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8 things I did to have a happy retirement

Several things tell me that I may be living a happy retirement. Friends and family often remark that I am reaping the fruits of my past labors. My retirement escapades have been written about by several journalists and I have been invited to share what I do on retirement podcasts. My two travel diaries on Amazon can also be considered as written testimonies of happiness.

When I review the retirement goals I have set for myself, I can also say that my retirement is happy because I have achieved them. I retired at 54, early for most people at that time, but I had become exhausted from a hectic (but fulfilling) IT career. And taking early retirement may be just for today’s “big quit”.

My retirement wish was: “Teach a little, paint a little, travel a little, write a little and love a little.” The latter was a must as I had been a single mother for 20 years. I emigrated to America and am happy to report that everything on this little list now has a check – although some small, some big – next to it.

I found my guy, so love has a huge check, but I only have one painting in my name, so this check is small. Teaching at a university and two colleges turned into another full-time career that I had to take up again. At almost 74, I still travel 6 months out of the year and that has automatically turned into a not so small amount of writing. I don’t know when the two will slow down.

But the big question is: what did I do that led me to such a happy retirement? I can name eight reasons. There may be more. And the first four are prerequisites for the last four.

My two travel diaries on Amazon can also be considered as written testimonies of happiness.

Photo credit: Carol Colborn

1. Set aside adequate retirement funds

If we don’t have enough retirement funds, we may not be able to retire at all, or when we want. As a management professional, I knew that businesses thrive when they increase revenue while controlling expenses, thereby maximizing profits. It is not difficult to apply this principle to our personal lives. I focused on personal benefits (savings) that I could use for retirement.

When my marriage broke up, I had to work twice to meet the needs of the present and prepare for the future. We lived so simply that when I got major advances in my job or with my salary, whether at the same company or a new one, I didn’t increase the expenses proportionately. Expenses have changed, but very little since I was a young manager until I became CEO. When my children asked for mobile phones, cars or design objects, I resisted. I taught them to stick to a strict budget. One of the goals was to have payment on hand to buy a new home near every new company that hired me.

I didn’t want the added stress of Manila’s infamous traffic and, more importantly, it helped me own four homes by the time I retired. They became a source of rental income (albeit in pesos). When I moved to the US and property management got tough, I sold them, bought two houses in the US and now have a source of rental income – in dollars!

2. Maintain optimal health

Next to wealth, there is health. Wherever we are and whatever the state of the health care system there, optimal health is the goal. It’s the best gift you can give yourself. I entered the United States at 101 pounds at 5ft 2in – tired and exhausted. But the pretty good health system brought me back into the game physically. I learned to eat my fruits and vegetables, exercise and sleep well all daytime. There is no substitute.

3. Change my perspective

When my three daughters started their own careers and I reached level C in management, I became familiar with the big picture. I started not seeing the world in terms of dollars and cents anymore. My mind shifted from the need to make money (and continually improve moneymaking skills) to life balance, quality of life, higher purpose, and to connectivity. I came across the School of Practical Philosophy which married Eastern and Western teachings and it set me on a new journey of self-discovery. I wanted to be a better person, citizen and mother, and seek another chance to be a better wife.

move into a retirement lifestyle community

The author and her husband

Photo credit: Carol Colborn

4. Find Life Mates

Being alone in retirement was not part of this worldview. I wanted people with whom to share my sorrows and my joys. I emigrated to the United States to be closer to my children who had settled in North America (the youngest settled in Australia later). I missed a lot raising them, so I spent at least 3 months with each of my seven grandchildren. I even gave one 2 years because the mother needed me to do it. Those were some of the happiest times of my life.

But grandchildren grow up to have lives of their own (just like children). The older ones accompanied me on a few trips, but a life companion was the companion I needed. It was so important that I didn’t want to leave it to chance. In fact, I “projected” it. I set a goal, set a timeline, and mapped out the steps to find love.

I found it in the trendiest places, the Net, at the age of 59. We got married a year later and took an RV in what seemed like an endless honeymoon. I was lucky, he too is a travel enthusiast. He also owned two houses that brought him rental income (and more investment funds) and was as frugal in temperament, if not more so. Our joint retirement has become much more comfortable.

These first four tips – save, stay healthy, change your perspective and find a life partner – are prerequisites for a happy retirement. If you have them, the next four – travel, hobbies, a little work, and giving back – will follow. However, this will not be automatic. We also need to plan and prepare everyone.

travel the world in retirement

During our first phase of retirement, the entire North American continent became our bucket list.

Photo credit: Carol Colborn

5. Take advantage of retirement trips

Retirement gives us a lot of free time. What better way to spend it than discovering new things, new places, and new people? During our first phase of retirement, the entire North American continent became our bucket list. After 8 years, we had been to 49 states, nine Canadian provinces and six Mexican states. We have visited Hawaii and other places in Canada and Mexico since.

Renting our condos and RVing full time was a financially rewarding way to travel, if you follow certain rules. When we sought to travel more of the world, we used those savings to purchase timeshares which are only discounted vacations if used continuously and regularly. Thanks to them, we have visited 25 countries together, and even more with my best friends. There are plans to do more as travel opens up.

Sitting in a golf cart in our resort lifestyle community

Sitting in a golf cart in our resort lifestyle community

Photo credit: Carol Colborn

6. Settle in a place that meets our interests

In addition to timeshares, we also purchased a single residence base in a Phoenix resort lifestyle community. It has country clubs, golf courses, tennis and pickleball courts, a softball park, swimming pools, hot tubs, saunas, ballrooms, restaurant, library, billiards, cards, crafts and other rooms. I chose writing/editing, photography, computer, poker and karaoke clubs from about 50 available. I even have a small mahjong group. My husband took up tennis and golf and is also thinking about pickleball.

All of those things that I was interested in, but didn’t have time for when I was so career driven, suddenly became doable. I’ve won photography awards, blogged, and published travel books. Give me more time and I think I could still become a painter! And I would really like to go back to ballroom dancing too.

spend time in timeshare

Holidaying in timeshare

Photo credit: Carol Colborn

7. Find work to earn money, relieve boredom, or find fulfillment

We think we have enough money not to have to work. But, with the surge in inflation that we are all experiencing, we may need to top up what we have put aside. If and when that happens, I think what’s important is finding work that’s enjoyable and not strenuous. Hopefully this will also allow us to gain, relieve boredom and / or flourish. My friend who loves to garden is very happy with her part-time job at the Home Depot nursery. Fortunately, I found a voice The journey awaits you!

Feeding the poor at The Dump in Mazatlan

Feeding the poor at The Dump in Mazatlan

Photo credit: Carol Colborn

8. Find ways to give back

And when retirement goes well, we will want to give back. My husband became CASA, a court-appointed special advocate, helping young people born into dysfunctional families who also broke the law out of the legal and social quagmire. I found mine in the University of the Philippines alumni associations (state and national) that raise funds for deserving needy students at home. In Mazatlan, where we spend 3 winter months each year, we participate in a feeding program for the poor.

But everyone is different. Your own retirement goals and preparation details may not be the same as mine. But I think the principles we all have to follow are essentially the same.

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