A friend who often proofreads these columns before submission, asked for a deeper explanation behind a reference to the “go-go” phase of retirement. Financial advisers may frame retirement in three phases: go-go, slow-go, and no-go.
“Go-go” refers to active retirees. They’re the ones off of a cruise ship in Antarctica sporting bright red parkas and climbing an ice- and snow-covered hill on the way to view a glacier. Or on a bespoke tour of Australia hiking a trail in the Outback. Hoofing it through European cities and villages on a Rick Steves tour. Still running the Peachtree Road Race after all these years. They’re the older walkers and runners in the park. The tennis and pickleball players at the senior center. The active volunteers. The helpers. They have money and the stamina to do what they wish and to serve others.
Invariably you slow down at some point. The slow-go phase of retirement may be precipitated by physical limitations and/or financial limitations. You can’t quite do what you did as a go-go retiree, certainly not with the same intensity.
There was a time when reaching old age was a definite achievement. Per Wikipedia, in 17th-century New England, about 40 percent of people died before reaching adulthood. Of the Founding Fathers, Ben Franklin lived to age 84. George Washington died at 67. Alexander Hamilton perished at 47 from a gunshot wound in a duel, an extreme form of cancel culture when people disagreed.
“No-go” reality is foretold in the Bible. In John 21:18, Jesus warns, “I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.’ Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God.” Anyone involved in caregiving understands this reality.
Women generally end up as caregivers to their husbands in the no-go stage of life. But a husband may be called upon to care for an ailing wife. Often, however, it’s daughters or sons in their 40s and 50s who step up to help an infirm mom, dad, widow, widower, grandparent or other loved one. Have in place up-to-date powers of attorney for assets and health care, advance directives, wills, and perhaps, a trust, to avoid frantic situations involving “now what?” You don’t roll up to a nursing facility or care home and check in the patient like it’s a Four Seasons hotel.
The French poet Jean de La Fontaine advised, “Death never takes the wise man [or woman, we might add] by surprise, he [she] is always ready to go.” Have you prepared for “what if?” so you don’t wreck your spouse’s, daughter’s, or son’s life? If you have complex holdings, or real estate in different states, have you explored trust planning? If you’re a closely held business owner or key person in an enterprise, have you provided for succession in the event of disability or death?
Then again, live life without fear. Henry Van Dyke, Dutch-American poet, academic, and clergyman, observed, “Some people are so afraid to die, they never begin to live.” Clients sometimes ask their financial adviser, “Can I (we) afford to do so-in-so?”
A client, now deceased, wanted to take his family, along with a passel of grandchildren, on an Alaskan adventure, including a cruise. He said, “It’s gonna cost more than a new Mercedes.” I pointed out that a Mercedes ultimately will wear out, but the memories of the trip will last a lifetime! He and his wife talked about that experience over and over until they passed away, reveling in the fact that they had the means and gumption to do it.
One of the objectives of prudent and comprehensive financial planning is to help you live the life you want to live, now!!! It’s about setting a goal, figuring out what your dream will cost, and accumulating the capital to make it happen within your desired time frame. You may have to drive a used car or fly coach before you can buy that dream machine or fly first class. But the saddest thing in old age is to suffer from “shoulda, woulda, coulda” regrets.
“Dream achievement” often takes time, patience and discipline. “Hard dream accomplishment” is often far more rewarding than what comes easy. Consultant, coach, speaker and writer Matthew Kelly, in his book “The Dream Manager” said, “Dreams bring us to life. Dreams animate us, and what dreams do for individuals, they also do for relationships . . . and companies...The pursuit of dreams creates passion, energy, enthusiasm, and vitality...Every relationship improves when we are mindful of each other’s dreams.”
Financial planning is “dream management” in all stages of life.