Still Learning – HumbleDollar Lessons for people thinking about retirement

FOR THE BETTER part of 40 years, I spent a great deal of time helping thousands of workers prepare for retirement. We ran seminars for workers and spouses on topics like retirement income, insurance, lifestyle, relocation and more. I think it’s fair to say that, if someone took advantage of the programs offered, they would have been well prepared financially and emotionally for retirement.

Sadly, relatively few workers utilized all that was available to them—this despite the support and urging of the unions that represented them.

I retired in 2010, suffering in part from banging-your-head-against-the-wall syndrome. Since then, I’ve learned a great deal more about retirement, both from my own experience and from others. Here are my top 10 lessons:

Source: Still Learning – HumbleDollar


  1. l almost never agree anywhere near 100% with these kinds of posts, but you are 100% correct! I’ve been (mostly) retired for 2+ years, and thought I had considered everything retirement related before I retired. The biggest surprise: Not having smart people to talk to all the time, basically your point #8. Even when customers, suppliers or co-workers would challenge me, it made me think through or re-think my positions. Really miss that.


      1. .

        Can’t access it. It’s not you. It’s me. I don’t have all the latest bells and whistles on my older desktop computer. If I had kept up with all the changes in technology over the years, I couldn’t afford to be retired. Besides, the more degenerate our culture becomes, the less I want to have access to it.



  2. I used to lead our corporate pre-retirement planning seminar. Unfortunately, very few companies maintain such programs today. In terms of your 10 – a couple of comments.

    1. I used to say, while you are working, you’ll be accumulating savings for 20, 30, 40 or more years, and after retirement, you’ll be, hopefully spending those monies for 20, 30 or more years, but, regardless you will always be a retirement funds investor – investing doesn’t end at retirement.
    2. Emergencies are what insurance is for. Identify your deductibles (car, home, health, etc.) and any out of pocket maximum (health), and anticipate that someday your finances will be called upon. But, I never encouraged individuals to move money out of qualified plan investments in advance – possibly, the taxes applied to a distribution may be reduced by tax-deductible expenses (medical, casualty, etc.).
    3. Other potential legs on the stool – 2nd career income, spouse’s income, spouse’s benefits, home equity, etc.
    4. No comment other than to say most people’s lifestyle will change as they age.
    5. Health care inflation is significant, but only for early retirees. For Medicare-eligible retirees, the average annual inflation rate (indexing deductibles, copayments, etc.) has been about 3% for the past 35 years. Yes, you should plan on 3% – 5% per year inflation, in everything. But again, recognize that your lifestyle will change as you age.
    6 & 7: It is easy for some, not for all. The challenge is finding what’s is right for you. One of my co-presenters used to ask the question: Close your eyes. Imagine it is 6 months since you retired. Let’s walk through the typical day together. It is 5AM, what are you doing… 6AM, 7AM, etc. A film we used to present was titled “A Week Full of Saturdays”.
    8: Agree My co-presenter also used to say, today, now, start making friends of people of all ages.
    9: Agree
    10: Hah! My co-presenter also used to say, always have something to look forward to. Waking up is certainly one of those!


  3. I paid attention and went to every seminar my bosses would allow, and every one after hours scheduled overtime permitting. Retired now nearly 2 years and very thankful for the company both offering to and actually educating me to prepare for the future.


  4. I can’t see your 10 reasons in this post but I read them on MarketWatch. I have a question about #4.

    “Maintaining your lifestyle isn’t as easy as it looks. After nine years, I’ve maintained mine. But that’s only been possible because of a measure of frugality, coupled with my goal of retiring with enough income to replicate 100% of my base salary, rather than the standard advice to aim for 80%.”

    It should not take 100% of your pre-retirement income to maintain your lifestyle because of the many “working” expenses cease to exist; commuting, meals, clothing, etc., as do many of the saving requirements of the working years, like that for retirement.

    And if you targeted and achieved 100%, why is there any need for frugality?


    1. I have been retired for a year. I agree that it should not be 100% of your gross income but you need to target 100% of your net income, maybe 115% due to inflation and medical. In my case, between taxes, payroll deductions other than taxes, and my 401K contributions, there is a big difference in the target money. Half my tax bill and my 401K contribution went away thus I wasn’t using that to live on day to day anyway.

      I also worked a lot of overtime and would spend that on things I will not do today. It comes now to needs and wants and now my wants are more focused on what I want to do in retirement so I have become more frugal.


      1. Note I said 100% of base pay, not OT or bonuses, etc. You said you spent OT on things you won’t today. Doesn’t that mean you changed lifestyle a bit? Tell me what you think in nine more years after you have to replace a water heater, a car or a roof or any large expense coming from savings. And let’s hope your frugality does keep you from doing all the things you want to do.


      2. As far as replacing water heaters, major appliances, and a roof, I have CD’s waiting for them by name. In fact I was hoping to replace my roof when I am age 60 so it would be the last roof I ever buy but it is getting replace next spring. The car is scheduled in three years when it turns 10, down payments are waiting in addition to whatever trade in value I can get for the old car. I budget using Quicken with 19 years of history and I do most of my house maintenance so I know costs and life expectancy of almost everything in my house.

        The thing that was unexpected was trees. I have had to cut down an average of two very large trees for the past three years. The next one is coming down this winter and will cost about $2500,. These are big hits not directly planned for but I have savings that will cover this and I still contribute to my savings every month for just unexpected things. But trees, I didn’t see that coming, nor did the rest of my neighborhood who have been forced to cut their trees.

        As for the OT, I do not need 100’s of DVD when I have all the movie channels on cable. I went to Las Vegas several times but now Atlantic City does just fine less than an hour away. If I needed a tool, I just bought it and I might never use it again. Now I might try borrowing it or renting it first. It is not like I am going to live to use it again in the next 40 years. Just because I could buy something with OT money, does mean that I should have back then. So yes, I changed my lifestyle but I have also changed my priorities of what I think is important and I have so far always had the money to do things we want to do. If anything, I have changed my lifestyle for the better. I used to only take a few weeks vacation per year because that was all the time off that I was allowed. I have now spend double that time traveling to different places by air, land, and sea.


    2. The frugality allowed me to reach my goal of saving income generating investments. Plus still a bit cautious because of inflation and I want assets retained for my wife if necessary. Don’t interpret my frugality as living under a rock afraid to spend money. That working expenses disappears when retired thing is overblown. Sure some expenses are gone, but others replace them. In my case we spend more on food by eating out more often, our health insurance premiums including Medicare are five times what they were when working. Still buy clothes just different ones and my wife’s habits haven’t changed a bit. Since I didn’t pay to commute because I had a company car, my transportation expenses are higher now even for pleasure driving. Driven across the country twice in last four years. Our travel expenses are much, much higher. Still have gifts and presents and now we are up to 13 grandkids. Even though we are in the process of downsizing, our monthly bills are virtually the same. Our property taxes are only $2,000 less, but that and other savings are offset by a $730 monthly HOA fee. Everyone’s experience and definition of lifestyle is different, but I still feel starting with 100% replacement is a good strategy to allow room for inflation, financial emergencies and even modest savings.


      1. .

        ” Our property taxes are only $2,000 less, but that and other savings are offset by a $730 monthly HOA fee. ”

        WOW!! $750 HOA Fee !!

        I’m glad I live in an older subdivision… NO HOA !!

        However, my property tax is $2900 [2200 sq ft house]

        But that’s in Dallas. Texas has a higher property tax because there is NO STATE INCOME TAX !



      2. Not compared to NJ. The total property tax is $12,500. My previous house was $14,500 on a lot 50×120.


      3. .


        I have only lived in my native state, Texas, and Arkansas. When I lived in Arkansas, it had a state income tax, a real estate property tax PLUS a personal property tax and a sales tax on food. So I moved back to my home state of Texas as soon as I could!



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