Book Review – How to Retire Happy

agingspottedroseStan Hinden’s fourth edition of How to Retire Happy brings his years of retirement reporting up to date. If the title promises a rosy picture, this recent edition is cautious. We’ve been through an economic downtown. Medicare spending is rising. Social Security induces political jitters. And the meager savings of many baby boomers is cause for alarm.

Throughout it all, Hinden guides his readers through the labyrinth that surrounds aging: budgets, Social Security, medical care, long-term care, investing, creating wills and other essential legal documents. His advice is wise and measured. He introduces a spoonful of personal loss, too. His beloved wife Sara receives a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s after two bouts of cancer. Hinden goes through surgery only to heal and focus on Sara’s illness. We are told about his own regrets, hindsight and clear-eyed warnings to invest wisely, save before it’s too late, and search for the best care for those you love.

What I enjoyed most about Hinden’s book is his clear writing style. No word is unnecessary. If your investments are complicated or you face unique legal issues, this is not the book for you. But if you are lurching toward retirement confused, Hinden reveals the essentials to making decisions. These, he proclaims, are the 12 most important decisions you must make: when to retire, where to live, how to understand Medicare, when to file for Social Security, how to take pension payments, what to do with money you’ve put aside in a company plan, when and how to take money out of an IRA , how to invest while in retirement, what to do about health insurance, how to prepare for a long illness, how to face probate and how to age successfully.

Some may be easy. Hinden explains his decision to retire where he worked as a financial columnist for the Washington Post, where his family continues to live and where he and Sara shared friends and familiarity. He agrees that taxes may be lower away from the Washington, D.C. area. But home feels like home. And home base is where he found help in searching for the best group home for Sara. Now in his late 80s, his advice is honest and tender: aging is filled with second chances but it also may bring heartbreak. Be prepared.

He is quick to say we must focus on what we can achieve as we age rather than live in the past and mourn what is lost. Many of our most important life decisions are made as we age. The more we understand the consequences of our decisions, the better we can recuperate from challenges we cannot yet imagine. Hinden takes us on his own journey and we learn that he met good people who suggested an array of choices. Social workers, financial planners, eldercare attorneys—one after another steered him in a direction where he could choose the best place for Sara, move into the most budget friendly apartment, tackle important legal documents and plan for his own death. Interspersed with such daunting decisions, he also enjoyed his children, met for lunch with old friends and colleagues. And he continued to report and write about retirement issues.

If you need expert guidance that is straight-forward and crisply worded, directed toward the everyman and everywoman, this book will be helpful. It’s timely now. And, as Hinden often advises, plan before retirement, set aside time to answer everyone of his 12 questions. If you can, you’ll know that you’re ready.

How to Retire Happy, fourth edition, by Stan Hinden, McGraw-Hill, 2013