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Q&A: Spending Money in Retirement

It may be time to treat yourself for all your hard work.

By: Ric Edelman

Question: Like many people, I’ve spent most of my life hunting and gathering money for retirement, but now that retirement’s here it feels like I must slam on the brakes, shift into reverse and flip my thinking of the past 40 years. No more economy. Throw money at first class because I can afford it. I don’t know if I can think that way. It goes against my grain. I’m single with no dependents, so I don’t have anyone to leave money to. I’ve thought of charities, perhaps the Red Cross. Anyway, all this is new for me. Can you offer any advice?

Ric: First, congratulations. It sounds as if the reason you have the money you do is because you scrimped, saved and sacrificed. You’ve been responsible and diligent, you saved in your retirement plan at work, you saved additionally beyond that, you bought a home and you perhaps paid off the mortgage, you’ve been an upstanding member of society, and you were careful not to accumulate credit card debt.

You’ve done everything right, and it has become your way of life. You haven’t been a miser, nor have you been extravagant.

Because you’re self-aware, you recognize the fascinating conundrum you face. Many folks don’t: They continue to deny themselves spending opportunities as if they were still working and raising children.

Well, now you can stop reading restaurant menus right to left. Go ahead and order the shrimp cocktail if you like. Take a vacation without booking your return flight; just come back when you feel like it. Upgrade to a room with a better view — in fact, choose a nicer hotel. Go to better restaurants, Broadway shows instead of movie theaters, get new cars every four years instead of every 10, and so on.

But if those things feel wasteful, don’t do them. I’m not arguing that you should get a big-screen TV if you’re content with your current one. If you like your car and it’s safe and reliable, there’s no reason to buy a new one. But if you’re saying to yourself “This chair’s uncomfortable,” replace it. If you haven’t test-driven a new car in a decade, go to a dealership today, just for the fun of it. It’s free, it’s an afternoon’s entertainment, and you might surprise yourself at how advanced and fun to drive today’s cars have become and discover that you want to buy one.

If you leave restaurants hungry, you’re not ordering enough food. Stop denying yourself what you earned.

My book, Discover the Wealth Within You, provides checklists that can help you determine the things you might want to do — a bucket list, if you will.

Eventually, though, you need to resolve one issue: There will be money left after you die. Who’s going to get it?

You mentioned you might want to give to charities, including the Red Cross. If so, start by contacting the Red Cross’ Planned Giving Department, where full-time professionals work with benefactors like you.

There are many ways to facilitate your donations. They can show you how to donate assets such as stocks or real estate — so you reduce capital gains taxes in addition to getting tax deductions for your donation.

They can set you up with an annuity that gives you an income for life — and the Red Cross gets the balance upon your death. They can help make sure your will leaves money to the charity. They could help you create a charitable gift trust that protects the money for your benefit but eventually passes it to the Red Cross. They might tell you of a project they’re working that might entice you to donate now; this allows you to see your money being put to good use.

They might be willing to put your name on a building or a doorway or a conference room, celebrate you in their newsletter or any one of a number of other approaches — all of which help encourage other potential donors. You might create a challenge grant: “I’ll give $100,000 if you raise another $100,000 from other people.” All of a sudden the Red Cross gets $200,000 even though it cost you half of that amount.

Talk with other potential charities too. You don’t have to make commitments or take on obligations right away. Just listen to what they have to say.

From my experience serving as chairman of the board of our local United Way, where I worked with 800 charities, I can tell you that the community does indeed need your support.

If you explore this a little, you might discover that you gain more joy from supporting community organizations than spending money on luxury items for yourself. Perhaps you’ll do a bit of both, and you’ll have an awful lot of fun at the same time.

I know you’ll do well. We routinely help our clients implement their philanthropic desires, and we can help you too.

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