 or 60. However, the stress that is to be overcome can probably do a lot of damage to the ageing person, true or false?
A: To me, true retirement activities are those where you spend your savings instead of make money. Thus I would consider operating a shop like yours a "hobby" meaning you do it for the fun (or pain?) and without expecting any monetary returns. In fact, it is even better if you expect to lose all your money on the venture! If you expect to make money, then it should be treated as a business. In that case, you have not yet retired.
Q: Should not one also keep spiritually healthy? So, may I suggest that one day (usually Sunday) be kept for the Lord?
A: A weekly spiritually stimulating activity would be a great idea. Renewing one’s faith is one such activity. For those who are not religious, it means identifying an activity that will help you renew (and/or reinforce) your commitment to your set of beliefs, principles and values. They are important because they are your anchor points. You lose them and you will lose purpose, meaning in life, etc. One good way is to read (books and/or articles) and reflect. Those not keen on reading can always reflect in somewhere quiet e.g. in a park, among trees or in a cave!
Q: I enjoy my work, I feel needed and I am getting paid. Why should I retire?
A: I agree that you should not retire BUT, you cannot work forever UNLESS you own the business! Thus if you are on a year to year extended contract, you should plan for the day when you are not needed anymore!
Q: I was planning to retire when my youngest son completes his studies and get a job etc but life threw a few surprises at us once in a while. I am 48 this year and will be expecting one more child in January (accident!!). Looks like I will have to shelve this thought for a while.
A: You can still retire as planned. A child does not require much money to bring up IF you DIY (i.e. no maids), use recycle toys and stuffs (just ask our mariners) and let him grow at normal pace (i.e. no mind camps and piano lessons). Let him enjoy his childhood fighting with other kids, climbing trees, catching spiders and getting into trouble! And when you do it yourself, you will not have time for any of your routine retirement activities till he is able to fight with other kids without your help. From my personal experience of helping to raise my grandson 5 days a week from 7.30 to 7.30, I am exhausted and would collapse at 8.30 pm and sleep like a baby till morning and I am mentally challenged thinking of things to do to keep him from being bored!
By the way, you should get your older children to share the chores and if they are working, to even contribute to the “accident” project fund.
Q: Can you arrange for "potential future retirees" to form a "kaki club" - especially mariners who can share the same passion and interests and keep in contact with each other?
A: Yes I can help form SIGs (Special Interest Groups) and that’s the easy part. The hard part is for you to develop and list your “passions and interests”.
The following suggestions/ideas were received. Thank you for sharing.
1. Perhaps one thing a retiree can do is to write his own life story and pass on to his children.
2. Retirees should mix with younger people and not only with retired peoples. From experience, I know that retirees who see their "kakis" kicking the bucket one by one, slowly become withdrawn as they start to fear for the day of their going. Unless, one is spiritually prepared, the fear can be overwhelming.
3. One must feel needed. You can be needed by becoming someone’s "kaki" or a guardian.
4. One activity to pursue is re-educating yourself and then you pass it on. You will be busier than working full time but every minute will be fruitful and joyous. This is due to meeting more and more people of all ages and kind. The really wonderful thing is you can pull back anytime you feel like it and to fuel it with unlearning, relearning, looping back to those who want to know. And of course some of the wonderful people you meet actually provide sustenance too.
I like to thank mariners who posed the above questions. They have helped to plug the gaps in my article.
I would also like to thank mariners (and there were many) who wrote to share their retirement experience and to thank me for my article.
Cheng Huang Leng
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