Keys to a Successful Retirement, Part 1

I have read a ton of retirement books lately.

It’s funny — I don’t remember reading any before I retired. Haha!

That’s one of the points in today’s book. But I’ll get to that in a bit.

For now let’s review a few of the books I’ve read (and written about) in the past few months:

I recommend all of the above for anyone who is planning on retiring. They all added to my retirement knowledge in some way and I wish I had come upon them sooner.

Today’s book, Keys to a Successful Retirement, falls into the same category.

Knowing the Author

It’s always fun to read a book when you know the author.

This has happened to me several times since many bloggers have gone on to write books.

Some I have known in passing and some I know a bit better. Today’s book, written by Fritz Gilbert, is by an author I know better than most.

Fritz is the blogger behind The Retirement Manifesto. He and I have been friends online for years and we even met at a FinCon event one year. He’s a great guy, a good writer, and knows the subject of retirement.

One thing I especially like about his book is that it’s written by someone who is actually retired.

I know, it’s surprising, but the majority of retirement books (I’d say 75% or more) are written by people who are not yet retired.

Sure, these people can talk about the theory of retirement, but what do they know about the practical issues associated with it? Yes, maybe they have “clients” who have retired or perhaps they have “studied” retirement, but they haven’t been through it and dealt with its challenges where the rubber meets the road.

This is a vital point for me. I’d much rather learn from someone who’s done what he’s talking about than someone who thinks he knows what he’s talking about.

Consider this: I have friends (relatives actually) who have been to war. And I have studied wars (I was a big history fan in high school and college and still am). So I could write about war in theory. But I have never been in a war, so my real-life knowledge is very limited. What do I know of the feeling you have when someone is firing back at you? None at all.

You may disagree with this comparison or even my premise, but I personally place a great amount of weight on someone who has experienced what he’s teaching. In fact, this site was founded on this principle. In What Makes ESI Money Different I noted:

Here’s the summary of what makes ESI Money different: It’s written by someone who is wealthy taking about what he’s actually done to get there.

Most other sites (blogs and mainstream media) are written by: 1) People who are not wealthy (you can tell by what they say) and 2) People who are trying to figure out how to become wealthy.

Yes, there’s something to learn from people not yet there (mostly how the journey is going), but as said in The Miracle Morning:

“The key is to learn from the experts — those who have already done what you want to do.”

This is why I like to post real stories from real people who have become millionaires, retired (some early), have a side hustle, been successful in dividend investing, own real estate, and so forth.

It’s one thing to know the theory behind these, but a totally different thing IMO to hear from someone who has actually done them. They are the only ones who can share what it’s really like because they have experienced it.

Ok, I’ll quite beating a dead horse now. All that rambling is a long-winded way of saying Fritz knows what he’s writing about because he’s lived it. And this practical experience, and the insights that accompany it, come through in this book.

Eight Highlights from the Book

There are a ton of things I loved about the book and obviously I can’t cover them all. So I’ve picked eight that really resonated with me for one reason or another.

I’ll share each point, talk about how Fritz covers it, and give my thoughts as well.

And it turns out there are enough (and I have many thoughts on them) to actually split this into two posts. So we’ll cover some points today and hit the rest next time.

If you want more than what I’ll be offering, simply pick up your copy of the book or ask for it at your local library.

Here are some of the things I found interesting in Keys to a Successful Retirement:

1. It’s important that you plan in advance for retirement.

Note how I said above that I hadn’t read any retirement books before I retired? Well, it’s worse than that.

If you’ve read ESI Money for more than ten seconds you probably realize there are two sides to planning for retirement — financial and non-financial.

I was all over the former and even included several margins of safety (which have come in very handy for reducing stress during the recent market declines) to make sure my retirement was as financially solid as possible.

But on the latter, I didn’t do much planning really.

I kind of “knew” I’d be ok because I have always been an active, inquisitive person with way more interests than time to pursue them.

But I did relatively little planning (i.e. none) in really thinking through what my days, weeks, months, and years would look like in retirement.

I was fortunate that I had enough interests to more than keep me happy in retirement. Many people aren’t so lucky. And if they don’t take active steps to think about and plan for the non-financial issues in retirement, it’s likely they will have an unhappy retirement.

Fritz hits this issue very hard in his book. Here are some of his words related to this subject (BTW, I received an advance copy so the words in the final edition might be slightly different, though the meaning will remain the same):

If there’s nothing else you remember from this book, please remember the importance of spending as much time as possible planning for your retirement.

There is a direct correlation between the amount of time people invest in planning for their retirement and the resulting success of their subsequent life as a retiree. Those who invest the least amount of time tend to have a higher probability of experiencing the problems you typically hear about, such as boredom, loss of identity, etc. Those who invest the most tend to have a much easier transition and higher satisfaction levels.

Take as much time as possible preparing for retirement while you’re still working. It is the single biggest differentiator between success and struggle.

The message is simple: if you are not yet retired, do yourself a favor and plan for it (addressing both financial and non-financial issues). Doing so can make the difference between having a great retirement and wishing you’d never left your job.

The good news is that it doesn’t take much planning to make you successful. In You Can Retire Sooner Than You Think it was noted that happy retirees simply spent five hours or more per year planning for their retirement. That’s simply reading one book a year! But it’s the difference between a happy and unhappy retirement for most people.

And if you’re looking for a bit more planning guidance, Fritz lays out specifics for how to approach the few years before retirement that makes this book well worth the read all by itself.

2. You need to go beyond planning for retirement. You need to work on creating your “best” retirement.

I have a free e-series called Creating a Great Retirement which focuses mostly on financial issues.

But as we’ve already discussed, the non-financial issues are at least as important.

Fritz builds on the planning message above with the following thoughts:

The most important step in the process is determining what type of life you want to live in your retirement years.

From here he shares thoughts on what makes a great retirement. And if you’ve been following along as I’ve discussed retirement book after retirement book, I think you’ll see a pattern. I sure did.

In fact, I think the keys to a great retirement are pretty simple. IMO the majority of retirement success can be boiled down to these three issues:

  • Having activities that keep you happy. Some describe this as having a “purpose” or a “passion” for something. Whatever you call them, you need activities you enjoy doing to make your retirement a success. Specifically, you need four or more activities to turn the odds in your favor. You Can Retire Sooner Than You Think gives us the specifics by noting “the happy folks have at least 3.5 core pursuits — the activities and interests they love to do.”
  • Being social. This will mean different levels of human interaction for different people, but in the end it means everyone needs some social interactions in retirement. This becomes a big issue for many since people often have their social connections through work and lose most or all of these when they retire. So they need to build new ones in advance of retirement. There are lots of choices for building relationships in retirement — working out in group classes, playing pickleball (one of mine), volunteering, or any one of a number of other things. All you need to do is select the ones that interest you and pursue them.
  • Be healthy. In retirement you have the time to exercise as well as shop for and prepare healthy meals. Do these things and you’ll increase your odds of having a happy retirement. Of course no one can control all aspects of their health and bad circumstances can throw us into turmoil, but let’s not use that possibility as an excuse for not doing all we can to be as healthy as we can be.

My personal opinion is that if you cover these three, you’ll be well on your way to an awesome retirement.

If you’re wondering how you might address each of these items, Fritz suggests this:

Throw as many things as possible against the wall and see what sticks.

In other words, make a list of what you’d like to try and then try it!

I actually have a note in my to-do list that comes up now and then. It simply asks me: “What would I do if I could do anything?”

It challenges me to think of possibilities and ask myself what could be.

Of course, some things you try will work and others won’t. But if you look for new experiences and see if you like them, you’ll eventually add one thing after another until you’ve built yourself a great retirement.

3. It’s important to get a solid estimate of your actual retirement expenses.

The vast majority of financially-focused retirement books place their emphasis on how to accumulate enough assets/income to afford retirement.

They say something like, “Let’s assume you want to retire with $50,000 in annual spending. How to you set up your finances in order to pay for that?”

That’s all well and good — obviously you need to cover your expenses — but the “let’s assume you want to retire with $50,000 in annual spending” part is often just glossed over.

How do you know if you need $50k in retirement? Are you guessing? Are you taking a percentage of your work income and assuming that’s accurate? Are you using spending averages from an online source?

No, no, no. That’s not good enough. Guessing, assuming, and using numbers that probably don’t apply to you are not practices you want to incorporate into your retirement finances, especially when you don’t need them. This is because you can know your retirement spending with relative certainty.

I read somewhere that “Hope is not a retirement strategy.” And if you are guessing at what you’re spending, you’re banking a lot on “hope”.

Fritz spends some time talking about knowing your spending by tracking it prior to retirement. That way you can then base retirement expenses on actual numbers of your lifestyle, not guess at them (which is often inaccurate — believe me, I’ve helped enough people complete budgets to know there is almost always a big gap between what people think they spend and what they actually spend).

Here are some of his thoughts:

For one year, we tracked every dollar spent, manually, in a spreadsheet. I put receipts in my pocket whenever we spent money and updated my spreadsheet several times a week. It was tedious, but the resulting information was invaluable. For the first time in our lives, we had a 100 percent accurate baseline on how much money it took to live our lives, broken into spending categories.

We thought about how our spending would change in retirement. This is the most important step in the process, since it’s here that you begin to build the foundation for the life you want to live in retirement. Think carefully about the retirement you want to live and how much it will cost. Focus on the lifestyle you desire first, then get realistic about the costs associated with that lifestyle.

This process will get you solid numbers on what you’re likely to spend in retirement. From there you can create a plan to cover these expenses with assets, income, or a combination of both.

We didn’t have a problem with knowing our expenses since we have 20+ years of Quicken data. But those who haven’t tracked their spending for quite some time could be in for a world of hurt when it comes to real-life retirement expenses. That’s why knowing your actual numbers is so important.

Ok, those are the first three points I really liked about this book. What are your thoughts on them?

To read more about this book, check out part 2 of this series.


Originally posted at

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