My oldest and dearest friend just retired from the regular 9 to 5 grind. He packed it in on the same day he first started working, some 50 years to the date.

He had been speaking about this for the past two years, and he almost retired a number of times before but then recanted, figuring that he could pick up a little bit more in his 401(k) if he stuck around.

We spoke every day about this and I gave him my own thoughts, which are backed somewhat by my contacts with the top financial planners in the country and having listened to enough experts at financial planning conferences around the U.S. and in Europe.

My own financial guru always kept two things in the forefront of my mind: "Don't enter into any retirement phase with debts over your head and make sure you have a specific plan on what you will be doing come that first Monday morning." He's in his 70s and still puts in a number of days per week at his office. He believes in keeping the mind challenged.

For that matter, I remember my friend Mitch Anthony's lecture at these conferences where he specifically refused to have the word "retirement" in his lexicon. "Change of lifestyle, yes, but retirement, no." He didn't believe people should be put out to pasture. Of course, there are many who like nothing more. I have one friend who gets enjoyment out of washing the dog's bowl. That seems quite constructive but for a half hour?

And, of course, how about the people who would just as well sit home and watch Oprah all day? I have another friend who is addicted to television and for the past two years since his retirement from the regular army of workers, he sits glued in front of the tube for most of the day.

I guess that's why Baskin Robbins makes how many flavors?

It's an entirely personal thing, I realize, but some of the stats being released are rather telling. For example, some two-thirds of those who retire go back to work even on a part-time basis within the first five years. For money? Nope. They need to be occupied; they need to exchange ideas with others.

Go to Florida, especially in areas that cater to the senior (Don't tell me that is all Florida is about; only 17 percent of the residents are over the age of 65 there--less than in all of China which is at 18 percent) and you will find a ton of silver-haired people as door greeters at Wal-Mart or as ushers at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts. For the money? No again! Just to keep occupied, to have a place to go even if it's only two or three times a week.

My father, may he rest in peace, worked right up to the day he died...well into his 80s. My folks lived in Philadelphia but had a place they built in Florida right on a golf course. My mother would stay down there for the entire winter and my father would visit, staying for two weeks and then going back to Philly and the business he owned. He could have stayed the entire winter, if he wished, but what I heard was, "I can't sit around the pool and listen to people talk about the price of cauliflower all day. Or to decide whether to take their Social Security check this month and put it in bank A on the southwest corner (which was having a special money-for-toaster sale) or to put it in bank B on the northwest corner." And that was only for the current month. The money never seemed to stay in any bank long enough to acquire any interest.

So, back to my friend. First of all, he extinguished all his debts before he gave notice. And he prepared a very long list of what he intended to do. It's only been two weeks since he left that office but his days, he tells me, are full ones. "On Monday, I shopped for gum, Tuesday I did laundry, Wednesday I had the car serviced, Thursday I visited my grandchildren, Friday I went to the library."

Am I envious, he asks? I'm not sure but I don't think so. The experts say that the honeymoon period for both being occupied and spending more money than you should is a full year from the time one steps off the working treadmill. I'm not sure I could spend a day shopping for gum but then again I never had the opportunity or freedom to do so.

Let my friend be the guinea pig. Now, isn't that a terrible thing to say?

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