07/31/2012 03:53 pm ET Updated Sep 29, 2012

The Real Currency of Boomers: Spend It All Before You Die

We have some money, and then we don't. We have saved enough to live reasonably in retirement, and then we haven't. Not much to do about that now.

The bigger question is: How do we want to live our lives the next 20 years?

That question was the focus of a lunch conversation with an old pal last week as we met to talk and catch up over a cup of soup. We both were glad we had reasonable financial security (whatever that means today) and have been able to retire. But we agreed that no one we know is living high on the hog these days. We all seem to be learning to be more careful, clip coupons, take fewer trips and drive our Jeep right into its grave.

I began to list some of the things I was thinking about scaling back on when she reminded me of something I had nearly forgotten.

"We are loaded with currency," she said. "We only have to decide how to spend it. I'm surprised at you, dear friend. Cutting back at your age? What are you saving your currency for anyway?"

The currency she was reminding me of is our spirit, our energy to turn water into wine when we really decide to do something. Where we fall down is in not believing in ourselves to manifest the lives we truly want. We talked some more and came up with major emotional and spiritual currency decisions we've thought about, and talked about, with friends.

Long, happy marriages are wonderful. Long, unhappy marriages are prisons.
We all know women who are unhappily married. They are alone in their marriage, without real affection and intimacy, and stuck because they are frightened of getting out. They have financial fears, fears associated with any major life change, family and peer fears, and most of all, I think, the fear of being alone. These are real, legitimate fears. These women ask themselves, "Would I be a terrible person for leaving him? I'd be throwing away 32 years of marriage. I'd be alone. I'd have to face the world without a man, a partner, and I'm not sure about the finances. Can I survive it all?"

I know how that feels. I've been there. The reminder I would give is this: We all have a rich currency of authenticity that is found in our energy, heart, soul and spirit. When you get to the point that your life ahead is more important than the life you've already had, then it may be time to spend your currency to go where you want to be. It's never too late; it's never too soon. It just is. Spend your currency until your life is done.

Life inside your home is wonderful. Life stuck inside your home can be a prison.
I worked outside the home for 40 years. When I retired, the gift of being at home in my house was a remarkable thing. But for women who have been homemakers for most of their lives, it may be time now to decide what would make you the happiest.

"I'd love to travel to Europe. It's been a dream of mine for all of my life," a good friend said to me. "But my husband doesn't want to go there, and I couldn't go alone at this point. I think I just missed the boat when it comes to travel." It doesn't matter anyhow, she concluded.

But it does matter, I said. "You've got the energy and drive to make the European trip come true. You can go with a group, take a friend as your companion or one of the kids or grandkids with you. You can make it happen." Do the things you want to do, now. Spend your currency until your life is done.

Living someone else's life is a sacrifice. Living your own restless life is brave..
Something seems to happen to men when they retire. They become homebodies who venture out once a week to a meeting or golf -- or for the occasional movie and dinner out -- and they seem to grow more facial hair. It's as if life gave them permission to unwind, not shave, wear the same cotton shorts five days in a row and imbibe as much television as is humanly possible.

Hey, that's great --- and they can easily argue that after a long work life, they are entitled to enjoy their retirement any way they want; they've earned it. High-five, big knuckle bump, we are agreed! Just so long as their life doesn't usurp the life of their loving spouse/partner.

Admittedly, it is difficult to renegotiate a lifetime of roles at this age. We have historically recognized patterns, likes, wants and boundaries in our lives with our mates. We know these things about each other, and yet, I think we should be able to re-examine them openly and freely with each other. We're running out of time to keep quiet.

Instead of accepting the new life rules, you must venture out of your compliant zone. "You don't want to go out this weekend, but I do," you hear yourself say. "I'm thinking that I'll get a friend or two together for an outing with me, if you don't mind." If s/he minds, then a non-aggressive platform for discussion of differences just presented itself; if s/he agrees that the friend plan is a good idea, then you grab the phone and set it up. After this happens a couple of times, it will become the new normal. Is it the perfect answer? No, probably not. But it is a good enough answer as you venture out to do the things you want to do. Be yourself and stay true to experiencing your own life. Take the chance, have the talk and devise a plan to go forward. Spend your currency until your life is done.

In the end it isn't about what's left in our 401(k) accounts. What's more important is how we spend the time we have left, how we decide to take some chances to be happy and how we forge new alliances within our marriages and relationships in retirement. It can be a long and happy 20 or 25 years ahead, or it can be an early graveyard.

Have courage. And remember: Spend it all before you die.

Martha Nelson is an award-winning journalist and a former educator, nonprofit executive, chef, and musician. Her first novel, Black Chokeberry, was published in April 2012 and is available everywhere including from her website,