As we promised last week, we’re starting a series about the book What Color Is Your Parachute? For Retirement by John E. Nelson and Richard N. Bolles. Again, this book is an excellent resource for anyone considering their retirement. It can really help you to consider some things you may not have thought of before.

Just a few quick notes before we start. As with any book, there is too much information to cover completely. We’ll highlight some of the material, but we recommend you check the book out yourself. It’s an easy read and it includes some great additional resources, like worksheets and quizzes to help you make some decisions, and it’s full of excellent book and website recommendations. When possible, we’ll reference which chapter of the book we are discussing (starting with today’s introduction, which comes from chapter one).

Also, there are two editions of this book. Both are excellent, so if you can only find the first edition (maybe at the library), don’t worry. It’s just as helpful as the updated version.

The History of Retirement

Nelson and Bolles take some time to look at the history of retirement. Retirement really began with the Industrial Revolution, which not only sparked the concept of retirement, but also “standardized” it.

With the Industrial Revolution came standardized jobs. You worked the same job, likely in a factory, every day until you couldn’t work anymore. There was little to no variation, and no slowing down as you aged. So what happened when you were physically unable to do the work anymore? You retired.

Since companies could easily hire younger workers once older workers reached a certain age (“normal retirement age”), the older workers would be forced to retire. It was “standardized,” often by age instead of capability.

While many things about working and retirement have changed since the Industrial Revolution, the concepts of “standardized retirement” and “normal retirement age” have not.

“The Third Age”

Two of the main things that have changed about retirement since the Industrial Revolution are the health of the retirees and how long retirement lasts.

Since the health/life expectancy of the average “normal retirement age” person has gotten significantly better over the years, the length of retirement has grown longer. The physically worn out retiree of the past who may have had a few years of slow-paced life left to him has turned into potentially decades of retirement for a more physically sound, active retiree today.

Obviously the length of your retirement will have many different issues affecting it: your age when you retire, your heath, etc. However, as Nelson and Bolles discuss, the traditional concept of “standardized retirement” really no longer fits today. They propose using a concept that originated with the historian Peter Laslett, the “Third Age of Life.”

According to Laslett, life has four Ages. The first two essentially equate to growing up, becoming an adult, working, and raising your own kids. The “Fourth Age” equated to the old version of retirement, being physically worn out, unable to do much, waiting for death. However, with modern times, there is a new age to life, the “Third Age” where you have the freedom to choose what you want to do and are still physically able to do it.

This “Third Age” comes when your own kids have grown; you are hopefully in a financial position to have some freedom from a full time career. You are in a position to participate in the activities you love, to get involved with volunteering, or learn something new.

This “Third Age” doesn’t have to equate with traditional retirement. You don’t have to quit working, and you don’t have to do it any particular age. Maybe your 55 and still want to work, but you are in a position to have some flexibility with your time to enter your “Third Age.” Or maybe you’re 65 and your ideal “Third Age” is quitting your current job and starting your own business.

You can build a lifestyle completely suited to our own situation and personality. There are no rules—you have the freedom to do what you want (by the way, maybe your ideal “Third Age” is traditional retirement—slow-paced and leisurely. Nelson and Bolles stress this is fine too. Everyone has a different vision of what this Age should look like).

How to Get Started

If this concept appeals to you but you have no idea where to get started, that’s where What Color Is Your Parachute? For Retirement comes in. Don’t stress out if you have no idea what you’d like to do or where you’d like to live. Much of the rest of the book is designed to help you decide what your “Third Age” will look like.

We’ll pick up on this series two weeks from today (we’ll be on vacation next week). At this point, we’re not sure how many posts we’ll do in the series, but you can expect at least 3 more.

 

  • Disclaimer: The information on this blog is not meant for specific financial advice. The ideas/opinions stated are not suited for everyone, and readers should use their own judgment in applying them in their financial lives.
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