Why Living in the Moment is Critical to Your Retirement Plan

photo-1441716844725-09cedc13a4e7On a recent Saturday morning I ran along a wooded trail near where I live that leads to a set of soccer fields. As I rounded the corner and came out of the woods I saw kids playing soccer in their little green and white jerseys. Parents and grandparents were lined up on the sidelines cheering them on, their morning lattes in hand.

I felt like had stepped into a time warp that took me back to the days when my girls used to play soccer on those same fields.

Those were good times and great memories.

As a financial planner I am always thinking ahead, living in the future. I plan retirements for other people as I daydream about my own. I often think things like “When the kids are older…” “After the kids are in college…” Or my personal favorite, “Someday when I retire, I would like to…” You can fill in the blanks.

I am sure you have had similar thoughts. Or yours may go like this: “When the market gets better…” “After I pay off these bills…” “As soon as my pension kicks in…”

While planning for the future is important, don’t let it get in the way of getting the most out of your life today. Unless you live a full and fulfilled life before you retire, it’s unlikely that you will do so after you retire. That’s why living in the moment is critical to your retirement plan.

Live a life of no regrets. In her book, The Top 5 Regrets of the Dying, Bronnie Ware writes about the most common regrets people have at the end of life. I won’t give away all 5 here, but #2 on the list: “I wish I didn’t work so hard”.

I try to be extra mindful of this one. Before I got married and started a family, I worked all the time. Nights, weekends, holidays, it didn’t matter. For that time of my life, it made sense to put in the hours. Today, things are different. (Thankfully!)

As focused as I am on my long-term goals, I try to remember to live in the moment and make the most of today. What is the point of a confident retirement, if it means sacrificing two or three decades of your life up to then?

That’s why you won’t see me in the office when my kids are out of school. It’s also why I limit my late appointments to just a couple per week, and I am very selective about the new clients I take on.

If you are not doing so already, start a new hobby or develop an existing one. Join a small group at your church. Find a way to serve your community that gives you a sense of purpose. Heck, just go for a bike ride with your kids or take your dog for a walk on a regular basis. It doesn’t have to be complicated.

Use it or lose it. According to an article on CNBC.com the average American worker uses only 77% of their paid time off. In fact, unused vacation time is at a 40-year high. While some people may be able to roll unused vacation time over to the next year, the average worker loses 1.6 vacation days per year.

That doesn’t sound like much, but it adds up. Think of it this way. If you spend just 3 extra minutes per day at the copy machine, that adds up to over 1.6 workdays per year spent staring at the walls making copies. Since paid vacation is part of your total compensation, losing paid vacation days is the equivalent of working for free.

If you want to spend 1.6 vacation days making copies, go ahead. Me? I’d rather be at the lake.

Live in the moment. Living in the future is a habit I have developed that isn’t always healthy. I need to remind myself to live in the moment and make the most of today.

To get the most out of your life in retirement, you need to do the same. When I create retirement plans for clients I recommend they save up to 20% of their income for their future goals. The other 80% is spent on day-to-day life.

I think that balance makes sense in other ways as well.

Set aside a percentage of your income to meet your long-term goals and spend the other 80% of your time, money and other resources living for today.

At the end of life it’s not the things you did, but the things you wish you had done that you are most likely to regret. Don’t spend life in retirement wishing you had done more living before retirement.