This is a guest post from Mitch Anthony. Mitch is a sought-after financial services consultant, popular speaker, and host of The Daily Dose radio program. His RetireMentors column appears regularly on CBS marketwatch.com. Mitch earned Financial Planning Magazine’s “Mover & Shaker” award for his pioneering retirement and financial planning work. He has been quoted in The Wall Street Journal, Kiplinger’s Personal Finance, and The New York Times. His book Storyselling for Financial Advisors was acclaimed by Financial Planning magazine as its No. 1 essential read.

Most of us, if left to our whimsy, could conjure up a pretty impressive list of adventures to attempt before we kick the bucket. In the film “The Bucket List” two men were able to check items off their life’s to-do list that most of us can only fantasize about. That’s because Jack Nicholson’s character was rich enough to grant both his and Morgan Freeman’s wishes. However, extravagant experiences don’t have to cost a fortune.

By focusing solely on money, you risk living a life without soul.

One of the richest experiences of my life was a road-trip I made with my son after he graduated from college. He had landed a job in Fairbanks, Alaska. His job started the first week of January, which meant we would be driving the great Alaskan Highway during the week between Christmas and the New Year—a 56-hour drive in potentially treacherous conditions, pulling a trailer with all his worldly possessions in the dead of winter. We stayed at cheap hotels and ate at Subway for dinner. My back was killing me after almost 60 hours in a cramped truck cab. It was one of the best experiences of my life.

Mitch and son

While money is an essential and obvious component of financial planning, specifically retirement, it is not the only component. By focusing solely on money, you risk living a life without soul. In my work with financial advisers and their clients, I show them how to implement experiences into their financial plans—financial life planning. Financial life planning focuses on learning how to live the best life you can with the money you have.

The biggest mistake people make when thinking about retirement planning is treating it as a finish line instead of a starting point. There are four cornerstones that help you plan ahead so you can spend time on your own bucket list, and enjoy what’s ahead.

1. Have a realistic vision.

Vision is important because successful retirees retire to something—failed retirees retire from something—usually a job they hated. If you don’t have a clear vision of where you want to go, you’ll end up at a dead end. In my book, I provide an exercise in which participants select six pictures that represent what they envision during retirement. It’s a simple exercise whose purpose is to start a conversation. Most people quickly realize that what they thought they wanted (all leisure, all the time) is a myth. You can do the exercise without the book: just choose six images from a magazine or website that represent how you see yourself in retirement. Some examples include mentoring, teaching, traveling, working, and spending more time with friends. As you can see, some of these examples cost money, some are free, and some even pay you!

2. Include balance.

Balance is important because successful retirees find balance between vocation and vacation, and failed retirees go from bingeing on work to bingeing on leisure.

Whether you rely on Social Security or have billions in the bank, we all have exactly 168 hours per week in our time accounts. No matter how much money you have, if you do not have a plan for capitalizing on your time, you will be miserable. Figure out how you’re going to spend your time. Step one is determining approximately how and where you currently spend your time (total must be 168 hours). Step two is the same, except it focuses on how and where you desire to spend your time (again, total must be 168 hours). Here are the time categories you should include in time totals:

Activity Hours per week
Family/friends
Work/career
Downtime (television, social media, music)
Sleep
Health/fitness
Personal growth
TOTAL HOURS (must equal 168) 168

After completing this exercise—especially the desire version—many people have told me it opened their eyes to realize that they really don’t want to spend all their time posting on Facebook, drinking martinis, or playing golf. They also acknowledged that much of what they wanted didn’t have to cost them a fortune. What they really wanted was more balance!

3. Go from collecting a paycheck to a playcheck.

Work is important but not necessarily for reasons you may be thinking. Many of us will have no choice but to work longer than our current plan. However, I have observed that the most successful retirees keep themselves plugged into meaningful pursuits, and failed retirees devolve into boredom and aimlessness. If you’re not spending your time doing something you find fulfilling, it’s time for a career assessment and transformation. No, it’s not easy but it is doable. While most people don’t conduct a work assessment before retiring, a high percentage end up taking on part-time work within the first year because they were missing out on positive aspects of work like social interaction and purpose (even if they didn’t like what they were doing before retiring). Maybe it’s time to think about transitioning a hobby into a for-profit business, or your knowledge base into a consulting practice.

4. Age successfully.

The final cornerstone in planning for how you’re going to spend the rest of your life is to shift from growing old to successfully aging (what I like to call “s-aging”). S-aging is important—successful retirees focus on growing and well-being, and failed retirees just take what comes. Successful aging is all about attitude. I’ll bet you know someone who is 80 years old but acts like they are half that age, and vice versa, someone who is 40 and acts like they’re 80. You’re old when you think you are. Just because you’re not 20 years old doesn’t mean you can’t be curious, challenged, connected, creative, and charitable. The payoff is better health, which ultimately means more money in your pocket and a better lifestyle.

Think of retirement as a life transition.

Retirement as traditionally defined is an unnatural act. When it was first instituted, retirees very seldom lived more than a few years into retirement (if they made it to retirement at all). Today, retirement is a life transition to other work, less work, or very little work. It’s an opportunity to focus on those bucket list items we may not have gotten to yet. Both money and emotional issues accompany this transition and need to be dealt with. Whether you work with a professional or do your own planning, it is essential to recognize that retirement is not just an economic event. If you do choose to retire, financial preparation becomes just one aspect of a life event. Having your life ledger in balance can help you focus on just how much money you really need—instead of focusing on an arbitrary number that may not be an accurate assessment of what you really need.

How do you envision the next stage of your life? What’s on your bucket list?

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