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Fritz Gilbert retired in 2018 in his mid-fifties. Several years prior to his retirement, he began writing the blog The Retirement Manifesto to document his transition into this new phase of life. Most retirement planning resources focus on the financial aspects of the decision. Fritz wanted to round out the conversation by emphasizing the “softer side” of retirement planning.

Keys to a Successful Retirement book cover

I’ve read Fritz’s writing on his blog and have had the pleasure to interact with him several times. I’ve always found him to be genuine and thoughtful. (Listen to the two of us along with Early Retirement Now’s Karsten Jeske on the NewRetirement podcast discussing our transition to early retirement.) 

Fritz recently wrote a book, Keys to a Successful Retirement: Staying Happy, Active and Productive in your Retired Years. I offered to review an advance copy.

Read on to help decide if this book would be a good resource to assist you in your retirement planning. You’ll also have an opportunity to win one of three copies we’re giving away.

Target Audience

Fritz wrote this book for people preparing for or struggling with the transition from career to retirement. In the first paragraph of the book, he writes “you’ve paid attention to the financial side of things, saved as much as possible, and ‘paid yourself first’ for decades. You’re ready to go.”

He notes that those who have followed a typical career path will experience freedom in retirement that you likely haven’t experienced since you were a child. I can’t agree more with his description of this “new level of freedom that is both exhilarating and intimidating.”

Prior to my early retirement, I thought I had prepared for this transition well. I eschewed what I felt were unrealistic views of retirement as a pollyanna that are shared by some FIRE bloggers.

I sought out insights from other early retirees like Darrow on this blog and Todd Tresidder at Financial Mentor. Both were ahead of me in their financial journeys. Their financial paths were similar to what I was pursuing, and I appreciated their candor from the other side.

Still, I’ve written before that my transition was much harder than I ever anticipated. In fact, I wrote that post describing my difficult transition about one year after my early retirement.

Fritz writes in the book, “At about the one-year mark. . . there’s a point in your retirement when you realize that this is your new reality. This is now your life.” Later in the book, he returned to this time and described it as follows, “It was never unpleasant, but it wasn’t really what I expected either.”

It is a time for some introspection, and maybe some reckoning. I fully agree with his assertion that we need resources to help us think about this in advance and then refer back to when that time comes.

What I Loved About the Book

Fritz perfectly captured many of the challenges I either didn’t anticipate or underestimated. I wish I would have given them more consideration as he recommends.

Relationships

One example is thinking about how your relationships will be impacted. He wrote, “Strong relationships are one of the factors that bring joy to life, and your relationships are bound to be rocked more severely than at any other point in your life.”

In both his case and mine, we retired but our spouses’ work status didn’t change. My wife continued in her part-time job. His wife had chosen to be a stay-at-home mom and caregiver. Though their roles didn’t drastically change, their spouse’s retirements thrust a major change onto them and drastically changed relationship dynamics.

When you retire you lose your work relationships and a piece of your identity. Expecting your spouse to fill those voids is unfair. Both partners need to consider and plan for these changes together in advance, not just the one retiring.

Hidden Challenges

In chapter 4 Fritz discusses hidden challenges. One was that your risk of depression increases by 40% after retiring. He identifies boredom and loss of identity and purpose as contributing factors. I don’t think I’ve ever become clinically depressed and I’ve certainly never felt bored. But I often identify with the feeling of struggling with day to day purpose and significance since leaving my career.

Fritz also points out that you have less than a fifty percent chance of having the final say on when you retire. Health issues, the need to become a caregiver to a partner or parent with health issues, or downsizing force many people into retirement before they’re ready. Those retirees often have to learn to deal with the grief of losing their career and all that comes with that.

Finding Passion and Purpose

In the final chapter, Fritz discusses strategies to address these and other challenges. He writes, “finding a passion or purpose is the most important thing you can do for a successful retirement.” He then provides ideas for how to do that.

Some particularly powerful ideas were shifting your focus from success to significance and avoiding deathbed regrets. Also discussed was the fact that 25% of people “unretire” and return to work. The majority of them do it for non-financial reasons. I particularly liked the idea of a “Victory Lap Retirement” where you consider working in retirement like a victory lap, “run more slowly and for a different purpose than the race itself.”

What I Didn’t Love About the Book

I get that Fritz felt there was already a glut of retirement planning materials on the market focusing on money. He tried to write a different book that focused on the non-financial aspects of retirement. But is it really possible to effectively discuss retirement planning without getting into financial details?

Fritz wrote on page five, “The most important step in the (retirement planning) process is determining what type of life you want to live in your retirement years. As you’ll see, this drives the financial aspects of retirement and has a direct impact on when you’ll be able to retire.”  

I agree that you should start with what you want your retirement lifestyle to look like. Then reverse engineer your finances rather than starting with money and allowing finances to dictate your lifestyle. But regardless of where you start, these two components of planning are impossible to separate. 

He also wrote “As your retirement evolves, money becomes something you think about less and less.” This may be true IF you planned well. But I’m willing to bet that a lot of people who didn’t plan well are having sleepless nights right now because they’re thinking a whole lot about money.

The bottom line is, you can’t have a realistic conversation about planning your retirement without having a detailed understanding of your finances. Fritz reluctantly acknowledges this in Chapter 2: What to Do When the Paycheck Stops. But he covered complex and vitally important financial issues superficially.

For example, on page 23 Fritz wrote “Be realistic as you modify your ‘preretirement’ spending to reflect your ‘postretirement’ spending. Two areas where I’d warn you to be pay special attention are:

  • health care
  • taxes”

Unfortunately, he gives readers precious little information on how to do so.

Health Care

Fritz wrote “To be safe, I assumed a cost of $2,500/month, which I inflated at 5 percent per year.”  He didn’t explain how he came up with that number. He revisited the topic of health care in retirement later in the book as a retirement planning challenge in Chapter 4. At this point in the book, he dedicated a total of 4 paragraphs to this topic. 

This included two sentences addressing the massively important topic of Affordable Care Act Subsidies and a brief paragraph discussing the alternative of Health Care Sharing Ministries in early retirement. There was no mention as to how to estimate health care costs in your Medicare years.

Retirement health care costs can drastically change the amount one needs to retire. So it has a dramatic impact on when you can retire and the quality of your retirement lifestyle. Fritz  assumes the reader understands this complex topic by providing only superficial coverage of it.

Taxes

Fritz identifies taxes as another area that deserve special attention. Again he doesn’t give them that attention in the book. They are covered briefly early in Chapter 2. There are a few paragraphs discussing Roth IRA conversions later in that chapter, and a few more paragraphs speculating about future tax rates and entitlement spending in Chapter 4.

In my experience, most people have a rudimentary understanding of the tax code. Even having given tax planning a lot of thought, I’ve found that implementing tax strategies is complex. 

Your taxable income in a given tax year can greatly impact ACA subsidies or Medicare premiums, depending on whether you are an early or traditional retiree. Taxable income in a given year also impacts taxation of investment income

Your strategy for saving in and withdrawing from taxable, tax-deferred and Roth accounts gives you a good deal of control over your taxable income and thus your tax burden in any given year. Understanding the interaction between these complex variables and then layering in state taxes and the impact of Social Security income is not intuitive even for those who have spent a lot of time educating themselves on this topic. 

We recommend using  software like Pralana’s Gold Retirement Calculator that shows the interaction between these variables. Assuming most readers have a firm grasp on this important issue is a stretch.

My Recommendation

No book is perfect. I’ve laid out  the issues I have with Keys to a Successful Retirement. Despite the book’s drawbacks, there is a lot to like about this book.

If you naturally are attracted to ideas like relationship dynamics, the psychology of major life transitions, and finding meaning and purpose in life after retirement you’ll like this book. Just realize it was not written to be a comprehensive retirement planning book. It gives superficial treatment to financial topics that dramatically impact the quality of your retirement.

Many readers of this blog are DIY investors and planners. You’ve already put a lot of time and effort into the financial aspects of retirement planning. When we write about these “softer” aspects of planning on this blog, a segment of readers push back against us.

In my opinion, the more strongly you resist thinking about these issues, the more you likely need to pay attention to them. They won’t go away if you ignore them. This book is a great place to start.

Win a Free Copy!

Fritz Gilbert’s Keys to a Successful Retirement: Staying Happy, Active and Productive in Your Retired Years is scheduled for release on Tuesday, May 5th. If it sounds like a book you’d like to read, or maybe if I’ve convinced you it is a book you need to read, you can pre-order the book now through the link above.

Fritz and his publisher also have given me three copies to give away to readers of the blog. If you’d like one, leave a comment below telling me so by midnight EST on Wednesday April 22nd. I’ll randomly select three winners and announce them here.

If you don’t comment regularly, your comment may not display immediately because I have to manually approve it. Please don’t leave more than one comment. Thanks and good luck!

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[Chris Mamula used principles of traditional retirement planning, combined with creative lifestyle design, to retire from a career as a physical therapist at age 41. After poor experiences with the financial industry early in his professional life, he educated himself on investing and tax planning. Now he draws on his experience to write about wealth building, DIY investing, financial planning, early retirement, and lifestyle design at Can I Retire Yet? Chris has been featured on MarketWatch, Morningstar, U.S. News & World Report, and Business Insider. He is also the primary author of the book Choose FI: Your Blueprint to Financial Independence. You can reach him at chris@caniretireyet.com.]

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