When it comes to retirement, there are things more important than money

Posted: Friday, December 13, 2002

NEW YORK (AP) -- Annie Gullion retired from her job as a social worker in 1991, and her life since then has been anything but sedentary.

At 72, she still runs a small travel agency out of her home in New York City. She volunteers as a fund raiser at her local YMCA and collects used clothing for a homeless men's shelter. She and her husband of 42 years, Alfredo, like to cruise, go on walks through the local botanical garden and attend the opera.

''My father was forced to retire at 65, and he was miserable after that,'' Gullion said. ''He read, but he really had no hobbies, he had no big interests, he was bored. I was determined not to be that way.''

It's a timely message for baby boomers, who seem to be single-mindedly focused on bulking up their retirement nest eggs. Experts on aging -- and retirees themselves -- say that while money is important, it's not the most important ingredient for a successful retirement.

As Gullion put it: ''I've read that you need 80 percent of your (preretirement) income to live comfortably after you retire. That's a lot of baloney. You have to know you can cover your basics, with some left over for fun.''

Ralph Warner, author of ''Get a Life: You Don't Need a Million to Retire Well,'' believes that all the talk about the high cost of retirement has scared Americans.

''I am not advocating that people plan to live the rest of their lives just on Social Security,'' he said. ''I'm saying, put money in perspective.''

Successful retirees, he said, ''are excited about things and have reasons to get up in the morning.'' Friends call, their children and grandchildren visit, they take courses at the local community college, they work part-time, they join exercise classes, they travel.

Warner said he wrote his book, which includes a series of interviews with retirees, to give people in their 40s and 50s some ideas about preparing for life after work.

''You have to learn to live your life,'' he said in an interview. ''If you don't take preretirement steps to help ensure you'll have a healthy, active, friend-filled and interesting retirement, no amount of money will buy those things later.''

A recent ''life stage'' survey by the AARP, the seniors' education and advocacy group based in Washington, D.C., found that boomers present a mixed picture on quality-of-life issues.

They were happiest with their relationships with friends and family and with their spiritual well-being. On the other hand, they were most dissatisfied with their financial situations, leisure activities and health -- and not fully confident they could fix them.

AARP research director Linda Fisher said that improving economic security and health often show as top priorities ''because people believe they underpin everything else.''

Ernest Callenbach, 73, has taken an opposite approach from many Americans by intentionally reducing his need for money.

Before retiring as an editor at the University of California Press, he often worked just four days a week so he could free up time to write books and pursue hobbies. Among his published titles is ''Living Cheaply with Style.''

''I chose a lifestyle that allowed me to live on 80 percent of what I could have made,'' said Callenbach, who lives with his wife, Christine Leefeldt, in Berkeley, Calif. ''As I see it, time is more valuable than money.''

He believes that ''people who chase after more and more money to buy more and more goods are going down a trail of diminishing satisfaction.''

Callenbach still takes on short-term editing projects but gets more satisfaction from other activities: reading or lecturing to disadvantaged students, working out at the YMCA five days a week, maintaining his home, traveling and writing.

''The thing you need to remember when you're younger is that after you retire, the satisfactions you get from your work are going to stop. A lot of air is going to go out of your emotional life,'' he said. ''Staying busy with outside things before you retire is important.''

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On the Net:

Warner's site: www.nolo.com

www.aarp.org



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