The Retirement Stage of Life

April 16, 2013

For the last few years I have been writing about retiring; specifically retiring to Thailand. But recently I have been thinking more about just “retirement” on its own, whether here or anywhere. And for me it is turning out to be a really good time.

But read any recent financial magazine or website or watch the news on TV and you’re sure to come across stories about how so many people are not at all prepared to retire. They have no savings, they are “under water” with their houses, both they and their children are weighed down with unmanageable debt, and with the economy and inflation the way it is, they see themselves working until they die (I talk about this in “How the He!! Am I Going To Retire Now?” ). Some of these things we have control over, and some we can’t be blamed for as they are just part of the cosmic joke that the gods like to play on us.

But, in this day and age, if you have gotten your act together enough to be able to retire, with all the obstacles that our current economy and the gods have thrown at you, then you’ve done something right.

For me, although it took a long while to get here, I am learning that The Retirement Stage of life is probably the best that I have encountered so far.

Why the Retirement Stage beats all the others

I am one of the lucky few who have always had a job that I loved going to. But still, every day I was at work I would have rather been at home doing something else. Now that I am retired, I am usually at home, doing something else.

Below is my incomplete list on why being retired beats all the others stages of my life. I am sure you’ll have your own list after a while. And tell me if being retired doesn’t seem like you might already be in one of the levels of Paradise?

  • Wake up when I’ve had enough sleep
  • Only set the alarm for golf tee times
  • Get out of bed when I’m ready
  • Go to bed when I am sleepy (at night, middle of the day, whenever)
  • Eat when I am hungry
  • Shave only when it starts to itch
  • No commuting
  • Never have to go to meetings
  • Make my own schedule (do what I want when I want)
  • Colleagues are now friends, family, and pets, not co-workers
  • Live with minimal stress
  • Priorities are made by me and not some boss
  • Never have to go through an annual performance evaluation
  • Won’t have to contemplate murder after an annual performance evaluation
  • Don’t worry if my evaluation will get me that annual 2% pay raise
  • Instead of “to do lists” I can work on my “bucket list”
  • Live where it is always summer
  • Never shovel snow
  • Haven’t had a cold since retiring (lots fewer people around to catch one from)
  • Take a vacation whenever
  • Take a shower whenever
  • Can play golf on a weekday
  • Mowing the grass is a fun exercise and not a weekend chore
  • Never have to go anywhere during rush hour
  • Go shopping when everyone else is at work
  • Comb my hair once a day and then forget about it
  • Wear a pair of real leather shoes maybe once a year
  • Never have to wear a tie

Hopefully you will have had the good fortune to be able to retire or at least start planning for it. But as you enter this new stage in your life, you’ll have some challenges ahead.

Will you survive retirement? Short answer, NO! Everyone who has ever retired is either dead or will be fairly soon. That is nonnegotiable. The better question is “How will you survive during retirement?”

Staying Solvent

A recently retired friend just said to me, “I have found that money won’t give you happiness. But it is sure difficult to be happy without it.” You don’t have to be rich to be retired successfully, but it will be hard to be successful unless you have “enough”. That is the number one retirement requirement.

Defining “enough” for yourself

Do we really need to generate the same income and to live at the same levels after retiring than we did before? Going by their stories on how much you will need after retirement, CNBC, Bloomberg, and Yahoo Finance think so. I don’t. I am happy that for us the definition of “enough” is to have a sufficient income to live a simple, uncomplicated lifestyle.

We don’t need to have the same income as before because now

  • We don’t save for retirement anymore (been there, done that)
  • We don’t need to put the kids through college (done deal)
  • We don’t need a new car for those long commutes to work (my computer is less than 2’ from my bed)
  • We don’t have life insurance payments (kids don’t need protection anymore)
  • We rarely buy new clothes (unless you count sweat pants and flip flops from Wal-Mart)
  • We rarely go out spending money at night (driving in the dark is difficult with these old eyes)
  • We have no more house payments (the first thing anyone thinking of retiring should do is to pay off that house)
  • We just don’t buy expensive “stuff” anymore (if we learned anything by living this long it is that “stuff” will not make you happy).

I may want to drive a Porsche, or to fly first class, or get that 72” flat screen TV, but I also would like to retain enough money to be retired for longer than just a few years. I may want the “stuff” but buying it would leave me with lots less than “enough”.

Then you have to make enough.

CNBC will tell you that you can spend 4% of your retirement savings per year (That will give you 25 years of retired life.) That, plus a pension (Not a whole lot of those people left are there?), and Social Security (Looks like we’ll have to fight to keep that going.), and any other income you will generate (With today’s interest rates it is impossible to live off of any income generated from savings.) will give you your retirement budget. Do the math and the results will show you the amount you will have to live on. BTW, you don’t have to do the math, and when ostriches get scared they stick their heads in the sand too.

The average American family has saved about $100,000 at the age of retirement (Yahoo Answers) and the average monthly Social Security benefit is $1,230 (Motley Fool). Take your own numbers and you do the math. Gee, maybe the ostrich really has a better idea.

For my wife and me, since we decided to live abroad where the cost of living is lots less, Social Security takes care of the bulk of our living expenses. Where you live will make a big difference in whether you have “enough” to retire or not.  We used to live in one of the most beautiful and livable places in America, but we would not have enough to live on if we had stayed in lovely Seattle.

Answering the questions of where you’ll live and how much house you’ll need and what kind of lifestyle will keep you happy are going to be the first of a nice long list of decisions a retiree will have to make.

Staying healthy

Physical Health

Taking care of your health, like saving for retirement, should have started long ago and should now be part of your lifestyle. Just like being frugal and not buying that Porsche when you hit your mid-life crisis, you’ll also have to say no to that extra piece of chocolate cake, or that second six pack during the football game, or that frequent visit to guzzle down an order of pure grease at a fast food place like Popeye’s Chicken.

If you haven’t taken care of your health until now then you’ll have a hard retirement road ahead, just as you will if you haven’t saved enough money. But you will not have a happy retirement unless it is a healthy one.

One of Socrates’ cardinal virtues is “moderation”. When I was young I thought that was ridiculous. But now I try to use moderation to help me have a successful retirement, from buying a 4 year old Toyota instead of the Porsche I so desire, to drinking club soda on my boy’s night out instead of guzzling down beers, to limiting my trips to Popeye’s to once a year.

But eventually getting old and having your body quit on you is the natural state of things. My Toyota won’t last forever but with good maintenance it will continue running and serving me well for a good long while. And with moderation and good maintenance (eating well, getting enough exercise, yearly checkups, buying a blood pressure machine, doing an activity that will make you sweat a couple of times a day) my body should serve me well until the final recall is issued.

Intellectual health

You’ve got to keep that muscle between your ears stimulated, challenged, and healthy. For the 40 or so years that you worked you had to deal with the trials and tribulations of your career and raising a family.   Now with retirement you could sit at a bar and drink beer all day if you wanted without ever having to use your brain for anything more than finding your way to the closest urinal. But you’d probably wish you were back working if you did. The trick is to find something challenging to do so that your brain stays in good working order.

I just did a Google search on “what to do after I retire” and I got sent to a great site called ”Long list of things to do when you retire”. Check out the site and see if there is anything on the list for you. I am already doing some of them but here are a few of the wacky ones that caught my eye. I think I’ll start working on them right away.

  • Attain Enlightenment
  • Become a movie star
  • Have a lot of sex while your body is still in full working order
  • Save the world

There is one more I would like to add to the list, “Write a blog on retirement.”

To keep my brain healthy I currently have a library of more than 8,000 eBooks. I also have hundreds of .avi movie files and thousands of .mp3 music files. I think I have enough to keep my mind active until my retirement days are done. I figure that I now have a book, movie, and music library that is larger and more comprehensive than those of the richest people in the world not that many years ago. Don’t ask me how I got all these, and I won’t tell. 

The End of Retirement

By the time I am ready to leave this mortal coil I am hoping that society will have advanced enough to allow me a choice in the matter. So I have been thinking about how I will know that I have had enough of this lovely gift of life I have been given and am ready for whatever is next. And I think I have found an answer.

Every day I am given on this planet I want to be able to have at least one good laugh. Belly laughs are the best, but a good giggle will probably suffice. If there comes a time when I don’t see anything to laugh about, I know it will be time to move on.

But I am a lucky boy. I live here in Thailand, the “Land of Smiles”. So since everyone around me is smiling, I am usually smiling too.  And smiling is already halfway to a good laugh. If I don’t buy that Porsche, and I avoid too much fried chicken, then I think I will still have a long retired life ahead of me.

Smog Note:

The temperature here in Chiang Mai has been over 100 degrees ever day for a while but just today we are having a cold spell and the temp at my computer is only 89. We had a nice blow a few nights ago and today the smog is cleared away and the mountain is beautifully clear. I’m thinking that the worst is over.

13 Responses to “The Retirement Stage of Life”

  1. Eric Tan said

    Hi Hugh,

    Happy Belated Songkran! I was in Hatyai a week before Songkran but due to work commitments I had to go back to Ghana. I fully agree on the physical and intellectual healthy lifestyle that you mentioned. I am 28 years this year and already cutting down on my beers and wine, only choosing to indulge in them occasionally when Manchester United is playing and also hitting the gym everyday for at least an hour. Take care bro!


  2. Frank Fey said

    Hey Hugh,

    Glad to hear the weather is starting to turn there. We had a long winter here in Maryland but it looks to be a short spring. You’re so right about what is “enough” to live on for retirement. My wife and I have done well and could retire yesterday but someone enjoys working every other week end and sometime going in at 4 AM (not me) but I do have fun job (photographer) and the pay is generous.


  3. This is interesting, Hugh. I’m my own boss and I work from home, as does my husband. I find I do almost all the things on your first list – though I can only take a vacation when my son is out of school.

    My husband and I also don’t do most of the things that you don’t on your second list. We don’t have a mortgage because we rent and live in a place we want to live (SF Bay Area – expensive but incredibly good weather and culture). We drive a 20 year old car but we are still saving for our son’s college, which will likely revolutionize by the time he’s 18 anyway (unsustainable model).

    Hmmm… so does that mean we are retired already? For work, I’m an artist, doing what I would do if I retired anyway. So I probably WILL “work” until I die. And I don’t mind. 🙂

  4. Hi Amy,

    I have seen your art work. Love it. You seem to be as lucky as I was in that you love what you do (to earn a living). But as Thoreau said, “The mass of men lead lives of quite desperation.” Most of them are not like us.

    So, as I see it, being retired for me is that I now don’t do anything for money. I have been offered lots of jobs (one just the other day) and I turn down anything with a salary. I do everything now for free (or read “freedom”).

    I now try to live a Buddhist “one pointed” life. I do what I do because I do it – not because I need the money, in order to pay my bills, in order to live a happy life, etc. etc.

    There is a old Zen story, A novice monk asked the master, “How are you different from me? I eat, you eat. I sleep, you sleep”.

    The master said, “The difference is “When I am hungry I eat. When I am sleepy, I sleep.” The novice was enlightened on the spot.

    For me, in order to live that way, I had to retire first.


  5. Clay said

    I’ve been having a look at websites like yours, very interesting. I’m about five years away from actually retiring, but I’m living here in Thailand presently teaching. Do you have suggestions how I could find statistics on foreigners who have chosen to retire and die in Thailand? I’m curious about numbers, other possible countries, anything I can find out from surveys or studies.

    • Not sure where to find statistics but I can tell you what I hear. The northeast (Issan) has a large population of Expats, maybe 40,000, many married to Thai women. Lots of German and Scandinavians. There are some villages where most of the men are foreigners and the women Thai.

      Of course there are thousands of foreigners working and living in Bangkok (IMHO, there are probably thousand living in Hell too but I’m not going to live there, at least not soon I hope.)

      Here in Chiang Mai there are tens of thousands of Expats, mostly retired, many who live here only parts of the year. There is a large Japanese population. Unlike many westerners they seem to come as married couples and live here part-time. Probably as many as 20,000. A Korean contingent comes during the winter mostly to play golf. Lots of British here. Fewer Americans but I am seeing more and more lately with their whole families. If you see a youngish American with his/her family I am going to bet that they will be missionaries.

      The difference between other parts of Thailand and Chiang Mai is that the Expats here do not congregate in only one area and are spread out, so it doesn’t seem like there are that many here. There are towns in Thailand, like Phuket, where every other person you see is a foreigner (attracting lots of girly bars and the stuff that comes with them), and others where you very rarely see one. Although Chiang Mai has a large Expat population it seems more like the latter.

      BTW, I don’t know of anyone who has come here to die.

      Hope this helps a bit.

      • Clay said

        No, I don’t imagine there are too many who come to Thailand to die! I welcome any real information I can get about my question. It’s not difficult to get a sense of the large numbers of people who move here to enjoy an active retirement if only by being here and looking around, or seeing what’s written online. Until I do something like visit some elderly care centers in Thailand and talk to someone knowledgeable on the subject, I’ll be assuming it’s a really small number of retirees who feel Thailand so much a home as to choose to die here.

  6. First, congratulations on making the big move and retiring in Thailand! I enjoy your blog and love what you said about being able to pursue bucket lists instead of “to do” lists. You mentioned Social Security, and I was curious about how that works once you relocate abroad–can you set things up so that your SS check direct-deposits straight into your Thai bank account, or do you have to maintain a U.S. bank account and occasionally transfer funds from that account to a Thai bank account? The other issue I’ve wondered about is moving to Northern vs. Southern Thailand. I’m a single female, and I’ve gotten the impression that the North is a bit more “buttoned up” than the South (re: your comment about the girly bars), so the North has always appealed to me more. Are there other areas in the North in addition to Chiang Mai that are known to contain a significant number of ex-pats?

    • Hi Pat,

      Some of your questions have been answered in past blog posts. Go to the blog page and in the upper right hand corner there is a magnifying glass icon. Click on it and enter “social security” and later “direct deposit”. There’ll be some answers there. (BTW, I just found out that my U.S. bank, where my SS is deposited, has online wire transfer services. I haven’t set it up yet but it looks quite easy.)

      Re: north vs south. The north is quite concerned with preserving their culture and is very laid back. The south, although I like it very much, is in some places a war zone. The beach areas seem okay but I avoid most of them, except for the really non-touristy places. You should check them out though.

      The Expat community in the north is spread out all around Chiang Mai (BTW, those downtown tourist centers are not where anyone lives. People live many kilometers in all directions around CM I live 8K outside of downtown.) Lots of people use CM as a base and do their traveling. There are hundreds of really cool places to visit all over Thailand, so my choice of where I live is based on convenience, weather, and the people around me. Except for the hot season months CM beats most of the rest. I have not been in a place with nicer people. Yesterday real early I went out for a walk and in the first few minutes had to “wai” so many people who knew me, smiling and welcoming. That proved to be difficult since I walk carrying 2 lb hand-weights and waiing gave my arms a pretty good workout.

      Lots of luck on your retirement plans.

  7. Jim said

    Hi Hugh,
    I really find your blog interesting and informative and I read them weekly! I too, will be retiring in Thailand, hopefully, in 2014 with my Thai wife.
    I was wondering about the Visa Process, in particular, whether I should get a retirement visa or a marriage visa. I am over 50 and my wife is Thai, but, just became a US citizen this year.
    Any thoughts on this would be greatly appreciated by you or any of your followers.

    Thank you!


    • Jim,

      First, your wife having American citizenship won’t make a difference here as Thailand accepts dual citizenship. She is still a Thai in their minds.

      Here are the differences in the two types of visas as I see it.

      Besides being over 50 the retirement visa requires 800,000 baht deposited into an account in your name only for at least 2 months before first applying, and 3 months before extension. You cannot get a work permit with this visa. BTW, the news is that the law has been changed and if there are two foreigners, man and wife, applying, each will need 800,000. Previously the wife could piggyback on the husband’s visa and didn’t need the money deposited.

      The spousal support visa requires 400,000 baht deposited and you have to be married to a Thai or have Thai dependent children. There is also lots of paper work required for this visa proving all your dependents. This turns some people off to it. But you can get a work permit supposedly to help you earn money to support your Thai family.

      Once you are granted a retirement visa you cannot then reapply for a spousal support visa.

      I know people who have done both kinds of visas and they all see satisfied with the visa requirements.

      Good luck to you.

  8. Jim said

    Thank you, Hugh.
    My wife and I continue to research and debate on which visa to use. I am leaning towards the Spousal Visa since you can be employed. I have read that if a Thai is married to a foreigner, then she may have limited property ownership. She owns property now and we do not want to jeopardize that situation.
    Also, would you recommend that I apply for the visa at the Thai Embassy in the US before arriving in Thailand?

    Thank you very much for your time!


    • Jim,

      I don’t make personal recommendations, that’s for you to decide. As to a Thai wife married to a foreigner, the law used to bar her from this but that law was changed years ago. Presently there are no restrictions.

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