I recently spotted Nina contemplating How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free by Ernie J. Zelinski. The author posits that happiness in retirement is dependent on your willingness to be happy. Our cats posit that happiness is dependent on a place in the sun, adequate food and water, and doing what you want.
What did my husband and I want? With neither children nor aging parents in the equation, we began to pursue that happiness anywhere in the world. We started an informal list of possibilities: Hawaii; Southern California; Phoenix and Tucson, Arizona; Las Vegas and Boulder City, Nevada; Houston, San Antonio, and Austin, Texas; New Orleans and Baton Rouge, Louisiana; and all of Southern Florida. That’s a lot of territory to cover. One priority emerged—a place in the sun. Yet other factors were equally important.
In an attempt to organize such a disparate geography, we gradually created a 25-column Excel spreadsheet that covers every conceivable variable. Excel is easy to set up, accommodates expanded categories, and automatically tallies your scores. We ranked each from 3 (high) to 1 (low). Obviously, priorities are personal. For example, Hurricane Katrina washed us out of New Orleans and we don’t play golf, so flood zones are more important than tee times.
Other elements, like social connectedness have universal appeal. In its 2016 Social Engagement and Brain Health Survey, AARP found that older adults with larger social networks report better brain health than those with smaller social networks. The National Council on Aging found that social isolation and mental impairment also contribute to crime and safety statistics.
Armed with this knowledge, we counted the number of people we knew within a 2-hour drive (100-mile radius) of each retirement option, and then assigned values accordingly. Anywhere we knew 10 or more people earned a score of 3; 5 to 9 = 2; 1 to 4 = 1. No one? Well, zero is zero.
Other categories are much more subjective. For example, Bob is a lawyer who may want to teach part-time, so he had a column for proximity to law schools. I’m a compulsive walker, which translates to a column in which sidewalks ranked high. Since this is a dynamic process, we often found it necessary to make adjustments, like when friends moved or a major construction project altered a neighborhood’s charm. We also added two final columns—emotional attraction for each of us, with no explanations necessary.
When it’s time to consider retirement opportunities, I recommend creating your own spreadsheet with columns that reflect your priorities. We considered:
- Average temperature and rainfall
- State and local taxes
- HOA fees
- Community amenities
- Proximity to healthcare
- Proximity to veterinarians
- Proximity to friends and families
- Proximity to the nearest airport
- Political climate
In the sample below, the condensed variables represent a wider spectrum. For example, “Cost of Living” may include housing, taxes, and average retail prices. “Setting” may include climate, pollution, scenery, noise, and traffic. “Leisure” may include 55+ active adult communities or museums and theater.
|City||Cost of Living||Setting||Leisure||Health Care||Emotion||TOTAL|
In the first example, City C had the highest score. When scrutinized further, Neighborhood D in City C ranked highest.
I suggest reading How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free. I agree with the author that some people fear retirement because they focus on what they are giving up rather than what they have to gain. This brings me back to our cats. Nina and Ron have an unpretentious approach to life—it’s all about having something to eat, someone to love, and something to do, especially if that something is snuggling up with a good book. Since the feline lifestyle is not easily achievable for most humans, alas, spreadsheets like the one above help you focus on what you have to gain.
Taking a long, objective approach to retirement allows you the flexibility to start doing what you want. Think like a cat.