Over the past 20 years, I’ve spent thousands of hours talking to friends and clients about retirement. It’s the primary thing people ask about because, for many of us, it represents the one thing we want most – freedom!
For generations, the concept of retirement – which I call Old School Retirement – essentially meant planning for the day when we’d leave work for a permanent vacation. I’ve watched as people I cared about deferred things that they wanted to do now, while they were young and healthy enough to do them, in hopes that they’d do it all when they retired. They put off for tomorrow, left vacation days unused, and felt unhappy and unfulfilled, just so that they could max out their retirement accounts and leave the workforce as quickly as possible.
To be clear, these people had the money to do the things they wanted to do but were trying to figure out the balance between planning to have enough later and living today. In many cases, they liked working. They didn’t always like where or how they were working but loved the social interaction and feeling like they were making a difference. They didn’t necessarily want to quit working altogether, they just wanted the freedom to live more now. What they wanted and what they were planning for simply didn’t match up.
In 2018, I’d seen enough, so I decided to do some research into how people (me included) could live happier, healthier lives. As part of my research, I found lists of the happiest and healthiest countries in the world. I never knew such lists existed! After cross-referencing the lists, I found that four of these countries made it onto both lists. I figured that they must be doing something right. Now, I hoped that by finding out what was helping folks in these countries to be happy and healthy, I could use that information to help my client’s live happier, healthier lives too.
What I found was that, in these countries, workers take off an extra 220 hours a year compared to the average worker in the United States. They focus on having strong social ties. They take care of themselves (of course it’s easier to eat right and exercise when you’re taking off an extra 200 plus hours a year.) And, they were willing, likely because they were working less stringently, less stressfully, to work to an older age. They actually worked an extra two-and-a-half years compared to the American worker, but by taking “mini-retirements'' with their extra time off each year, they didn’t mind hanging around longer.
As I began sharing the research with my clients, I realized that the Old School idea of retirement was broken. Don’t get me wrong, there were some parts of the concept that were still attractive, but it needed a more modern approach. Much like many of the great songs of the past, the melody was still appealing, but it needed a remix to make it more relevant – so The Retirement Remix was born.
If I told you that I might be able to help you live a happier, healthier life, starting today, would you want to? I wrote The Retirement Remix to share a formula that I’ve seen lead to successful transitions into lives that work now, but still keep an eye on the future. If freedom is what we want most – and I’ve worked with enough families to know that it likely is – then why wait until later to begin claiming it? Here, I combine the mindsets and tools that can help you plan your unique journey with confidence, intertwined with inspiring stories of real people who are breaking the mold, and living life intentionally.
It’s time to change the way we look at work and Old School Retirement. It’s time for a new tune. I’m excited to share my passion with you and I look forward to hearing the story of your Retirement Remix!
Out to Lunch
The line rang over and over again as Roger Jones began to pull the phone away from his ear and move his finger toward the screen to end the call. It was his second attempt this week.
Just before he hit the red button on his iPhone, a voice came through from the other end.
“Hey there, Roger,” said his longtime friend, Mary King.
Roger, Mary and their spouses, Dianne and Ted, went way back.
The couples lived in the same small town for more than thirty years. They vacationed together, raised their kids together, and spent time together as much as they could, ever since Roger and Dianne retired and left their small town to see the world.
“Hey Mary, how are you and Ted?” Roger asked before relaying the real reason for his call.
“We’re doing good Roger,” Mary replied. “You know, just getting by and making do. How are you and Dianne?”
“We’re great, Mary, thanks for asking. In fact, we’re gonna be back in town on Monday and will be there for about a week before we have to head back out. I know Dianne would love to see you and I’d love to catch up with Ted. Are you guys available for a quick lunch?”
Mary breathed in on the other end, took a moment to glance over her shoulder at her kitchen calendar, and saw an opening or two in between the chunked off times in the week ahead.
“Sure, that sounds wonderful,” she said. “Ted’s been really worn out from working so much and I know getting a chance to see you guys would really perk him up.”
“Perfect! Does 12:30 Monday work for you all? Maybe at the country club?” Roger asked.
“Yup that works. I know that’s your favorite spot,” Mary said, her mood improved by the promise of some future time with friends and a little break from the chaos that has become her and Ted’s daily routine.
“Sounds great, we’ll see you then,” said Roger, as he ended the call, confident that he’d finally get a chance to tell his friends all about he and Dianne’s wonderful retirement and how they too, could get out of the rut of “just getting by.”
Walking into the country club for lunch, Ted pulled the knot of his tie away from his neck. It felt uncomfortable and a little over-the-top for a man who spent his days behind a desk, crunching numbers at a construction company.
“I don’t know why Roger’s into all this fancy stuff anyway,” Ted said to Mary as the two approached the glass double doors. “I always thought he was a down-to-earth kind of guy, but this feels... well, the opposite of that.” He pulled open one of the doors for Mary as she stepped under his arm and into the front lobby of the club.
Mary looked at Ted with the kind of sideways glance that showed her annoyance with his critical nature. “Look, I’m just happy we get to see them when they’re back in town,” she said as they sat down at a table. “I’m with you though, I don’t understand how they can afford this kind of lifestyle. I thought all this talk of travel and expensive club memberships would end once their retirement began,” she said with a slight smirk on her face.
Just then, Roger and Dianne walked into the club’s dining room.
Ted and Mary greeted the couple with hugs and “hellos” as they settled into their chairs and prepared for the long-awaited lunch with their friends.
“I hope this place is okay,” said Roger. “We never seem to get the time to enjoy our membership when we’re in town, so I thought this might be the perfect opportunity.”
“It’s beautiful,” Mary replied, trying to ignore the memory of Ted’s critical comments when they arrived.
Mary couldn’t help but be torn between feelings of happiness for her friends and their lifestyle and the familiar pangs of frustration for the struggles that she and Ted faced on a daily basis.
How Do You Do It All?
“Thanks so much for the invitation,” said Mary, trying to break up the sudden silence at the lunch table. “We’re thrilled to get to catch up.”
“We are too!” said Dianne, eager to tell her friend about the past year’s travels. “We were in Prague at a little cafe with scones that reminded me of the ones you made for us last year for Thanksgiving. That’s when I told Roger we just had to reach out and get together when we got back.”
“Prague? Wow!” said Mary with a hint of embarrassment in her voice. “I’ve always wanted to go there. Is it as pretty in person as it is in pictures?”
“It is! You and Ted should take a trip there sometime,” replied Dianne, feeling a twinge of guilt as she watched an expression of sadness wash over Mary’s face.
“I wish we could,” Mary explained, “but with Ted’s work schedule and myself taking care of the grandkids so Beth can finish school, we just don’t get a lot of time for traveling.”
While Roger and Dianne spent the first few years of their retirement traveling the world and seeing the sights, Ted and Mary followed a much different path. Ted went back to work as an accountant for a local construction firm, and what started out as a part-time job to pay some extra bills quickly began to devour more and more of his time. Meanwhile, Mary took on the role of babysitter for their daughter Beth’s two children while Beth went back to school to complete her nursing degree.
“Oh, I understand, it’s hard,” Dianne said, trying to empathize with her friends’ situation. “I bet it’s wonderful to spend your days cuddling with those grandbabies though!” she added with a smile. “That’s even more beautiful than Prague could ever hope to be.”
Mary looked at Ted and gave a sly smile. “I love getting to spend so much time with them,” she said, “but sometimes... well, it feels like a full-time job. Childcare’s just so expensive, and we thought we could maybe give Beth a leg up on her future if we helped out now. She sees her dad working still, and he’s almost seventy. We just want to give her a chance to save some money to invest and maybe have a different kind of future.” Mary paused, noticing Ted’s annoyance with her mentioning of his age.
“That’s so gracious of you, and a beautiful way to leave a legacy,” Roger chimed in. “It reminds me of some of the important work Dianne’s doing with her new scholarship foundation.”
“Scholarship foundation?” Ted asked with a raised eyebrow, as he reached for the group’s shared bowl of rye bread.
“Oh, yes!” Roger said, beaming with pride. “I’m not sure if we’ve seen you since then, but Dianne’s been volunteering her time with a scholarship foundation that gives grant money to college students who’d be the first to graduate in their family. It’s really important work, and it’s been amazing to see her put her heart and soul into something she believes in so deeply.”
“That’s incredible, Dianne,” Ted said, genuinely impressed. “Roger, what are you doing while Dianne’s busy with all that?”
“Well, I’ve actually been dabbling a little bit in consulting,” Roger replied.
“Consulting, huh? Who on earth would take your advice?” Ted joked, enjoying catching up with his old friend, and ribbing him a little.
“Very funny, Ted... But, yeah, I’ve been taking on management consulting clients,” Roger explained. “I’m mostly working with start-ups. These young kids and all their ideas, they have no shortage of inspiration, but they usually need some help with strategic planning and actually implementing those ideas- and that’s where I come in.”
“Well, that sounds interesting,” Ted said, this time not teasing his friend. “Is that volunteer-based, as well?”
Roger laughed as he took a bite of pasta. “Nope! Though, it might as well be, because I only charge my clients a token fee. But their investment in me, no matter how small or big it may be, makes sure I have buy-in and that they have skin in the game. That way I’m only getting clients who are really ready to listen to my suggestions and to do the work it takes to put them into action.
“Everybody wins, really,” Roger continued. “I can do the consulting work from anywhere, so it doesn’t interfere with Dianne’s adventurous spirit, and it’s fascinating and rewarding for me to partner with new groups doing innovative things, who need advice from a more seasoned guy like me.”
“I really don’t know how you do it all,” said Mary, unintentionally sounding a little sharp. Her thoughts were still a continual mixture of happiness for her friends’ success, combined with feelings of jealousy and frustration that she and Ted couldn’t “have it all” during their retirement as well.
“What do you mean, how do we do it?” asked Roger, sensing a hint of tension in the air.
“I mean, please don’t misunderstand. I’m so happy for you, and it all sounds amazing,” said Mary, softening her tone and delivery a little, “but, how do you afford to travel so often, work for foundations and do consulting work for so little pay that it might as well be volunteer as well?”
“Honestly, by mixing it up,” interjected Dianne.
“More like ‘remixing’ it up. The first mix didn’t go so well,” Roger added with a laugh.
“That’s true,” said Dianne. “We tried to do retirement the way we were told from a young age. We put away as much money as we thought we needed. We assumed one day we’d just stop working, and we needed money to keep the house going and ensure our expenses were covered. And then one day we were talking to our financial advisor in his office, and he asked if we planned to travel in retirement. I answered ‘yes’, because I’d always envisioned my retirement filled with new places, faces and cultures, but at the exact same time, Roger answered ‘no.’ In that instant, we realized that our visions weren’t aligned. We weren’t even in the same book, let alone on the same page.” Dianne said as a soft smile crept onto her face.
Roger smiled back at Dianne and continued the story. “So, we sat down, and did some soul-searching and some number crunching. We both compromised a little here and there until we had a dream retirement vision that made us both feel excited and motivated, written in black and white, and scribbled on a piece of notebook paper,” he continued.
“We decided that our second retirement mix, or our retirement remix if you will, was the better one for us. We took that scribbled-on, crumpled-up piece of notebook paper back into our advisor’s office, and he helped us figure out just how much we needed to live the life we dreamed of, and not the one that we were settling for,” Roger said.
He noticed how his words now seemed to captivate Mary and Ted. “Our advisor helped us increase our investments to save the right amount so we’d have the income we needed in retirement,” Roger added, “plus we knew that I could always do some consulting if we wanted to have a little extra spending money.”
“It wasn’t always easy,” Dianne said, “but in the end it was definitely the right decision for us to make. We knew that we could continue to spend money on really lavish things in our fifties but doing that would definitely ensure our new retirement vision would never come to pass.”
“And trust me,” Roger lamented, with humor in his voice, “Fifty-three-year-old Roger really wanted that Italian sports car he’d been working so hard for.”
A Remix of Our Own
“That’s an inspiring story, guys,” said Mary, as she turned to look at Ted. “Maybe we should set up a meeting with our finance guy too? We could talk about our options and what we could do to reduce your work hours or maybe you could even officially retire? We could have a remix of our own,” she said as she gave Ted a nudge with her elbow.
“Really?” Ted asked, showing his first real energy or excitement all day. “Do you think that’s actually possible?”
“We’ll never know unless we try,” Mary suggested, happy to see a little spark in the tired eyes of her husband. “And while we’re there, maybe we can get some advice or resources for Beth to start thinking and planning while she’s still young.”
“That’s a great idea, Mary,” said Dianne. “We wouldn’t trade our retirement remix for anything, but it sure would’ve been nice to get it right on the first go-round,” she laughed.
“If you need any help from us, just know we’re a phone call away,” Roger added, reflecting on the fact that what started off as a call to his friends to open their eyes to life’s possibilities, had now come full circle.
The above article originally appeared as a chapter in The Retirement Remix and is reprinted with permission from the author Chip Munn. No parts of this article may be reproduced without correct attribution to the author of this book.
You can find the full book here.
About the author: Chip Munn
Chip Munn is the CEO and a Senior Wealth Advisor at Signature Wealth Group. He is the author of The Retirement Remix, host of The Retirement Remix Show, and is a regular contributor to various financial publications like Financial-Planning.com and Thrive Global. Connect on Twitter @chip_munn.
Though he began his career as a teacher in a formal education setting, he quickly realized that his teaching skills could translate into a wealth management career and transitioned into finance. In 2015, Chip was ranked among the Top 10 Regional Advisors Under 40 by On Wall Street magazine. Since then, as the CEO of Signature Wealth, he's driven the expansion of the practice from a small three-person team to a regional wealth management group with 40+ team members thriving in more than 12 local communities and has seen it grow from $280M in client assets under care to $1.9B since 2016. Chip specializes in retirement, education planning, and the transfer of wealth. Seeing his clients fulfilling their dreams and living their Signature Life is what drives him. In addition to being a successful advisor, author, and host, he is a coach to other advisors and professionals.