Redefining Retirement

I think it’s apparent to most that retirement has been redefined, and is continuing to be redefined every generation. Depending on who is doing the redefining – the worker or their boss – you will see two vastly different pictures of what retirement means.

If you poke around the web, especially the blogs of Gen X and Gen Y, you will see an interesting dichotomy – people who say they want to work forever, but not at a traditional job. They want to work a high-wage job for 10 years and save up enough to “semi-retire” and work on projects, both income-generating and philanthropic.

This is a form of redefining retirement. Unlike the traditional definition that comes to most of our minds, an early retiree today would likely continue to exchange some of their time in “retirement” for income. This may be because they need to, because they have a passion for using their skills and talents to earn, or they want to leave a lump sum to their heirs.

 

How are the “job creators” redefining retirement?

They are using grandfatherly old men like Sam Watterston to reinforce the message that “things are different” these days. Retirement may not be an option at all, said the retirement expert I recently lamented who said that retirement is too risky.

Once you understand both sides of the effort to redefine retirement, you can easily see why. Because our economy is deep within the throes of financialization, the money managers and central bankers have already peaked, wringing the most growth in the shortest period of time, using the ability to print money and manipulate international trade.

Much like the fall of medieval Venice, an economic superpower that had invented sophisticated financial accounting tricks and leveraging strategies in the 1300s that don’t look too different than what we are seeing today, our financial sector must continue to cannibalize the productive sector.

As Matt Taibbi so eloquently put it in a recent Rolling Stone column, the private equity sector, like drunken necropheliacs, must continue to violate dying companies and sectors to wring out any profits, real or imaginary, and cannibalize growth.

Back in the 1930s, the Kellogg cereal company began experimenting with six hour workdays. In exchange for slightly smaller paychecks, the company was able to create more jobs at time when they were badly needed. These jobs were more fulfilling, and the city of Battle Creek, Michigan began to thrive socially, as more people had time to spend with their families and to invest in civic endeavors aimed at improving their city.

Many of us today would love a six-hour workday, and would probably settle for a return to the 8 hour workday.

 

Retirement means letting go of materialism

Regardless of how you feel about work and society, it’s becoming clear that people are becoming more antisocial and indulgent in consumerism and spending as the decades go by. They require more hours at the job to finance their lifestyle of consumption.

While it may not be bad at the family level (though it often is), this movement is bad for our country. We can no longer sustain the debts and spending we’ve engaged in over the last forty years.

For some, retirement means acknowledging the lifestyle they want to have. For some lucky folks that will involve material pleasures, but most of us are going to have to get used to the idea that we need to dial things back in retirement.

We need to redefine a lot of things, retirement being just one of them, if we are going to retake our lives and build a society where we can enjoy our families and communities without the fear of going broke due to a medical catastrophe or because we didn’t save enough; we are going to have to give up some of the “luxuries” we’ve grown accustomed to, and redefine some new ones, like free time with our families and not dying from stress at age 60.

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22 Comments
  1. I think realistically a lot of people will need to dial back the materialism before retirement. Planning to work somehow during retirement is a good thing, but I suspect too many people will use that as an excuse to not save up enough money. So the sooner they dial back the materialism, the longer their money can last.

  2. I’m all for a shorter workday or work week. Three-day weekends, anybody? At the same time, I feel as if the U.S. has reached a point of no return. I don’t mean to be a pessimist, I just can’t imagine the whole labor force adjusting, even if it’s an incredible idea.

    And yes, there needs to be less emphasis on material goods. It has become a part of our culture, especially since the booming 1950s. I’m unsure how we fix this problem, but I’d like to think it can be done on a micro scale. Parents matter the most in teaching their children sound values.

    -Christian L. @ Smart Military Money

  3. Go Michigan! (that’s where I live). I know in my own life, retirement will be much different than what people think of today. I will still be working, but it will be on things I want to and at my own leisure.

  4. I think everyone changes the way they live once they hit retirement. If they don’t then it is a big mistake. I like to think that my retirement will be well funded and I will not have to work but only time will tell.

  5. I used to think I would spend much more in retirement because I would have a bunch of money, but the more I think about it and see how my grandparents are, the mo I don’t think I will. Retirement to me means pursuing the most important things, and that is not material possessions.

    • I’m right there with you Jacob. I plan to pursue the simple things in life, like my future grand-kids, volunteering, and some travel – but this doesn’t include material possessions.

      I’m not 100% debt free yet, but this is certainly a goal for me during retirement, which will allow me to live this type of lifestyle.

  6. If you get ahead of the game and dial back the materialism prior to retirement and save that extra income toward retirement you can live a decent retirement I think. That’s what I’m aiming for… although I haven’t defined what I want my retirement to look like yet personally.

  7. Great post! It brings up some really interesting points about retirement. I think people do dial back on materialism when they retire – unless they plan on working a bit on the side to keep up their current lifestyle.

  8. It might help if those who live in the city like me sell their TVs and move to a less dense part of the country where there is nobody around to tempt us into buying things.

    Desire is suffering. I agree w/ your point.

  9. I have my own definition of retirement as well, but it is not about materialism. It is about the ability to work how you want. What some call “financial freedom,” I call retirement.

    I never want to stop working and being productive, I just want to do it on my own terms. If that means I can’t afford the life I want (including material things), I am not there yet.

  10. It’s possible to not having to work during retirement. If you take steps today. I have seen really old people working in our local grocer. I also have seen community of retirees where no one work for earning money, they have enough saving to sustain them.

  11. Wow that’s exactly what I plan to do. Work in my high paying field for 10 years, then semi-retire to something I like a lot more :) I am saving a ton right now, making smart investments so I don’t see why this won’t happen. I don’t mind making the sacrifices now for the happiness later.

  12. I like this idea of redefining retirement. I’ve always planned to work hard into my 40′s and by early 50′s work a hobby or something. I agree with what Modest Money said, materialism has to be dialed down before an early retirement will come.

  13. I think Generations Y and Z have a great idea: work hard for a while to build up savings, then pursue your interests for a while. I envision, though, that most of those who take this approach will be unable to retire on this type of income, even if they are not materialistic. I may be pessimistic, but I cannot see part-time gigs supporting their generation for the rest of their lives. But maybe I’m just an old fogey? ;)

  14. I’m not sure if there isn’t a chicken or the egg syndrome. I’m not sure that the financial community is convincing anyone or that younger generations are climbing out of so much debt and wage stagnation that they can’t see retirement from the trees.

    Regardless. I’m totally with you though. I’m going to work, have my last day on the job and never come back. When I’m gone, I’m gone and I’m not coming back, nor do I see it as “risky.”

  15. I don’t think dialing back on materialism in retirement is anything new – at least not in my family history.

    I’m optimistic that my kids and grandkids (Gen x and z) will have a better life than I (although mine’s been pretty darned good!). Our kids are saving more and insisting on better quality of life than the boomers did – which I think bodes well for the future.

  16. The frustration with redefining retirement is that you partly have to predict the future. As a financial advisor this was difficult: how long do I illustrate my client working? 65? 75? Part time into retirement? When can it safely end? While you might redefine it in your mind, it’s difficult to do so in your plan without making assumptions that aren’t sustainable.

  17. I’ve always loved reading your blog, but the fact that you (1) referenced Mike Taibbi (one of my FAVORITE journalists) and (2) agreed with the thrust of that recent article made me fall in love a little. Your wife should be warned :)

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