Overcoming Chronic Maladies While Finding Purpose


There's been a lot of commentary floating around about the increase in bankruptcy filings by retired people. Here's one article that discusses people coming into retirement undersaved which eventually forces them to use credit for monthly expenses. It also touches on medical costs contributing to the increase in bankruptcy filings. There are a few sensational numbers floating out there about medical bankruptcies being shockingly high, this article from the Washington Post dials down the hysteria some but it is not difficult to construct a scenario where costs from a medical incident for someone with high deductible before age 65 or someone on Medicare not having any supplemental insurance or not having the right supplemental insurance turns into something ruinous. Here is yet another link that frames the problems that people are having.

Where a lot of medical problems tie back to chronic problems (metabolic syndrome related diagnoses), there is the opportunity for changes in behavior to improve or solve these issues (obesity, high blood pressure, blood sugar problems). This is a topic I've devoted a lot of time to in order to learn more and to modify my behaviors in hopes of aging successfully. With things like cutting carbs, intermittent fasting, exercising and anything else related, you should of course do your own research and draw your own conclusion but at the very least, who doesn't know that too much sugar is bad for them and who doesn't know that one way or another they should exercise? The intermittent fasting is maybe a next level type of behavior but I implore you to learn about it. It can be as simple as skipping breakfast a couple of times a week and the results can be very beneficial (the key word to research is autophagy).

With the right diet and exercise routines people can stave off or completely avoid chronic problems. The incidence of these is so bad that they are contributing to the slight downtick in US life expectancy over the last couple of years, opioid dependency is probably the bigger issue. I've said many times that our fire department has always had pack tested (hiking 3 miles in 45 minutes wearing a 45 pound pack) wildland firefighters in their 60's and every so often we've have had pack tested firefighters in their 70's. There have even been firefighters in their 80's but not in our department. The odds of a medical bankruptcy go down significantly when you can completely avoid chronic medical conditions. The money saved, or more correctly the money not spent on chronic conditions can be a difference maker for people who are borderline in terms of their retirement savings. A key point to reiterate if it isn't clear is that behavioral changes can reverse chronic medical issues. There is no guarantee they can but it is possible.

As part of my attempt to learn about these diet and fitness concepts I follow a few people on Twitter in the Low Carb/High Fat cohort and because of how Twitter works means I see a lot of other people that I don't follow. One recurring theme to these folks' conversations is the extent to which they feel people are looking for short cuts to solve their chronic medical problems. In what I think is a related post, Josh Brown shared a video from Gary Vaynerchuk that makes the point that there are no short cuts to creating a passive income empire (my word not his) where you can easily construct huge, passive incomes while you sit on a beach somewhere. He goes after people selling seminars or the like on how to do this, saying they aren't doing it, they are telling seminar attendees how to do it, they are "fronting."

The message that resonates with me is that there are no shortcuts to whatever it is you want. This is my concern with the FI/RE movement (Financially Independent/Retire Early), that very young people think they've found a shortcut and then

might come up short when they are in their 50's or 60's. Some folks will be fine, they aren't really taking shortcuts but a lot will not be ok if they stick with it for too long of a period. Again the context is viewing FI/RE as a shortcut.

Darrow Kirkpatrick at Can I Retire Yet had a fun post about "microadventures." These are short little trips where as the name implies you have a bit of an adventure or some fun or any other words you'd use to describe a vacation. The point in the context of a financially challenged retirement is that these can be very cheap. Activities like hiking, biking, sightseeing can all be very inexpensive especially if you do some sort of camping instead of a hotel. Unless you shell out a few hundred thousand for one of these bad boys taken at the Overland Expo in Flagstaff in 2017;

In the context of being undersaved, big trips in retirement will not be possible for a lot of folks but there is still plenty of fun things to do and Darrow's description of microadventures is a great way to frame it. Even for people who do have adequate savings, mixing in a few inexpensive trips can help make them more resilient in the face of something unexpected by virtue of spending a little less on travel.

Former trader Jeff Carter blogged about the dilemma faced by retirees of trying to figure out what to do, what purpose they might find in retirement. This passage stood out;

> I know other buddies of mine that made a lot of money trading and quit.  They tried to play golf or tennis every day.  It drove them nuts.  They didnt have a purpose.  I dont think a hobby can replace a job.

I would push back on that. Golf or tennis as a hobby might not replace a job but I think there are a lot of hobbies that can even if just in purpose, not income. But hobbies can generate income of course. One of our fire department board members (he was also the fire chief at one point in the 1970's) was a general contractor (he still dabbles now and then) but be became a Master Wood Carver along the way and sells his art in the mid to high four figures. Another example from the fire department is our Station Boss (this title can mean a lot of things but generally keeps things running smoothly). The job doesn't pay of course but he devotes a great deal of time to making sure truck inventories are complete, gas tanks are topped off, keeping maintenance logs for the fleet, keeping track of who goes out on what truck during an incident and the list goes on and on. By all accounts he is having a blast and doing a great job which seems to fit the definition of having a post-retirement purpose.

These concepts can be as limited or expansive as you want to make them, hopefully they serve as examples how much is available for us to do in the future as opposed to just going to God's waiting room as Jeff describes Florida.