Updated on 12.04.11

Review: How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free

Trent Hamm

Every Sunday, The Simple Dollar reviews a personal finance or other book of interest. Also available is a complete list of the hundreds of book reviews that have appeared on The Simple Dollar over the years.

How to Retire Happy, Wild, and FreeThe vast majority of retirement books I’ve read focus on maximizing every dollar to actually arrive at retirement. They don’t look at the period of retirement itself.

The relative freedom from time constraints that retirement offers opens the door to a lot of things that would otherwise be impossible, and this is where How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free by Ernie Zelinski comes in. Rather than looking strictly at retirement savings as part of one’s plan for retirement, Zelinski looks deeply at the personal choices made in retirement as part of that plan.

It’s an interesting and fresh perspective on retirement, and Zelinski’s breezy and friendly tone certainly helps push it along.

Thank Heaven for Retirement!
If you do not plan for an active retirement, you’re setting yourself up for a difficult and expensive retirement. If you work until late in life under the pretense that you’re setting yourself up on easy street due to your big pile of savings, you’re going to find that you don’t have a lot of years to enjoy it. Instead, a much better path is to live relatively lean, work toward an early retirement, and plan for a retirement life that’s active and full of adventure.

Retirement: A Time to Become Much More Than You Have Ever Been
A good retirement doesn’t involve sitting around and doing nothing all day. It means applying yourself to something that you’ve always wanted to apply yourself towards but never felt that you could due to the need to have an income-producing job. If this new activity produces income, great! If it doesn’t, it’s still filling your hours with lots of contentment and enjoyment of life, and not filling those hours with idleness or expensive activities.

So Many Worlds, So Much to Do!
Zelinski makes a challenging suggestion for anyone who’s retired. On the first day of retirement, unplug your television set and unsubscribe from cable. This will force you to be more active, which will improve your health. It will also push you to actually take on the big dreams you have rather than putting them off until tomorrow because there’s something good on television.

Take Special Care of Yourself – Because No One Else Will
Some degree of physical activity is an essential part of a healthy retirement. Zelinski recommends a daily walk at a minimum – and preferably more than that. Long walks, bicycle rides, and other activity should be part of your life every single day. This will not only improve your quality of life, but the length of your life as well. If you allow yourself to be sedentary, you’ll gain weight and lose the energy you need to live an active and vibrant life. A walk through your neighborhood or through nature is also a free form of entertainment, something that can’t be said for many other forms of entertainment.

Learning Is for Life
Much like physical activity keeps your body healthy, mental activity keeps your mind healthy. Zelinski recommends a commitment to lifelong learning in which you strive to learn something significant each day. One way to do this is to take a college course in a topic that’s interested you at your local community or public college. As an aside, I had a friend whose grandfather was in college at the same time as him. The grandfather actually wound up being in an assigned project group that I was in and my interactions with him were some of the best experiences of my college years. Going back to college does not mean you’ll be out of place.

Your Wealth Is Where Your Friends Are
A good, reliable friend is something invaluable to have, but you can’t build friendships by sitting at home alone. Seek out community activities related to things you’re interested in, or just get involved with a volunteer activity. Doing these things will essentially force you to meet like-minded people, and there are few better situations from which to build a friendship. A friend is a person who will be there for you when you need them and bring joy into your life when you don’t need them as much, and that’s an invaluable thing to have.

Travel for Fun, Adventure, and More
Retirement travel can actually be really inexpensive since you’re not tied to the traditional idea of the “tourist season.” You can travel to locations on your own schedule, not those of school calendars or professional guidelines. You can also travel like a migrant, meaning you can move slowly, scoop up deals as you go, and do things at your own schedule. This makes it easy to travel almost anywhere surprisingly cheap.

Relocate to Where Retirement Living Is Best
In my opinion, Zelinski’s best single piece of advice comes in this chapter: move to a college town. A large college offers tons of cultural opportunities, speeches, performances, groups, and countless other things to get involved in, most of them for free. The college town that I once lived in was a vibrant place with a lot of older people involved in the college community. You couldn’t go to an event without a lot of older people there, which made it interesting both for me and for them.

Happiness Doesn’t Care How You Get There
Don’t leave this world with songs unsung that you wished you had time to sing. The last thing you want to have in your final years are regrets of things that you could have easily done. Your retirement years are often the time to do those things. Most of the things that people wished they could have done are things that require time, and time is what you have in spades in retirement. Use it.

Is How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free Worth Reading?
Rather than approaching retirement as merely a savings goal, How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free looks at retirement as a period to capitalize not so much on the money you’ve saved, but the asset of time.

In other words, saving for retirement isn’t about saving money. It’s really about saving time. The more you put away for retirement, the more time you give yourself to accomplish all of the things you dream about accomplishing, whether it’s writing a novel or learning a musical instrument or camping in every national park.

It’s a great perspective and a useful one, and Zelinski writes about it with an irreverent and breezy tone that makes this a fun book to read, too. This one’s highly recommended to anyone within ten years or so of their retirement, on either side.

Check out additional reviews and notes of How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free on Amazon.com.

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  1. Brenda W. says:

    As someone who has been semi-retired for a year now (only working about 4 days/month), and whose husband has been fully retired for over 12 years, I can definitely relate to this post. Speaking from our experience, I will say the advice in this book is right on.

    Both hubby and I retired early (both of us when we were in our 50’s), and while we both loved the jobs we were in, we also wanted to be free to do things we were interested in.

    We spent the last decade of our working careers taking vacations in places we thought we might want to live, and found “the” place, where we’re living now.

    I can definitely recommend the advice about moving to a college town. And it does not have to be a large university … we live in a town whose population is around 6,600, with a small, 4-year college as well a community college and have found lots of offerings here.

    There are always concerts, lectures, “community ed” classes (aka … inexpensive college courses that just offer information and teaching on a given subject, not credits), exhibits, book fairs, you name it.

    I wish we would have done the “unplug the cable” when hubby first retired, but we did that a couple years ago, and have often said we wish we’d done it sooner. Not having to pay for that monthly cable bill, plus getting out of the habit of just watching TV has really increased the time and energy we have to devote to other things.

    I have been learning to create web pages, and am improving my photography skills. I’m spending at least 3-4 days/week exploring the mountain trails in the national forests around here.

    Hubby retired early in order to “run and bicycle full-time” and 12 years since retirement, is still at it!

    Proof that retirement goals do not have to be huge and grand, just activities or goals that are important to you.

  2. Steven says:

    Why wait for retirement?

  3. valleycat1 says:

    Yes, Steven #2. More than a decade ago my husband figured out a career change that provides an ample income but also gives him time to pursue and devote a lot of time to his selected interests, and he has no plans to retire early since he finds satisfaction from his work as well as his other activities. In fact, although we do plan to relocate in a few years (I will be retiring then from a more conventional job, which I now hold by choice), one of our major considerations in selecting the new place is that he will be able to continue his work and hobbies there.

  4. joan says:

    A friend and her husband retired at 59. They have been all over the world and Alaska, as well as in several states. They lived very frugal with her refurnishing their second hand furniture, and living very frugal in other ways. They have worn out two brand new motorhomes and are now traveling in their third brand new motorhome. They owned a landscaping business which he bought after working a few years for the original owner. They also put three children through college. They are active in church, she is active in a writing group, and many other activites. They are a very sweet couple, and a role model for others.

  5. getagrip says:

    The book sounds interesting and I’ll look to read it. The people I’ve met who retired from full time work and came back more often than not did it for two reasons: couldn’t live on what they thought (usually poor planning) or didn’t have a good idea on what to do post full time work and were bored (poor vision). I don’t want the latter to happen to me and it’s nice to see a book discussing this.

    My plan is to start doing a lot of the more expensive travel when the kids are all out of high school but while I’m still working full time. I’ve saved my share of their college and if they boomerang, great, they can watch the house while we travel. Meanwhile by taking the bigger trips while we’re younger and still in the workforce we can recover finacially if we have to.

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