“The only lasting investment, is an investment in yourself.” – Jeffrey Benjamin
When it comes to financial planning, one of the challenges is stepping back far enough to be able to see the big picture. Logically, we know that building wealth is a numbers game and so we tend to direct most of our focus on how much money we have, how much interest it’s earning, how its value is changing and what we can reasonably expect it to grow to over time. We take these numbers and compare them to other numbers; the value of other assets, the money we expect to receive from other income sources, the amount we need to live on, the number of years we want our money to last. We ask ourselves questions like, “Can I afford to retire?” and, “How much is enough?” which are important questions but they’re not the only questions that need to be asked.
Too often, we focus solely on retirement math and we ignore the importance of preparing for the retirement experience as a whole. I’m not suggesting that investing for our financial well-being in retirement isn't important but here are three lifestyle investments that I believe we should also be making:
Invest in Yourself
In North America, we tend to define ourselves (and others) according to job titles. Knowing what someone does for a living gives us clues about their level of education and income bracket and so it becomes a measure of social standing and success. In retirement, many people feel lost because so much of their personal identity was wrapped up in what they did rather than who they were and without their job to anchor them they feel adrift.
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Rather than placing so much emphasis on our careers, perhaps it makes sense to take a leaf from the books of other cultures who define a person more by who they are than by how they earn a living. Carving out time to pursue sports or learn new skills that we find interesting is not only a great way to expand our abilities but also a great way to reduce stress and meet like-minded people. As kids we’re encouraged to take on a variety of extra-curricular activities in order to keep us busy and discover where our gifts and talents lie. However, somewhere along the journey into adulthood we drop that habit.
Investing in ourselves isn't just about health and wellness. It’s also about taking an interest in the world around us, it’s about learning more about a variety of topics and developing skills and strategies that will help us become more successful. Investing in ourselves should be a lifelong habit and it’s one that brings a number of great rewards including reduced stress, better health and more energy.
Invest in Your Relationships
Human beings are social creatures and we thrive in communities. No matter whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert, people tend to feel more fulfilled and content if they have some level of interaction with other human beings on a regular basis. In retirement, people sometimes feel isolated because they miss the social aspects of being part of the workplace and having the opportunity to interact with people of all ages. It makes sense that retirees who have an established social group find the transition easier and there is also plenty of scientific research to suggest that having a solid group of friends reduces stress and increases happiness levels among people of all ages. This is also true for romantic relationships.
Often when we are busy, our relationships suffer. No matter how important other demands on our time are, it’s important to make time for the people who mean the most to us. It’s also important to make sure that we are investing our time and energy into relationships with people who make our lives happier and not with people who make our lives more stressful. Sometimes our friends can turn into “energy vampires” who drain our energy rather than boost it. Eliminating energy vampires can be tricky but it’s worthwhile. If you can focus on nurturing the positive relationships in your life rather than the negative ones, it makes life an awful lot happier and a lot less stressful.
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Invest in Being Happy
Happiness is a state of mind; it’s also a state of being. I’ve long believed that you find what you look for and that if you expect to find drama and stress you will attract it in spades. Conversely, if you look for reasons to be thankful and reasons to be happy, you will find those in spades too. People find their happy in many different places and in many different ways. Whether it’s something as simple as stopping to enjoy the sunshine or appreciate your surroundings or something more involved like giving back through a project or a financial donation there are a myriad of ways to boost your mood and elevate your appreciation of life. Creating a positive mindset won’t prevent bad things from happening but it will make them a lot easier to deal with. It also makes life a lot more enjoyable! Too often, we put energy into worrying about things that may never happen and we forget to be happy about all the things we actually have going for us right now. Changing that habit can make a huge difference.
Related article: Can money buy happiness?
While money is an important factor in retirement, it’s not the defining factor of retirement. Retirement is just another phase of life, it’s an opportunity to take the time that you used to commit to working and to use it for things that make you feel happy and fulfilled. If you’ve never taken the time to consider what those things might be, then perhaps this week might be a good time to start?