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Are You Sure You Want to Delete This?

January 29, 2015

As I sat in my office with tears streaming down my cheeks, my wife walked in and asked, “What’s wrong?”

After a short sniffle, I blurted out, “I just deleted Dad!” The absurdity of my remark hit us both, and we burst out laughing. Dad had been dead for over two years.

Closing out even the most modest estate is a time-consuming process, though. After settling his accounts and finalizing the legal paperwork, the administrative project finally was finished… or so I thought.

Earlier that day, I’d gone into my address book to add a name and there was Dad’s information. So I hit “delete,” and the computer asked, “Are you sure you want to delete this?”

Heck no! I didn’t want to delete Dad, but I knew I had to. It just seemed so final.

While I was sad when he passed, I’d focused on the tasks at hand. He was elderly, on his way to hospice, and we knew his time was coming. I didn’t begin to look back until clicking “delete” years later.

What’s Left after Retirement?

Dad retired from the post office at age 65 and lived to age 92. I was 30 when he retired and recall thinking, “What’s left for him? Is he just going to hang around now until he dies?” He showed me better.

Dad’s life was simple. He and my mother moved to a 55-plus community in Sarasota, Florida. While she kept a full social calendar, Dad would pick and choose. Mostly, Dad was the classic couch potato—watching sports, discussing batting averages or yards per carry. He could talk golf or tennis with the most avid fan. Fortunately, he never had a weight problem, likely because he’d walked a 12-mile mail route carrying a 30-lb. sack for over 20 years.

All in all, Mom did what she enjoyed, Dad did what he enjoyed, and they did some things they both enjoyed together.

Sure, they had their squabbles. Mom would go on multiday group trips with other ladies in their retirement village. The husbands seldom went along, and after some protest she finally admitted they preferred it that way. To each his own!

While Mom and Dad were far from wealthy, they never worried about money and managed to save a little bit each year.

Do You Like Getting Older?

I sure do. Part of aging is realizing that you cannot change the past, understanding that no one promises you tomorrow, and finally deciding to enjoy the moment.

I wish I had understood that at age 30, when I was fretting over how Dad would spend his time. Retirement is a state of mind—a time for being comfortable with yourself and your situation. If I’d known that then, would I have been more prudent and saved more? I’ll never know.

Still, I hope that my children, grandchildren, and now great-grandchildren internalize these lessons at a much younger age. My wife and I know many people who never saved a dime, have no pension and, are trying to live on Social Security alone. Many have returned to work in their 70s. Most are poorly paid and worry what will happen when they are too old or frail to keep it up.

If that doesn’t motivate younger folks to make the maximum contributions to their IRAs or 401(k)s and live below their means, I don’t know what will.

Enjoying your golden years means having the financial and emotional freedom to do crazy things, to love and laugh and eat dessert with abandon, and yes, to even go back to work if you feel like it.

In the history of the world, that kind of retirement is a luxury few people have ever been able to afford. We each have a hand in writing our own final chapters. It is the choices we make earlier, though, that determine how the story ends.

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