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Pay Down Your Debt Challenge

5 Financial Secrets to a Happy Retirement

Surprisingly, money isn't the key to contentment

Secret No. 4: Don't try to keep up with the Joneses

One goal for many would-be retirees is to become free of debt. That's an admirable objective, of course, because it would be nice to glide into your postwork years knowing that you don't owe anyone a dime.

But what if you hit retirement and you've still got lingering credit card bills, or perhaps a mortgage? Believe it or not, as long as your debt's not excessive, it doesn't have to diminish your personal happiness in any significant way. Not unless you keep measuring yourself against others.

It turns out that when people compare their income or assets to others, they frequently get upset if their financial picture doesn't stack up, according to researchers at Warwick University in England. Even when incomes are rising, people tend to become less happy if other people's incomes are rising more.

The simple solution: Don't measure yourself financially against someone else's achievements. Let your own goals serve as your economic yardstick.

"Getting away from that whole 'Keeping up with the Joneses' syndrome is a good thing for retirees," says Lew Altfest, chief executive officer of Altfest Personal Wealth Management in New York City.

Secret No. 5: Living your passion is priceless

Gerard Stein wishes more retirees knew the secret he's learned: Retirement can represent your biggest opportunity yet to do what you've always wanted to do. The 72-year-old says you can't put a price tag on that.

After working at IBM for 31 years, Stein officially retired a decade ago. But it didn't take him long to find a new calling: helping female business owners in emerging economies across the globe. In 2002, he launched the EVE-olution Foundation, an international nonprofit whose mission is to teach female entrepreneurs how to more profitably run their businesses.

Stein has lined up corporate funding, but the lifeblood of his foundation is its network of volunteers — many of them retirees — who lend their expertise and energy to aspiring female business owners in far-flung corners of the world. "From China to Chile," says Stein, "we've found that when a woman starts to be empowered economically, she becomes a role model, an influencer and a leader."

Stein says he previously went through life as a "rich man" but now lives very modestly. He doesn't even have a TV anymore.

"For me, retirement is really living," he says. "What I do — for myself and these women entrepreneurs — is not just about making money. We're talking about making the world a better place."

Lynnette Khalfani-Cox is the author of Perfect Credit: 7 Steps to a Great Credit Rating. You can friend her on Facebook or follow her on Twitter @TheMoneyCoach.


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