Retirement on an individual basis has completely flipped within the last century.  Moreover, that may be why so many people have failed to plan adequately for retirement.  For a long time, the concept of retirement was work until the government or a big corporation felt obligated to care for you.  It was not until the last century that the obligation for retirement reversed.  The idea of retirement is traceable back to the armies of Caesar Augustus who ruled the Roman Empire from 31 BC to 14 AD.  At that time, after 26 years of service, high ranking Roman soldiers received a gratuity of land or cash of 5,000 denarii.[1]  You can probably imagine that there were not too many cash or property awards made by Caesar because not too many Roman soldiers lived through 26 years of service.  The idea of retirement continued through the centuries more as a reward for military service until 1875 when American Express created the first private pension in the United States.[2]

Then came along the idea of the 401(k) which killed the concept of companies providing retirement for employees.  401k’s started as a sharing of the responsibility of retirement savings and offered the employer a lot of leeway in the manor retirement plans were designed.  Since the responsibility for retirement shifted to the employee, many employees have not done well at retirement planning.  That does not mean that there is no hope.  Even though a lot of people have headed the wrong way, it is not too late to figure out how to live comfortably and content later in life.

When individuals became responsible for their own retirement that brought up a big question that many people face now, where do you start?  Even though investment strategy and investment selection are essential, that is not the only aspect of retirement planning that needs consideration.    You should start by exploring how you can retire and live a life of contentment rather than worry.  A sure way to be successful at retirement planning begins with the way you think about retirement.  Notice that I said retirement planning and not retirement savings.  What you name your process of preparing for a time later in life should start by changing the way that you think about what is involved in living life as a senior citizen.  Money is only a part of the puzzle. What have been your thoughts about retirement planning in the past? Do you have everything figured out or have one of these ideas crossed your mind about retirement planning?

  • I am too young.
  • I am too busy.
  • I invest in my business.
  • My company does not have a plan.
  • I do not make enough money.
  • I am too old.
  • I do not know where to start.
  • I will not live that long.
  • I am going to rely on Social Security.
  • My company has a retirement plan.
  • I am going to inherit money.
  • My spouse has a retirement plan.

To some of you, these reasons may sound silly.  Opinions and feelings about the future are never foolish.  If you feel anxious, worried or discontent about a retired life, exploring the reasons for your trepidation is essential. This next statement may sound like stating the obvious.  However, if you think that any of the listed reasons apply to you, it is probably because of money.  This is where your mindset needs to change to grasp that retirement planning is not just about money.  That is so important I will state it again.  Retirement planning is not just about money.  Retirement planning cannot be just about money, or many people are going to have no way to survive as a senior citizen in the future. Here is why.

From 2013 to 2016 the number of people that have retirement accounts rose slightly from 49.2% to 52. 1%.[3]  That means there are many people with no retirement savings.  With more and more Millennials moving back in with their parents to save money, this could be leading to a future where more adult children will be caring for their senior parents. Already, “65% of older adults with long-term care needs rely exclusively on family and friends to provide assistance”.[4]

If you know that you have not saved much money for retirement, why not come to grips with that fact and see what you can do about it.  The reasons why so many people are not saving for retirement is not as important as how to prepare to handle the problem in the future.  You will find the answer to the question by keeping an open mind and look at every resource that you have available.  Ask yourself how can you best use your resources.

Here is how to start.  Let’s look at this like a lost-at-sea game,[5] except let us call our game Survive Retirement.  If you have never played lost-at-sea before, this is the way the game works.  You are with a group, and each person has a list of possible equipment that could help you survive being lost-at-sea.  Each person in the group will rank each item in their order of importance.  For example, some people will list the significance of a shaving mirror over top of a bottle of 160 proof rum.

To begin the Survive Retirement game, list the things that are on your personal balance sheet, your assets.  For example, your home, car, bank account, property, retirement account and collectibles.  For now, do not worry about the value.  This list is not only going to have tangible items; it will have intangible items too.  Create a list of relationships.   Write down relationships with family, friends, your religious and fraternal organizations. Be specific as possible.

The reason for listing relationships is that most people do not survive retirement by only purchasing the services of someone to take care of them when they get old.  Their friends, family, church and fraternal organizations play an important part of older people’s lives.  If you are approaching retirement planning as an individual with little to no savings, then your survival hinges on you being able to reach out to your family and community.  Getting help in the future from family and community is not a one-way relationship.  People in your family and community need to be able to reach out to you when their need arises.  Remember that “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent.”[6]

When you think of people that will play an important part in your future life, you must talk to them about your thoughts.   Moreover, it may be a challenging conversation.  If you have a child that you think will be an important part of your future life when you are retired, they may not want the same thing you want.  Build relationships and be open to change.  Remember that life changes and sometimes not the way we intend or want.  If your religion is a part of your life, prayer does help in stressful situations.  If religion is not a part of your life, ask yourself if it should be.

If your lack retirement savings, you may need to reach out to family and community for help from time to time.  You will find it a lot easier to find help when you are old if you do not wait until you are old to be an active part of your family and community. The exercise is not to list family and organizations of which you can take advantage.  It is a way to encourage you to build relationships.  To be blunt, you should not wait until your seventieth birthday and then contact your family and community to say I retired today.  I am broke, can you help care for me.

Here is how you can use the Survive Retirement game to better prepare for retirement.  To follow is a sample list of twenty things and people that could be important to you.  After you read the sample list, write your list.  It could be more or less than twenty things and people.  This is an exercise not only for people that are married or have many friends.  This is an exercise to help you build relationships no matter how many you have now.  Take a few moments and write your list out now.

You are going to use this list in a few different ways.  The first time through it, only write down the person or item.  Do not worry about their importance yet.  Just brainstorm to write down people and things that will be important to you when you retire.  The second time through the list you are going to indicate, in the rank of importance during retirement, the person or thing will play. Putting people on your list has nothing to do with how special a person or group may be to you. You may have a relative that lives in Timbuktu, and you live in Kalamazoo. They are over 5,000 miles and an ocean apart.  That relation may have a special place in your heart. However, they are probably not going to be a significant part of your life when you are retired.   The question of importance is what role the person or group is going to play in your retirement. This is an exercise to help you build relationships no matter how many you have now.  Take a few moments and finish writing your list out now.



Now on a separate piece of paper or your computer, write how that person or item is going to be important to you during retirement.  Now comes a crucial step.  Write how you are going to help that person or thing.  Be sincere at this stage and try to tie the relationship that you have had in the past to the future.  For example, if you are going to rely on your spouse when you are retired, what are you going to do now to help your spouse.  If you are going to rely on an adult child in retirement, how are you going to help that adult child now? The same goes for your Church, VFW or another group.  What are you doing now to help that group with its goals?  Relationships are like savings accounts, you get out what you put into it, and we are not talking about money.

However, you cannot ignore the importance that money does have during retirement.  Continue your Survive Retirement Game by telling how you are going to improve the monetary items on your list to help you during retirement.  If you listed your house, can you put time and if available, money into keeping it up.  If you listed a retirement account, what are you doing now to increase that account?  Realize that some of the items on your list are not going to change.  If you are doing all you can now, that is OK.

It does not matter how much money you have or what capacity you have to save money. Save as much as you can and create a realistic strategy for improving and using what you have. Everything that you have in your future is the result of what you put into it in the past, that includes people and organizations.

[1] Rogers, Nigel. “Inside the Army – Pay and Conditions.” In Ancient Rome, 154. London: Hermes House, 2010.

[2] Costa, Dora L. “The Evolution of Retirement: An American Economic History, 1880-1990.” National Bureau of Economic Research, January 1998, 6-31.

[3] Federal Reserve. Changes in U.S. Family Finances from 2013 to 2016: Evidence from the Survey of Consumer Finances. Washington, D.C.: Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve, 2017.

[4] Institute on Aging. “Information on Senior Citizens Living in America.” Accessed November 1, 2017.

[5] Gillings School of Global Public Health. “University of North Carolina.” UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health. Accessed November 1, 2017.

[6] Donne, John. “Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions.” In The Works of John Donne Volume 3. London: John W. Parker, 1624.