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Brett Arends’s ROI: Live it up now: The pleasure we get from spending declines as we age


“Enjoy yourself, it’s later than you think

Enjoy yourself, while you’re still in the pink!

The years go by, as quickly as a wink

Enjoy yourself, enjoy yourself, it’s later than you think!”

It’s been more than 70 years since Guy Lombardo (and his Royal Canadians) first hit the charts with this jingle, which is either cheerful or ominous, depending on your point of view. (Among the many versions since then was this one, in the Woody Allen movie “Everyone Says I Love You”.)

Now some of the dismal scientists (economists) have put numbers to the tune.

Read: This is the best country for retirees

The pleasure we get from spending money — on stuff, travel, and so on — collapses pretty quickly after about age 75, Susann Rohwedder, Peter Hudomiet and Michael Hurd of RAND Corporation have calculated. Based on survey data from about 5,000 households in the University of Michigan’s ongoing Health and Retirement Study, they found that on average, discretionary spending declines throughout retirement, and the main driver isn’t financial constraints but declining enjoyment. After around age 75, retirees report sharply lower levels of pleasure from owning a new car, owning new appliances or other stuff, and even from leisure activities. Interest in new clothes seems to decline slowly after our early 60s. Pleasure from traveling declines steadily after around age 70.

Read: How working past 65 can affect your Medicare, Social Security, HSA and taxes

So, the bad news (or perhaps the good news) is: You should enjoy yourself now. It’s later than you think.

“Someday you’ll say you’ll have your fun, when you’re a millionaire

Imagine all the fun you’ll have, in your old rocking chair!”

Meanwhile, the clear good news is that many people who are worrying about their retirement years may have slightly less to worry about, at least financially. Due to the declining demands on their bank accounts, many older retirees in the survey said that they felt less financially constrained than they had when they were younger. About 20% of respondents said they felt “very financially constrained” in their late 50s, but by their 80s, the percentage had fallen to well below 10%. Nearly 45% of respondents said they were “not satisfied” with their financial situation in their late 50s, but by their 80s, that percentage had fallen to below 20%. Meanwhile, the percentage of those saying they were “completely” or “very” financially satisfied more than doubled from their 50s to their 80s, from less than 20% to more than 40%.

This still leaves nearly a fifth of Americans over 80 saying they are not financially satisfied. That number may not come as a surprise, but it is still alarming and still unacceptable. And it’s hard to imagine it getting better after Congress next messes with Social Security.

We had better enjoy ourselves while we still can.

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