Gordon Powers

Even though the market has rebounded, the economic turmoil over the past couple of years has left many Canadians feeling decidedly less hopeful about their retirement prospects than they once did.

That's because their attention is primarily focused on money, of course.

But, the closer you get to it, the more you realize that a successful retirement isn't all about dollars and cents — although only a fool would ignore the financial issues altogether — it's about what you're going to do when you get there.

A few years ago, Paul Merriman, author of Live It Up without Outliving Your Money, highlighted what he'd learned from talking to retirees who were happy with both the lifestyle and financial choices they'd made along the way.

Here's a quick look at the important lessons he learned in discussions with those he labels "the smartest people I know" — a group, he notes, that isn't the one with the most money but is almost always the most content.

Happiness in later life is not a direct function of how much money you have
This is hard for many people to accept, but it's not a surprise to Merriman's "smartest people." Happiness depends much more on attitudes and behaviour than on the numbers in somebody else's computers. In today's world, essentially that's what money is: numbers in distant computers.

Wealth comes from choices people make, not chances they take
Smart people don't wait for luck to make them wealthy. Every day, they cultivate habits and follow rules that others don't. Live below your means if you want to be successful. Pay yourself first and build wealth, not a lifestyle that saddles you with expenses. When you save and invest, make your money work hard for you — taking sensible risks where you can.

Those who plan effectively will also prosper
Smart people plan for retirement — in writing. No "getting around to it eventually" either. These people start early. Clearly, a written plan has no magic of its own. Nonetheless, people who are serious enough to put their plans in writing are likely to identify where they are, where they want to go and what they must do to get there.