Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Retirement Planning - Tiger Retiree

You may have seen some of the media coverage of the best seller written by and about the “Tiger Mom.” She’s a Chinese-American who is raising her daughters using the extreme discipline favored by her own parents.

Her book has caused quite a stir, in part because the author regularly uses threats and verbal abuse to achieve her desired results. Yet not many people quibble with those results: straight-A students, star performers, acceptance to the best universities. This gave me the idea to become a Tiger Retiree—demanding the very best from my retirement and those who exert serious influence over it.

I began this quest by learning more about the Tiger Mom and what I shall delicately call her “techniques” for achieving desired outcomes. Somehow, the idea of my telling the Social Security functionary on the other end of the phone line that she is “garbage” does not strike me as a way to get better results. Children are a captive audience; public servants are not.

Next I thought about how I might employ the phrase the Tiger Mom used with her daughter when she returned her daughter’s handmade valentine because it wasn’t up to her creative standards. I imagined myself arguing with my supplemental healthcare insurance provider over the small portion they covered on my medical claim. “I deserve better; so I reject this” might get the desired results for a Tiger Mom. For a Tiger Retiree, it’s likely to evoke a straightforward “Take it or leave it,” followed by the resounding click of the phone being hung up.

Moving on to some of the Tiger Mom’s axioms, I pause on: “Nothing is fun until you’re good at it.” This is how she motivates her kids to practice, practice, practice on their path to Carnegie Hall. I can think of some things in my life that became much more fun once I became good at them (and playing the piano wasn’t one of them—wink, wink.) Still, I can’t seem to come up with what I would need to do over and over related to retirement that is likely to make it more fun. Certainly not filling out claims forms, though admittedly, doing that more should make each one go more quickly. That would leave more time to do other, fun things (wink, wink again.)

How about: “Second is not good enough.” That seems to have some potential. It could be useful in negotiating the purchase of a condo, which I expect to be one of the first steps in our retirement. “What! I’ve been outbid? Second is not good enough. What’s their figure? I’ll top it!” Of course, that presumes I can afford to increase my offer—highly unlikely given what I’ll probably pocket from the sale of our current house when we downsize. Still, this is one I’ll mentally file away for now.

Here’s one I especially like: “Assume strength, not fragility.” The Tiger Mom is referring to what she sees as American moms’ tendencies to be over-protective of their kids. Based on my recent experience having some neighbors help with our snow removal, however, I’m finding that “assume fragility, not strength” is a useful card to play for someone on the threshold of retirement.

By the way, over-protective parents are also referred to as “helicoptering.” For me, this conjures up a different image—that of the “hovering” retiree. You’ve seen them. They ride around the neighborhood in a Hoveround, a souped up wheelchair that sometimes looks like a miniature mobile home. (Do not confuse this with a Hovercraft; that moves on a cushion of air and requires balance and stability, neither of which most retirees have in abundance.) I have no desire to become a hoverer, so I guess that means I should reject helicopter moms and by inference embrace Tiger Moms.

Still, being left with just “Second is not good enough” in my arsenal of Tiger Retiree techniques is not very encouraging to me. Somehow, the concept doesn’t seem to be translating from motherhood to retirement. The truth is, I may have been a tiger in my salad days, but as I approach retirement, I’m really more of a pussycat.

Hmmm. Now there’s a possible best-seller title: The Pussycat Retiree. If you have any material you think I should include, please send it on to me. I promise I won’t tell you it’s garbage. But I just might tell you I think you can do better. (Wink, wink. Meow.)

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