Does the title here sound a bit odd to you? I mean, what do we have in common with squirrels? You see them all the time around here in spring and summer but almost never at this time of the year. They’re off keeping warm and relaxing, getting ready for spring I guess. And that’s my point here.
There isn’t much squirrel activity now that winter has truly set in. Over the last several months, like just about every squirrel, the ones in my neighborhood got ready for the long winter ahead. This past week we just had a 20+ inch snowstorm and a well prepared squirrel can pretty much feel good if he did what we was supposed to do.
So today’s title suggests that we do have something in common with our friendly neighborhood squirrel. But maybe I should ask the question a little differently? Say, “What should we have in common with a squirrel?”
Winter Is Coming
They may look only cute and fuzzy from a distance, but squirrels are intelligent creatures that know how to adapt to the circumstances that they encounter. They’ll find a way to survive no matter what it takes. Long before the winter months arrive, squirrels will begin preparing for the harsh cold weather. And what does that mean? It means endless searching and storing up what they will need to survive when the temperatures drop and the cold wind blows.
They know exactly what they need to do to survive and they’ll put in painstaking effort to do just that. That’s how they survive every winter.
Humans may also look cute and fuzzy and at one time they also knew exactly what they had to do to survive. But something has happened to us along the way. Our “natural instincts” for surviving have been dulled quite a bit by all the modern conveniences and we often are not prepared for our winter!
If you haven’t figured it out yet, our winter is retirement!
Finding a Place to Live
Squirrels find shelter. They know that there are going to be predators out there. Therefore, they have to find a safe, warm place to survive the winter. They seem to pick trees here where I live and the higher up the better. That’s where my friend whom I have named “Rocky” lives.
Now when it comes to you and I, we tend to be lower to the ground and in fact most probably wish that the ground was closer to sand and oceans when we think about retirement. But all the thinking, wishing, hoping, and praying won’t insure a great retirement. Just ask a squirrel how hard he prepared for what he deals with every winter.
The Right Way to Prepare
It’s a fact that squirrels don’t just start suddenly preparing for winter. The preparations actually begin during the warm weather of early summer. This is a time when the squirrels are busily eating, having young, and working on their underground tunnels and chambers or overhead nests. The big appetites help them to build up fat reserves that will be needed in the wintertime if they are to survive.
The chambers and tunnels that some squirrels dig may also be lined with grasses and fur, which makes a cozy place to sleep when the weather finally turns bitter. The size of the chamber dictates how many squirrels can use it when it is time to hibernate. Yes, it’s no picnic to get ready for winter if you are a squirrel. Winter preparations begin long before winter.
And it’s no different if you are one of us either. Preparations for “winter”, your retirement years, have to begin early if you’re going to survive in any way, shape, or form like you want to survive. Ideally you’d start to prepare when you get your first job and start socking away money to invest for your future. However, many of us don’t learn that lesson until a bit later, and then we’re playing catch-up. But if you haven’t already started, now is the time to start! And if you got a late start, you will need to escalate your retirement contributions to make up for lost time.
If you’re a squirrel, then stocking up means stocking up on food, hiding it in various places, and knowing how much and where it all is when you need it. In the warm summer months, squirrels begin packing away food to keep accessible throughout the winter months.
For you and me, stocking up means money, primarily which of course will cover the costs of food and everything else in our winter of retirement. The main difference is that we need to be doing that much earlier than the summer before the first snow falls. More like decades before and we must keep on doing it for all those decades. If you need to escalate your contributions, look for ways you can cut back on your current expenses to put more away for retirement.
Eat Extra and Fatten Up
Another way that squirrels prepare for winter is that they start eating extra, fattening themselves up. They don’t think they ever have enough and that’s because they never know what winter will bring. Sometimes it is mild and sometimes it’s harsh, but they prepare for harsh anyway and are never satisfied that they have enough food on hand. You need to think the same way.
So many things can cause your retirement to “freeze” and bury you under the equivalent of 20+ inches of winter snow, no matter where you wind up living. You can never just assume that you won’t be dealing with some sort of unpleasant situation, illness for example, because it will not be a smooth ride no matter what you are wishing.
So make sure to fatten up your retirement accounts and diversify your income streams. You may contribute to your employer’s 401(k) or a Solo 401(k) if you’re self-employed. You can also have IRAs or Roth IRAs or other investments. Some people still have employer pensions, and you can open up an annuity if you’re looking to make sure you don’t outlive your money. You can also create income streams from real estate investments and/or dividend stocks. However you choose to create your nest egg, have a plan, and make sure to consider your tax situation for retirement.
There is a real lesson to be learned from our friends the squirrels and that is simply this: You must prepare yourself in advance for what is coming and for you that means retirement. Get the information early about 401(k) plans, IRAs, annuities and pension plans if they are an option for you because the more preparation and knowledge you have, the safer you will be in your winter of retirement.
Have you ever watched your neighborhood squirrels searching for food and storing it in the summertime? Did it make you think at all about how hard they were working to make sure they can survive? It makes me think that whenever I see them and I know they are trying to tell us something important. Listen to them or else beware the winter of retirement!