Dear Vicki

Tightening our belts

My husband and I both took early retirement. Perhaps we retired too early because we now need to tighten our financial belts. Our investments haven’t done as well as we hoped and our house is not worth the amount we anticipated. I feel stressed about our change in circumstances and wonder if I should look for another job. Is it possible to be happy with less?

Finding full- or part-time work is always an option and something that many retirees happily pursue, but don’t push the panic button quite yet. You may find that you adjust more easily to your reduced income than you think.

While retirement may reduce the money coming in, it’s also likely to lower your living expenses. Why? Well, for one thing, you won’t be saving for retirement anymore. Your expenses probably will not include college tuition and, perhaps, you no longer have a home mortgage. A professional wardrobe won’t be required and your taxes are likely to be lower too. Furthermore, you may simply make spending decisions more prudently than when you were working full time.

Still, your income is limited and the effect of this upon your happiness is worth discussing. Adjustments must be made and your attitude toward these changes will impact both your feelings of contentment and security. Let’s take a look at how you can maximize each of those positive attributes.

In general, when we hold a positive attitude about a major life change, we feel more content with the result. Remember the positives: your newfound freedom, the ability to focus on new interests and passions, the possibility of spending more time with your family and friends, and the option to invest time in healthy habits that will serve you well as you age. These positive consequences of retirement are priceless.

To enhance your feelings of security, don’t rely on thin hopes that your savings will stretch to cover your anticipated needs. Get real! Do some digging and discover how much money you need to support your desired lifestyle along with the unexpected curveballs that accompany aging. My best advice? Consult a certified financial planner. Ask friends for a referral, check references and choose a financial planner who you pay a fee for service rather than consulting someone for “free advice” who has something to sell. What you want is unbiased and sound counsel from a professional who has the expertise to guide you and to help you determine if you need to go back to work.

Remember too, that a large income doesn’t necessarily add up to happiness. A recent Wall Street Journal article, “Can Money Buy Happiness?” by Andrew Blackman notes that what counts the most toward happiness is how we spend our income. In general, we are happier when we give money away than when we spend it on ourselves. When we do spend it on ourselves, we also find more happiness by investing our money in experiences rather than in material goods. So, go ahead and donate to your favorite charity or enjoy that vacation, but hang on to your older car a bit longer.

It seems a bit counterintuitive that spending money on a fleeting vacation will bring more happiness than investing in material goods, yet research shows this to be true. That’s because we adapt to a new purchase of tangible goods and, after awhile, barely notice it. When you invest in experiences, you are more likely to meet your psychological needs of spending time with others, developing a feeling of connection to the world and enjoying a sense of accomplishment.

Is it possible to be happy with less? Absolutely! When you address your needs for security, make a plan, hold a positive attitude and invest in those things that bring you joy, it’s likely that you will adjust well to a lower income and find much satisfaction in life after retirement. One more thing: Remember to count your blessings. It may seem trite, but the daily exercise of your gratitude muscle goes a long way in helping you to stay positive and happy!

Vicki is a licensed professional counselor and welcomes your questions. She can be reached at [email protected]






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