Freewheeling Towards The Valley Floor?


This piece is about the psychology of using those retirement funds that you've built up over a lifetime of work. It's about seeing your retirement pot going down rather than up. It's about saying to yourself "I'm retired".

I recently read a very interesting piece in Barron’s, by Neal Templin addressing an issue that I hadn’t really thought about previously.

The reluctance amongst some who have built up a perfectly respectable retirement fund to actually “retire” and start drawing upon that fund.

Neal put his reluctance down to the following:

  1. he gets pleasure in watching his fund increase in value, a bit like winning a competition. The numbers racking up are good, numbers going down, bad.
  2. he loves working and the intellectual stimulation that flows from work.
  3. and finally, he is “neurotic” (his word) about running out of money in retirement, even though his financial adviser has looked at the numbers and told him that isn’t an issue.

I’ve written elsewhere about the positive aspects of continuing to work and the cognitive benefits of doing so. So I’ll leave (2) to one side.

But 1 & 3 suggested in my mind a desire to still be going “up the hill” rather than “enjoying the view at the top” or even “freewheeling downhill”.

The analogy in my mind is that of life, especially working life, being like walking up a hill – striving for career progression, stretching one’s self and building financial resources.

Whilst many people yearn for the time when they can freewheel down the other side of that hill, for others it represents a significant psychological issue. Freewheeling down the hill is after all “down”. Our mortality lies at the bottom of the valley. We may not know how much freewheeling we have in front of us before reaching the valley floor, but if we are freewheeling then it’s an “admission” that we are in the phase that has its terminus on the valley floor.