Finding the Motivation to Take Control of Your Retirement

by Reader Contributors

Finding the Motivation to Take Control of Your Finances photo

What will motivate you to take steps toward a comfortable retirement? Get tips from those who stay focused on their financial future and retirement and maybe you can find the motivation to take control of your own.

“What is it about you that makes you aware and willing to take control of your finances and work toward a comfortable retirement when so many others won’t take the time or make the effort?”

We asked our readers this question and their answers will hopefully help us to help you find your financial motivation to take control of your eventual retirement.

Learn from Experience

I graduated with college debt and a brand new credit card. I learned that debt is harder to repay than to run up. I got tired of always paying off last month’s purchases this month. A credit card is now cash to me, and I enter it into my spreadsheet as “due now.” As a teacher, I saw my friends and acquaintances going places, having fun during the summer. I did not go, though I wanted to. I saw teachers retiring to a less comfortable life. I decided I would have to live on less, since that was my future. I learned to live on 20% less, and I put the rest in my 403b. I became frugal by choice. I learned the difference between needs and wants. I now have more money than I need, but I still track everything in my monthly budget. I know where every dollar is going, and I am not taken aback by emergencies.

Life Is Short

I am a nurse and I take care of elderly people. I know what happens to people. I don’t want to be sick and dying and still have to worry about how I am going to pay my bills. Also, I would love to have the day when my husband and I can spend all of our time together. We have worked opposite shifts for 25 years. Life is short and I want to get out of the working world sooner rather than later.

Simple Denial Is the Culprit

I suspect you already know, but my psychology experience tells me it is simple denial. Being retired represents our lives coming nearer to the end and it is uncomfortable to think about. Sure, folks could focus on more time to travel, etc. but I think the negative is easier to see. It is the same reason people are reluctant to set up wills, trusts, and medical directives.

My Father Is the Reason

My father graduated from high school in 1935 and modeled frugality all his life, perhaps to extremes (using one teabag five times). He taught us the importance of saving with a purpose. He was able to put four children through college and purchase a retirement villa in St Thomas. He did not scrimp but chose his priorities. My sister and I followed him closely. Almost to my surprise, my husband and I retired as millionaires. I attribute my financial stability to my love and respect for him.

Don’t Want to Be a Burden to My Kids

My main thought is that I don’t want to be a burden to my children. I don’t have a lot to live on, but I try to manage what I have. To me, that is important.

Your Website Helped Me See the Light

I became more aware of my personal finances when I came across your website a few years ago. I realized how much money was being wasted on credit card interest and not having an emergency fund set up. I started to be very diligent about paying down debt and funding an emergency account. I also made it a point to keep adding to the account as well. I have to admit that it took me a while as my then husband was not on the same page as I was. Fast forward to last year, the year I turned 60, when I realized that retirement will be just around the corner for me and I want to make sure that I am able to enjoy my golden years in financial security. I feel that I am on the right path and on course to be able to not have to worry about my retirement income and have a back-up plan in the event I need to bring in extra income, which would be to rent our my extra bedroom. I currently rent out one room to my friend, a travelling nurse, and bank that entire amount.

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We No Longer Struggle

I care because in our early years, we struggled. It was important to us to have our home paid for before we retired. We are both 70 and work very part time, but it helps. We barely touch our investments. We have not saved a huge amount, but with frugality and care, it should be enough.

Retirement Was Nearing

My husband and I found that our 40s flew by in a flurry of children and work responsibilities. We were very fortunate that by the time we realized that our retirement savings needed to grow significantly, we had several years to save a big portion of our incomes. We were at the peak of our earning years and knew we had to save now or work into our 60s. Knowing how many people lost jobs due to the recession or ageism made us very grateful for this opportunity. We started reviewing our assets versus liabilities on a simple spreadsheet every month for progress, which helped keep us motivated.
Jeanne (now happily retired)

I Only Have Me

Planning for my future is a priority, as I am a solo senior, and sparse family is not dependable. My main advice would be to not trust or depend on anyone else to take care of you or your finances. Get all affairs in order ahead of time.

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Never Want to Return to Near-Poverty

It’s simple. I grew up in near-poverty and never want to be there again. So I have always saved money for the future. Now that I am retired, it’s actually hard to stop saving and spend the money I saved.

My Mother’s Example Motivated Me

My mother was my prime motivator. I am 88 years old. I was ten and made aware that she felt it her goal to make sure we had a backyard to play in. She borrowed against my father’s life insurance policy for a down payment on a two family house in 1940. Depression had created what she saw as opportunity and she got a job to help out financially. I retired at age 70 to maximize my Social Security and my IRA. There are no money worries for me and mine. Financial independence gives me better health.

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It Took Going Through A Difficult Time

I’m not sure what it takes to motivate someone to care about their finances. For me, I’ve always had an interest in money management, but I didn’t really care about putting away for a rainy day until I went through a very difficult time. It’s a long story, but I basically lost everything. My business of 20 years ended. I went through a nasty divorce, and I had four daughters with the littlest being only 5 months old. I worked hard and learned some very important lessons in the process. I worked out Dave Ramsey’s program with the debt I had and now I’m retired with rental income and Social Security. It was a blessing I learned my lesson early and had enough time to turn things around.

You can share ideas, websites, and advice on money, but unless someone wants to change they won’t listen. It’s a shame, but there are a lot of people who will be in terrible straights in their later years and won’t be able to do anything about it in their old age.

I have stopped helping my one daughter, who has a spending problem and instant gratification issue. I think the best thing I can do to help her change her ways is to stop helping. She needs to feel the consequences of overspending, and maybe in the future, she will make some changes if she goes through some struggles.

Compelling Desire to Leave a Financial Legacy

I have a compelling desire to leave a financial legacy to my children and grandchildren and to be financially able to bless them while I am alive. My parents did not have financial stability when I was growing up. My maternal grandparents helped us out many times. God gave me a tremendous work ethic and gifts to use in my career. I taught high school (special education) for 43 years. After 2 1/2 years of retirement, I began substitute teaching and found I love doing so on an occasional basis. I use coupons and cook most meals at home. We are debt free. I make as much money retired as I did while working full time. I love God with all my heart and thank him frequently for blessing me. I have been blessed beyond my wildest dreams. I am humbled at the blessings I experience. I do not shop online. I only go to a store when I actually need an item and wait until there is a sale and/or coupon whenever possible.

My prayer is that the money I leave when I depart this earth will pay for my grandchildren to go to college and to be able to have the money for a down payment on a home when the time comes for them. I appreciate The Dollar Stretcher and read it faithfully.

Why I Don’t Care

I can tell you why I didn’t care and why I was never motivated. I raised four boys and two grands while I was still working. I cared for an ill husband, and before I knew it, it was time for me to retire. I was lucky in that I worked for a good employer but it is still hard for me to save when every month I have some emergency and have to use my emergency fund.

I’m a Late Bloomer

I’m 62 and still working, but I did not know the importance of not relying just on Social Security alone. I started late in life. I have two retirement benefits from working in the school district for 14 years. I still think it not enough in this economy with the way things are going. I am now educating my two adult children to put 20% or more into whatever retirement program their companies have available. Who knows how long Social Security will be around?

Things Happen at the Most Inopportune Times

I am a planner and always have been. I realize that things will happen and they usually do at the most inopportune time.

When my husband and I got married 30 years ago, we lived paycheck to paycheck. Then the babies came. I had to stay home eventually because we couldn’t afford a babysitter for three children. I started to babysit others at my home to earn what I could. I was diligent with our bills. I made sure they were never late and paid on them what I could.

Over the years, as the bills got paid, we realized how freeing it was to not have to write out your entire paycheck to someone else as soon as we got it. We started saving money. We actually had an emergency fund. It felt good to have that safety net. Then we decided to do our end-of-life planning and bought mausoleum spaces.

My husband will have a pension he can start to draw on at 62. We both have retirement accounts (his is larger than mine) and will have Social Security when we are ready to quit working.

We just moved to South Carolina, where we hope to stay and enjoy the weather in our later years. We sold our previous home and bought a single story townhouse outright. Our bills, except for recent moving expenses, are all paid off. We are doing the major repairs now while we are both still working. We even did a tub to shower conversion and had a grab bar installed now because I know what eventually lies ahead. I also realize that, most likely, I will be left alone.

Maybe the fact that I am a nurse changes the way I see things. I see the effects of aging. I see the decline in function and I see death. None of us escape it, but you can plan ahead as much as you can for as long as you can. I am hopeful that our retirement years will be long and active, but if something should happen, we will not have to worry about losing our home and we are debt free.

Impacted By How Our Parents Planned for Retirement

My husband and I have parents that are polar opposites, regarding money. Both sets of parents had comparable jobs and comparable incomes when they were working. We have seen good and bad (worst?) of retirement planning from nearly equal points of origin.

We understand retirement funding laws and options have changed since our parents began their quest to live comfortably in their senior years. We recognize the need to do our own planning on today’s financial playing field and still look to the future for changes that will affect us and will benefit us. Since my husband and I have no children and no “close” nieces or nephews, we will need to hire professionals, depend on the kindness of strangers and any surviving relatives or friends we can con to help us with transportation to doctors, shopping, loneliness, help with new electronic devices, etc.

This is why we are concerned! Thank you for your website. You provide an excellent service and are a great stimulation to questions that need to be asked and answered.

Want to Thrive, Not Just Survive

I care about my finances because my husband and I would like to be free to travel a little and do more things with our kids and grandkids when we retire. He is 63 and I am 60. We have about $288,000 in 401K (a little Roth and some IRA). My husband plans to work until he is 66 and four months (Social Security retirement age) and then retire. I just work part-time now and only worked full-time for a few years since we had four kids. I mostly worked part-time or not at all for some of their early years.

Also I would like to have money to not only “survive” but to be able to continue to purchase cars with cash (after saving up) and also pay monthly bills without struggling. The ability to also help our kids out financially when they need it is also big on our priority list.

After My Parents’ Death

I have always been the money manager in our family (my husband was a physician in private practice for years and fits your profile of the professional who does not have a clue about money) and I always paid attention to these details. My attention is likely due to the fact that my parents died when I was young, so from the age of 13 until I aged out, I got a monthly Social Security check from which all my personal expenses were paid (clothes, car payment, so forth). It could have been worse, as my adult sibling provided food and shelter. When the money ran out, that was it until the next third of the month. This teaches money management. My husband came from a doctor father family and money was always there when he needed it.

Because of my mindset, we have always lived below our means and have just retired (mostly) with adequate assets to maintain pretty close to our previous standard of living.

It’s Up to Me!

I have always been a saver. I knew I had to work multiple jobs to pay for college because my parents didn’t have the money. Once I was gainfully employed, and subsequently a mom only working part time, I slacked a bit, especially in my retirement savings. In the past few years, I have really tried to ramp it up again.

The main reason I am trying to save as much as possible and to encourage my children to do the same is because I have seen the difference between those that saved and those that haven’t. I also have zero faith in the government and their ability to take care of me! I still like to think of Social Security as insurance and not a retirement fund.

Additionally, my concern is that we tend to be living longer and I don’t think we can ever save enough to ensure we can live as we choose. It seems impossible to determine how much we will need for retirement.

Also, gone are the retirement packages that provided healthcare. Therefore, I also know that the cost of eldercare and the related medications and co-pays is going to be daunting.

Lastly, I don’t want to work forever! I want to be able to stop some day and still be able to enjoy life!

Nothing Beats Peace and Contentment!

I am a faithful reader of The Dollar Stretcher and After 50 Finances and appreciate all you do to try to get people to help themselves by being smart with money.

It was important to my husband and me to be debt free before retirement so that we can live without the stress of his corporate job and excessive bills. Thanks to the grace of God, my husband’s hard work and my frugal family management, he will retire with benefits and a nicely funded 401k in a few weeks at the age of 58.

We plan to work low stress, part-time jobs as needed and desired. Most of all, we look forward to spending time with each other and our children and parents that we never had the opportunity to while his nose was to the grindstone. We also plan to do ministry and volunteer work and help with the grandchildren we hope to be blessed with!

Having freedom is worth enough to us that we choose to live in a paid-for small home, drive older vehicles, and feed and entertain ourselves simply. No “things” or social status beat peace and contentment!

Thanks again for all the great information and encouragement!

What I Learned from the Difficult Days

When I suddenly became a single parent after being a mostly stay-at-home mom, I started at the bottom of a corporate career with an internship that paid barely above the poverty level. For years, I was unable to even take my kids to McDonalds, and my budget stayed tight even as they graduated high school and started college through the 80s and 90s. Even the lower tuitions of those days were hard for all of us to meet.

From those very difficult days, we survived, and I am now retired with what is really a very comfortable lifestyle. Here are some of the things that helped us get through.

Frugal living from the beginning helped. I had no credit history of my own back in 1979, so buying on credit was not an option. I now see that forced saving was a big help, though it meant that my son as a freshman had one pair of jeans. He worked as a busboy at a local restaurant after school and would come home and throw those jeans in the washer, and I would get up early and put them in the dryer so they were ready for him to wear again.

I had one major advantage, in that we had owned our own homes for almost a decade (in three states!) and had always “under-bought” and had made modest profits on each sale. We lived in a community property state (AZ), so when we had to sell the house because I couldn’t afford it on my own, I had half the sales cost to put into another house. It was a major step down, but I decided to keep the small profit in the house rather than moving to renting.

Over the years, I had family support in that my ex-husband’s parents gave me a very low interest second mortgage on that house. Though I never had to ask my church for financial support, they did provide me with encouragement and fellowship that sometimes were just what I needed to continue. They also were very supportive to my children, again something that is far beyond anything money can buy. After my income improved a bit, I would save for bargain airfares for my kids so they could fly to the Midwest in the summer, staying with grandparents and aunts and uncles on farms. Unfortunately, I was never able to afford tickets for myself, but they had the benefit of extended family experiences I could never have given them on my own.

The company that I started working for had a matching savings plan even before 401ks, so as soon as I was eligible, I took advantage of that plan. I also put 25 cents a week in a savings bond plan. I received a small raise (about 1%) that first anniversary so starting these two programs meant I took a small take-home cut, but I decided I could not pass up that 2% match. I continued with this, along with a 401k when the company began offering that. Beyond that, I was unable to save anything, and in fact, I never had even a penny of interest to declare on my taxes until 1997! In the early years, when I would get a statement projecting what my saving plan would provide at retirement, the monthly projection for retirement income was about enough for a meal at McDonalds, but I just kept plugging on. Twice, I did borrow on my “old” matching plan (it was a post-tax plan) to help with some of my kids’ college expenses, though they mostly covered their own costs. (See A 401k Loan on the Road to Retirement.)

Even after my income began to improve, we continued our frugal ways. As I became more “successful” in my career, I put more money into my 401k. When I became an empty nester and finally had that tax return with some interest to declare, I realized that I had only a decade or so before I would hit retirement age. I didn’t really want to retire because I enjoyed my work but I started saving more “just in case” I would be forced to quit work in my 60s. I looked at what I might need for a monthly income at that point and realized that it probably would be less than what I was then making. It was an easy decision to really push my savings up to the maximum allowable on 401k/IRA programs. This meant that my lifestyle was very much like the one I envisioned for my retirement years.

Fast forward to 2006, though I was only 60, I had a wonderful opportunity to move to the Midwest and retire to a time of writing and full-time volunteering. Still not eligible for Social Security, I had the advantage (again, something rarely available these days) of a small defined amount pension that would keep me going for a few years until Social Security would kick in. In addition, my choice to buy small and move to a lower real estate cost market meant that I was able to buy a house without a mortgage.

Today, I do have a modest Social Security check along with that still small pension that enables me to live comfortably. I can devote my hours to volunteer work and to donate all my mandatory IRA distribution to non-profits and my church. I still live what many consider a frugal lifestyle, but to me, it seems richly blessed. I work with many young people to help them find ways to save money in the kitchen. I also have been very involved in affordable housing actions here, because not everyone has the opportunities I have had.

So this may be long-winded, but I hope it provides one more answer to your question. It seems that the earlier people learn to live and appreciate a frugal lifestyle, the more ready they will be to make the effort to save for a time when there will be no income.

I Want to Provide an Example

I’m a 55-year-old female from parents that did not teach me how to save for the future. I have wasted money on stupid stuff and ended up with two bankruptcies.

Since my last bankruptcy, I have been thinking about how I can do better. I’m tired of being a “load” to others and to myself! I have decided that I’m not going to continue this way! This is so embarrassing to confess because I’m a professional with a master degree and have a decent salary, which I have been wasting irresponsibly! This past March, I opened a savings account. I’m transferring 10% out of my checking account to it for emergencies. This may sound ridiculous, but I have a goal of at least $500 by the end of the year.

I also have taking advantage of my company’s financial courses it provides to its employees. I’m starting to pay attention to it. My major mistakes included taking loans from my 401K to pay for funerals and health-related issues. By taking courses and reading your articles, I’ve started to understand financial terms. I look for websites (like yours) that are very simple to understand with simple, doable ideas that I can put into practice.

My long-term goal is to at least recover 10% of what I lost. I am saving to buy a lot with a simple house and keep my cars in good shape until I die. My inspiration is that I’m the new matriarch of my siblings and also a new grandmother.

Reviewed June 2022

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Sign me up for a comfortable retirement!

Every Thursday we’ll send you articles and tips that will help you plan for and enjoy a comfortable retirement. Subscribers get a free copy of the After 50 Finances Pre-Retirement Checklist.

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