I was quoted in Barron’s this week in an article called “Covid has stolen time from retirees. Here are some tips for making it up.”
I have been pondering this concept since the writer reached out to me a few weeks ago, because I find it fascinating to think about the opportunity cost of time in different stages of life…Now that her piece is published, I can write more about it.
My first thought: we are all going to die eventually. We might have Four Thousand Weeks (I hope more) but time is ultimately limited. It’s harder to see that early in life, when time feels expansive, and possibly even endless, but the older you are, the more that reality starts to hit.
This is a particular issue for folks who are retired. At least on the middle-to-upper income side of things, sixty-something people often retire with the goal of doing activities such as travel, hanging out with family and friends, spending time on community endeavors that were tough to do while working full time, eating out, going to matinees, whatever. The goal is to do this for a good long time, but at some point (for many folks), health concerns make it harder to take a trans-Atlantic cruise or take that woodworking class. So there’s always a question of how many healthy retirement years you have available for these pursuits, and how you should distribute these pursuits over these hopefully-numerous-but-possibly-not years.
For certain folks, the 1-2 years (depending on place) when many activities were limited by Covid and Covid restrictions represented a very high proportion of their healthy retirement time. Obviously dying of Covid would end those healthy retirement years completely, so this is a question of calculating risks, but not doing things like visiting family, acting in the local theater group, or traveling to Europe, involved severe trade-offs, given that there may not be much time left to do those things.
Covid isn’t over, but now that there are vaccines, and boosters, and milder variants, some folks are wondering if you can make up for lost time. That’s why Barron’s — a publication aimed at people with portfolios large enough that money is not the primary limiting factor — ran this story.
The short answer is: no. Once a second is gone, it is gone. All the money in the world can’t buy it back. I know some retirees who made certain choices even during the darkest days of Covid — such as continuing to visit family members — precisely because they weren’t willing to accept the risk of for sure not seeing their loved ones vs. the lower percent chance of contracting Covid in its riskier forms. Others made different choices. That is the tough calculus of a pandemic.
But that doesn’t make for a good article, so I did offer some thoughts on how to think about time now. One is to think about what you would have liked to have done in 2020 and 2021, and accelerate the timeline on doing more of that. So, for instance, if you would have taken 2 big trips a year, try taking 3 or 4 per year. If you’d go visit some old friends who live 3 hours away once or twice a year, do that more often. Accept that life will feel a little more “full” now— even “busy.” It balances out the time when it wasn’t full at all. Life goes in phases, and no one phase ever lasts forever.
(Speaking of which, I am flying three times in two weeks — including making good on two talks booked for June 2020 and rescheduled for June 2022. It seems that phase of my life is back…)
Photo: This photo doesn’t have much to do with retirees, or Covid, but I enjoyed that I could see Canada from my Detroit hotel room, and even cooler, I was looking south to see our “northern” neighbor.