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Don't let reckless spending ruin retirement

Don't let reckless spending ruin retirement
(Dreamstime)

Because many of us focus on retirement saving for many years, we sometimes forget how difficult it is to spend the money in a smart and methodical way during retirement.

As I write in my new book, "The Dumb Things Smart People Do With Their Money," "If you indulge yourself too much during those early years of retirement, you won't leave yourself enough to support yourself years or decades later."

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Here's more from the chapter, "Dumb Thing #8: You Indulge Yourself Too Much During Your Early Retirement Years":

You've worked so hard for so long — now is the time to enjoy it. And not to be morbid, but you probably know of friends or relatives who died before they had a chance to enjoy their golden years.

So by all means, please, enjoy yourself. Live for today. You do deserve it. But be reasonable. A decade later, maybe two, you'll be glad you were.

The tendency to indulge too much early on in retirement amounts to a failure in long-term planning. So many smart people are surprisingly ignorant of exactly how much they'll need. We might put money into our 401(k) plans through our jobs, but most of us don't sit down and review the numbers methodically. Who really wants to think about growing old and, eek, dying?

So, the years pass by, and when we get to retirement, we wing it. We look at our retirement accounts and see some sizable figure — $1 million, $2 million, $3 million, or more — and we say, "Eh, that's a big chunk of change. I can splurge on myself right now."

Many people tune out and make poor spending choices when they retire because they feel overwhelmed, depressed or just plain out of sorts. For the bulk of our working lives, retirement seems like an abstraction, something that will happen someday but not now.

We think about what it might be like, but we don't truly think deeply about it. All of a sudden, it's upon us — a major life change akin to getting married or having kids.

For decades, we got up and went to work. Now we don't. For decades, we had colleagues supporting and annoying us. Now we don't. For decades, we had goals and a sense of forward motion in our lives. Now we don't. For decades, we might have had illusions of living forever. Now we don't.

Add to all this, we're surrounded by experts telling us what to do and not do to get the most out of our golden years. And our kids are giving us advice. And we're thinking about the example set by our own parents. Oh, and did I mention the ghastly specter of death staring us in the face?

All of this is enough to cause any of us to freak, tune out the actual numbers, ignore the voice of reason, and make poor spending decisions. "The hell with it," we say, "I'm going to live for now."

So, we do, only to regret it later.

From the book "The Dumb Things Smart People Do With Their Money" by Jill Schlesinger. Copyright © 2019 by Jill Schlesinger. Published by Ballantine Books, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Jill Schlesinger, CFP, is a business analyst for CBS News.

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