Even before the pandemic, a disturbingly high percentage of currently working Americans, about 30%, said they believed they would not have enough money to survive in retirement. Add to that the 27% of people already retired who do not believe they will have enough to make it through their retirement without going back to work and you have a large percentage of Americans who haven’t figured retirement out (or they figured it out way too late). Unfortunately, the 2017 Wells Fargo study that generated those results was taken down by Wells Fargo, but not before I read it and was overwhelmed with the bad news. Factoring in the truth that the pandemic is likely to have made those number much worse, and it is time to act.

My personal experience says Retirement 101 is a tough course, but it is a very important course to take and pass. In fact, since you only get one shot at it, this is a course you need to ace.

In that same Wells Fargo survey, 34% of responding workers admitted that retirement was their top priority. Frankly, that was a lower percentage than I expected. Regardless, that means Retirement 101 is important to them as well. The sum of the responses in that survey tells us that many retirement failures will likely be due to lack of financial preparation. Likely many others will be due to a lack of emotional preparation.

The financial failures are predictable because studies show that 3 out of every 4 retirees start retirement with less than $100,000 to supplement Social Security and other pensions or retirement benefits. Assuming a retirement age of 65, that is at best a slight help on an annual basis as a supplement to Social Security, barely $4,170 per year based on normal life expectancies and using the 4% rule.

As a result of their struggles, 72% of the retirees responding to that Wells Fargo survey said they wished they had started saving sooner and saved more. Their financial shortcomings in retirement arose when there simply wasn’t enough money to match their desires. That can result from a variety of causes, including inflated expectations, not enough savings, poor investment performance, higher costs than expected, especially in medical expenses, among many other lesser causes. Let’s learn from the mistakes of others and plan to retire better.

The emotional failures largely come in part from the failure of the new retiree to have planned to do more than retire from work. It is important for the retiree to retire into something.

An abrupt stop is a great mistake.  I think it’s wise to keep your hand on the plough.  If you have quit your job, find something like it to do part-time or find substitute activities, such as volunteer work or getting involved in politics… Keep busy; stay involved. 

 B. F. Skinner (1904 – 1990), U. S. psychologist and writer

As a comic wisely put it, “The fellow who can’t figure out what to do with a Sunday afternoon is often the same one who can’t wait for retirement.“ So, let’s take a look at Retirement 101 and see how to succeed.

The short answer is for you, with proper financial planning and preparation, to choose your passion, not your pension. You are not being put out to pasture or even choosing to be put out to pasture, you are prayerfully learning what God wants you to do with the rest of your life. It is important to set aside secular concepts of (and concerns about) retirement. It isn’t about your yard and garden, your family or traveling, and it certainly isn’t all about golf (laughingly referred to as the four “g’s”, gardening, grandkids, the Grand Canyon, and golf). The real point of your life lies in the other “G” word, God.

A second factor in the emotional failure of Retirement 101 is the inability of people to adjust to what I call the “formerly empty nest syndrome.” With both the husband and wife at home and together a lot more than during work years, the changes can be dramatic and unwelcome. That is partly why retiring into something is critically important. Couples will face new challenges and struggles and have to adjust to them in a new way – constantly together. In fact, as you grow older, retirement becomes more about the companionship, sharing and support than about gardening, grandkids, the Grand Canyon, and golf.

Start with finances

First, you need to address the financial concerns. The question, “Will I outlive my money?” is a serious concern in an increasingly expensive world. That question goes hand-in-hand with questions and concerns about the survival of Social Security. Assuming Social Security survives, financial concerns remain because Social Security was never more than a safety net. It wasn’t designed or intended to be a full retirement plan, only a means of providing the “social insurance” to the elderly. See Social Security Can’t Do It All – A Primer.

But the world was very different in 1937 compared to our world today. To put matters into proper perspective, consider that when the first benefits were paid in 1937, the retirement age was 65. But that same year, in 1937, the life expectancy was only 58 for men and 62.1 for women. Life expectancy is far longer now but the full retirement age has crept up only slightly. When enacted, the idea underlying Social Security was that most American men would work until their deaths. That is far from the case now. If you add in legitimate concerns about inflation, see Inflation and Your Retirement, and these concerns become pressing. 

The current age for the start of normal Social Security benefits is 66 and 2 months. That will rise gradually to age 67 for those born in or after 1960. Social Security can start as early as age 62 now, but the reduction in benefits is substantial. See the Social Security estimator.

Now, however, life expectancy is well into the 80’s for people approaching retirement today. According to data compiled by Social Security:

  • A man reaching age 65 today can expect to live, on average, until age 84.3.
  • A woman turning age 65 today can expect to live, on average, until age 86.7.

And those are just averages. About one out of every four 65-year-olds today will live past age 90, and one out of 10 will live past age 95. That partly explains the rises in Social Security taxes. It also explains the common concern over having enough money to be able to afford to retire.

Planning for Retirement

One major consideration is that many people did not plan for their retirement. While Jesus certainly did tell us to live for today, Matthew 6:34, He certainly did not tell us to ignore tomorrow. Planning is Biblical. See Psalm 20:4, Proverbs 6:6-8, Proverbs 15:22, Proverbs 16:3, Proverbs 21:5, Jeremiah 29:11, and Luke 14:28. The best retirement planning should start long before your 60’s, long before your 50’s, long before your 40’s and even before your 30’s. See Your Financial Future By The Decade. Every lost year of retirement planning is lost savings. Lost savings translate into reduced retirement income. Reduced retirement income may mean reduced ability to enjoy all of that additional time you have.

Many people think their monthly savings can’t be increased. That is unlikely. Most people have more room than they think to increase their savings. See Ideas for Living Better Through Stewardship, 7 Steps for Financial Progress, It’s Time to Start Saving, Planning Your Financial Future and …, and Saving More, 10% Isn’t Enough). If increased savings really are not possible, then the next step is for expectations for retirement to be adjusted.

Adjusting your expectations and your plans

The answer to some concerns about when or even whether someone can retire may be perspective or attitude more than money.  People may need to re-examine why they are concerned about their future in the areas of work, money, and retirement.

Philippians 4:6-7
6       Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 
7       And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

The Lord has proven His faithfulness.

Lamentations 3:22-23
22     Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
23     They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.

Next, start with this concept, one that is contrary to modern American culture and thinking; work is not a bad thing. Work is actually good. Know this, work was given to us by God, as are our abilities to work, and with work we are able to support ourselves and our families and also serve our Lord. For greater detail, see Called to Work, Part 1 and Part 2.

But it isn’t necessarily paid work that is your next calling. Crown Ministries refers to repurpose-ment rather than retirement. They make a strong case that retirement should become a time of service and sharing. The all-volunteer leadership of The Idlewild Foundation could not agree more.

So, when you start to focus on retirement, look at a variety of topics far beyond just financial concerns and leisure time.

Consider how long will you live

Of course, no one knows how many days you have except God. However, that does not mean you should ignore the future, nor does it mean you should worry about the future. Many factors weigh into life expectancy, including your current age and gender, your family medical history, your personal health, your activity level, your race, your education level, and whether you engage in behaviors that statistically increase your mortality such as smoking and drinking.

Your family health history and your general health are significant factors. Regardless, it is worth starting with averages. A 65-year-old man has a 50% chance of living until age 87 and a 25% chance of living until age 93, according to Fidelity. A 65-year-old woman had a 50-50 chance of making it to age 90, and a 25% chance of living to 96. A married couple making it to age 65 has a 50% chance of one partner making it to 94 and a 25% of one partner making it to 98.

There are life expectancy calculators of a wide variety and quality.  For example, MyLifeCalc.net, Social Security’s Life Expectancy Calculator, and MetLife among many others that can be found with a search engine. One thing that is easy to do with those calculators is see the statistically likely impact unwise behaviors such as smoking and obesity may have on your lifespan. A life well-lived is a life that has a better likelihood of a good retirement.

Consider what will you do

Start with the basic concept of repurposement, not retirement. Never forget the parable of the rich fool who made great plans for his future. He omitted one “detail,” God.

Luke 12:15-21
15   Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”
16   And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest.
17   He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’
18   “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain.
19   And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”?’
20   “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’
21   “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”

Your skills and abilities don’t stop at age 66. In fact, they may be far greater at 66 than at 20 because there is enormous value in experience and wisdom that only time and God can give you. God has something ahead of you that is far better than gardening, golf, the Grand Canyon – and even better than the grandkids.

Consider what will you be able to do

What you will be able to do will depend on your health and your abilities. Again, part of the process of being prepared for retirement lies in taking care of your health while you are younger. Only God can be the determiner of factors like some cancer and major illnesses and injuries, but you can take steps by reducing major health risks by avoiding smoking, obesity, alcohol consumption and high blood pressure.

Again, as with saving money, the time to start is well before retirement, not when you turn 60. You need time to consider many possibilities and perhaps try a few in spare time. As you approach 66, begin to think of activities and services in which you can safely engage. Look for a particular interest or passion and you will find opportunities. Service activities in town, mission trips out of town and even out of the country, volunteer work inside and outside church are all good opportunities to give back to the community and people you have worked with and to God with whom you have walked for so many years. Make that list realistically and find a ministry or service about which you can be passionate. Thomas Edison was a rare individual with amazing wisdom and talents. He wisely said, “I never worked a day in my life, it was all fun.” Not nearly everyone can say that about their normal work life, but they should be able to say that about their retirement life activities.

Find your passion, where your heart is, and give of yourself with all of your heart. Colossians 3:23-24. Find a future with God and service to Him and His people in it.

More things to consider:

There are some things to consider before and during retirement to make a real retirement possible.

  • The Bible. Live with a biblical approach to your finances. Be out of debt before you retire, have adequate savings for a savings account, and think ahead to the cost of medical insurance and treatment as you age. Don’t overbuy your home so that you have to plan on downsizing, at least not unless you like to pack, move, unpack and hang pictures.
  • Overspending. Spending too much, especially on yourself, while you are younger has at least two problems. First, it reduces or prevents you from saving for the future. Second, it raises your current lifestyle and your expectations for retirement. If you must, cut spending early in your work life to avoid a lifestyle that cannot be sustained in retirement.
  • A Finish Line. Set what is called a lifestyle finish line. Draw a line at a reasonable income when you are young. Then, as your income rises, hold the line! With the extra income, increase your savings and also your generosity. For an amazing example of a family setting an income lifestyle finish line, see the 17-minute video on the Barnhart family.
  • Early inheritance and other possibilities with money. More than 90% of American wealth is passed through estates. There are at least three possibilities to change that, at least to some degree. One possibility is to give your children their inheritance, or some of it, early. Tax law limits the amount you can give without having to file an estate tax return and pay taxes on it. For more information on the gift tax, click here. That maximum amount is currently $15,000 per year, $30,000 per couple. If you start early enough you may be able to both reduce your probate estate significantly and at the same time, benefit your children when they need the money the most. A young couple with little children and a home mortgage (or a couple a few years older still with a home mortgage and now with a child or two in college) could probably use $30,000 per year a lot more than when they are in their late 50’s or 60’s and their children have left the nest and even completed college.
    A second opportunity with risks as well as benefits is to be your children’s banker. You can loan them money for their large purchases such as a home or automobile. They can pay you a higher interest rate than you can make with most investments and you can loan them money at a lower interest rate than they can typically get.

There is risk with this because you have to ask, “Am I going to foreclose on my son and daughter-in-law and take their home if they fail to make payments?” Many family disputes have begun around money and many families have been fractured by financial disagreements. Regardless, if your family communication is strong and you can communicate comfortably with your family about finances, this may be something you want to consider.

A third opportunity is reflected in the articles Giving to Your Grandchildren and Are you going to give your kids money to burn? Ask yourself, “As our children get into their late 50’s and even their 60’s, do they really need our money?” Add to that, “Is giving sizeable sums to a young grandchild going to help or hurt? Maybe a worthy charity or ministry could use the money more than your children or grandchildren. 

  • Make a real bucket list. I added the word “real” because it is better to fill a bucket with service helping others than with our own pleasure. Make your list personal and purposeful. What is a skill you have always wanted to learn but have not had the time to dig into it. What is something you have really wanted to own but haven’t. But remember, one of the bigger goals later in life is to simplify and have fewer toys to break and repair! Think of things you really, really have wanted to do but have missed. Consider adding that you want to read through God’s Word a few more times before you spend eternity with Him. Add to that places that are really meaningful to you, including a mission trip you wanted to take but have missed. Consider the following two facts when you write your bucket list:

The Lord has been very good and faithful to you.

And

You will be with Him for eternity.

Consider also the wisdom of Solomon:

Ecclesiastes 2:10-11
10  I denied myself nothing my eyes desired;
I refused my heart no pleasure.
My heart took delight in all my labor,
and this was the reward for all my toil.
11  Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done
and what I had toiled to achieve,
everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind;
nothing was gained under the sun.

What we do here is important. It is Godly and right to make a good living and work hard. But there is certainly more to it than just that. We are here for a purpose. See What is the purpose of man, according to the Bible?

Furthermore, God has made all of what you have possible by giving you the intelligence to earn and the health to work. Deuteronomy 8:18. Think of a way to “pay it forward” by acts of service. Again, think of repurposement, not retirement.

  • Have a Checklist For a Proper Mindset. Make you own checklist, but start here:

 >  Depend on God, He is worthy. Psalm 96:4.
 >  Live a life of prayer. 1 Corinthians 7:5.
 >  Be flexible and allow time to be your friend and not an enemy.
 >  Be in community with others, in a small group or class, stay active and keep reading and studying, especially God’s Word. Hebrews 10:23-25.

  • Make a legacy. The old joke is that life is short, so you should eat dessert first. But dessert isn’t the best part of life (although it is easily in the top two or three). As we live, we are continuously creating our own legacy. Our legacy is the part of ourselves that is left behind in the hearts and minds of those whose lives we have touched.

Life is too short and uncertain for you to delay the process of building your legacy. Ecclesiastes 9:12.

Carve your name on hearts, not tombstones. A legacy is etched into the minds of others and the stories they share about you. 

 Shannon L. Alder

Consider the following to help you to build your real bucket list and your legacy at the same time:

    • Is Jesus Christ really my Lord or just an occasional companion?
    • Can I hope to stand before God and hear, “Well done my good and faithful servant”? Luke 19:17.
    • What do my family members think of me?
    • What will my family members remember most about me?
    • Do I need to apologize to anyone?
    • Has my life been lived to the fullest extent or has it simply happened?
    • Has my life been lived so that I want others to follow in my footsteps?
    • Is it time to change my life to begin to create the legacy I hope to leave?

The day of our death is the day when our lives are measured. It is only God’s measurement that makes a difference for all eternity and His measurement of us is based upon our faith, not our works.

John 6:2:28-29
28    Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?”
29    Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”

Even though it is a fact that God determines our eternal legacy, who God created us to be and how He called us to serve is demonstrated in how we will be remembered. So, ask yourself one question:

How do you want to be remembered?

We all will leave a mark upon those around us. Everyone will leave behind some size or shape of legacy, whether good or bad, small or large. Do you want to be remembered as a follower of Jesus, true to His commands and His Word or as someone who just got by with the minimum? So, ask a second question:

Are you investing your life in a way that will build the legacy you want to leave behind?

Read more on this topic at Make This a Legacy Year for You.

  • Build God into Your Estate Plan

The Idlewild Foundation was formed in part because leadership at Idlewild saw that people were leaving money to family, hospitals, universities, and different charities — but not to God. As it turned out, many people just were not thinking of giving part of their accumulated estate to God as a normal part of their estate planning. That is changing. The church that has been central in the lives and faith of many, Idlewild Baptist Church, can, with the faith and help of the thousands saved and serving at Idlewild and now throughout the world, continue and expand its ministries.

Leaving money to God to fulfill some of His mission here on earth to reach people with the gospel is exactly what should be done. He is patient as well as persistent and faithful – and we should be the same. 2 Peter 3:9. Help us help Idlewild reach people for Jesus Christ.

Retirement 101 may prove to be one of the most challenging courses you have ever taken. With God’s help, you will pass with flying colors!

About the Author

John Campbell has retired from a 40-year legal practice as a trial attorney in Tampa. He has served in multiple volunteer roles at Idlewild Baptist Church in Lutz, Florida, where he met Jesus.  He began serving as the Executive Director of the Idlewild Foundation in 2016.  He has been married to the love of his life, Mona Puckett Campbell, since 1972.