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 “Every day I get up and look through the Forbes list of the richest people in America. If I'm not there, I go to work.”  Robert Orben

“I want to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life!” Henry D. Thoreau


I have retired from my original profession as a civil engineer for about a score of years ago. My former classmates of engineers in University Malaya have also one by one retiring from work, some started as early as five years ago, and some but in a minority, are still holding on in their profession, albeit at a slower pace. Hence, it is an opportune time for me to write something about the bliss and blues of retirement.

"What do you do?" is a common question asked in a social gathering. When you're working the answer is easy. Mentioning that "I'm retired" doesn’t sound good when you still look young. By the way, many people still look young when they enter the age of 60s nowadays. Then comes the inevitable, "So what do you do all day during your retirement?” That follow up question gets to the heart of the retirement dilemma for many. I'm hoping the answer isn't watching 6 hours of TV and taking 3 hours of naps. What exactly do we do to make the best use of our time, energy, and talents?

Retirement Financial Considerations

To retire happily, one must have enough money to last for twenty or more years during retirement, leading a life of his choice. There is no ultimate figure for retirement. Everyone has different needs and wants, and his retirement fund should reflect accordingly.

For me, if we have a roof over our heads free of mortgage, reasonably healthy, and children are independent, we don’t need to have tens of millions to retire. Buy meat and vegetable to cook at home. Try out recipes from the internet can even be a past time and fun thing to do. Do go out and eat and indulge yourselves a little occasionally. There are plenty of good eateries and coffee shops selling good food at reasonable or even cheap prices. Believe me, there is nowhere else in the world where food is as cheap, good and easily available in Malaysia.

Bear in mind that in your later stage of your retirement, you must take into considerations of higher medical and health care costs, and the Gremlin of inflation. If you have RM1 m saving now and anticipate that you will live another 20 years, it doesn’t mean you can hide your money under the pillow and spend RM50000 a year, as RM50000 in twenty years’ time can’t buy even half what you can buy now, not unless you invest your money in a safe instrument and can get a return of your saving higher than the rate of inflation. Don’t forget that comes with risk, the risk that you may lose your hard-earned savings meant for retirement.

If you wish to have a more flexible and better lifestyle such as doing more travelling overseas, have a better car, indulge yourself in some good food in good restaurants, better health care, you may need to have more retirement savings. But trust me, you also do not need to have tens of millions for all these enjoyments. The only thing which can kill you financially is gambling. It could become an addiction and there is no end in losing no matter how much money you have. That also include gambling in the stock market, and especially if you swing the fence, making worse by using margin finance.

What about having a lot of money left for your children? Save it, they won’t appreciate it. More so, it may spoil them, giving them the idea hard work is not necessary in life as money comes so easily. If you wish to give them a hand, help them when they are needed, in down payments for a car for work and a forced saving for the first house.

Retirement non-financial considerations

If we have enough money to lead the kind of retirement life we desire, and we have had enough of the rat race, we still must answer the concern of how we are going to spend the time. This depends on individual and each one of us should have control of his own destination.

To retire fully and happily, I believe first and foremost is one must have a hobby and interest in something. In Auckland, I have a friend who has retired and spending whole day and everyday just doing gardening. He enjoys it very much as weather is good here most of the time. One likes fishing and he bought a boat for fishing in the deep sea. The problem is getting keen mates to go with him. Another friend likes trampling. He goes around everywhere in beautiful forest reserves and national parks hiking with his group of friends. Another loves karaoke and he has two sets of karaoke machines in his house. He also likes to watch all kinds of sports in TV, golf, billiard, tennis, darts, soccer, etc. A classmate of mine goes cycling and mountain biking everywhere is Asia, including very remote places. A couple of my other friends and their wives go ballroom dancing every week.

Many retirees enjoy playing golf two or three times a week. Walking 7-8 kilometres each outing in the golf course is a good exercise. Besides, golfing can maintain one’s social life, keeping informed of things around us, and have some cheap excitement with some small bets. Going everywhere to play different courses is a joy for many keen golfers. One can really while away a lot of time, and hopefully happily and fruitfully in the golf courses.

What about travelling around the world with your spouse and seeing interesting places, beautiful sceneries and different cultures? I am fortunate that most of my former classmates in schools and university are residing in KL. Besides having frequent lunch gathering, we also used to go travelling around Malaysia, various places in South East Asia and China together, sometimes for golfing and sometimes just for sight-seeing together with spouses. That is enjoyable.

What about learning some new knowledge and skills; reading and learning investment skills from books, online resources, or even go for a course? That was what I had done, and I enjoyed it very much. What about reading books about War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy? The histories of all the old empires (Roman, Egyptian, French, German, Genghis Khan, British etc.) and about world wars, The Three kingdoms in China, The Memoir of Lee Kuan Yew, Mahathir, Robert Kuok, The Bible, the Quran, the teachings of Buddha, and some love storybooks etc. Haven’t you missed these for a long time already since started a busy career? Game for writing a book or start a blog? What about doing some social and charity works?

One other major concern of retiring is how one and his family members can cope with this sudden change. Many of you may have been working in the corporate world and mostly already in high positions in the company. Can one cope with his sudden loss of self-identity and self-worth after retirement? Would the spouse afraid that the husband will “disturb her peaceful life” at home after retirement; asking her to prepare this or that for him to eat while being a couch potato? Will he be always fighting with her to watch each other’s favourite TV programmes? Can his wife stand what other lady friends are talking about how successful their husbands’ careers or businesses are, the big car or house they have bought, but her “man” is shaking his legs and balls doing nothing at home, at this “young” age? Can he tolerate the nagging of the wife, asking him to clean this and that as she can’t stand seeing him reading newspapers or watching TV peacefully?

So before retiring, one must think about if it is acceptable with everyone if he retires, what he is going to do, discuss with family members and sort them out before he can enjoy a satisfying retirement. Failure to do so may severely strain a relationship and makes one regrets of his action later. For those who have no spouse nor children, you are luckier, you have more freedom. Friends are then the most valuable assets to have for all of us but be sure your friends who have their own family, or are still working, have time for you.

In summary, one needs not to retire if he enjoys his work and can make more money to enjoy life and leave some inheritance and a legacy (not too much) to his children, besides carrying on contributing to the society. But if he dreads to go to work every day and thinks that he may expire soon and likes to pursue other more interesting things in his bucket list, he should do some pre-retirement due diligence before retiring, financially and non-financially. I believe that if he is proactive, he can find many things to do and may find retirement life a fulfilling and satisfying one.

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