It isn’t discussed enough.
I’m referring to the adjustments, many of them emotional, others financial, that are necessary to fully adapt to retirement.
As an advisor who is now in his mid-50s, after 30-years of helping clients adjust to the transition, I look at retirement differently than I did only a decade ago. I think about the challenges my clients have faced and the challenges that I will face. I think about those who have thrived and, of course, those who haven’t, and why.
What should be one of the best times in life, and often is, is also just as often one of the most challenging.
What follows are 4 things I try to remind clients to do.
1. Recognize there are ups and downs
If retirement is a choice - studies show that only about 50% of us get to choose precisely when we retire (health and family issues initiate retirement for the other 50%) - then the first thing you’ll likely feel (or have felt) once you retire is exhilaration.
This is especially true for people who didn’t particularly love their job.
However, for some, after a few months or a year, something akin to “buyer’s remorse” can set in. If some planning and reconciling isn’t done, you might become anxious or bored.
The period when the initial exhilaration recedes places you at a proverbial crossroads. This is both when successful retirements kick in, and, unfortunately, when certain common problems can arise.
That’s because you’ve never "done" retirement before. And my experience has been that it’s when anxiety enters the equation that some people start to engage in unhealthy habits like consuming excess alcohol and overeating.
I’m not a psychologist, but my research has shown me that while this is normal, and even understandable, it’s also dangerous.
It’s in the months and years leading up to retirement that planning your days and life during retirement is most helpful. Short of that, if you’ve already retired and feel like you’ve adopted some unhealthy coping strategies? It’s never too late to start fresh. If you’re feeling uneasy or anxious, engaging in something new that reduces stress and gets you excited about your life is the place to begin. And, no, you won't build Rome in a day. But taking up almost any new hobby, volunteering, walking, hiking, writing, or even starting a part-time job can help.
2. Plan for Tuesday afternoon
Don’t we all retire and only do what we want to?
Yes and no.
Yes, the commercial images of endless travel are simply not everyone’s reality. We spend 40 years working and adhering to a schedule, so it only makes sense that having little (or no structure) during retirement, especially during the early stages, throws a monkey wrench in the workings of our nervous system.
One approach that I saw turn someone’s angst-ridden retirement entirely around was when she decided that she would create a full social and personal schedule for every Tuesday of the year. She filled Tuesdays up from 6:00 AM until bedtime and every hour was accounted for. Some of that time was for chores, and some for social activities, and some was even allotted for contemplation. Tuesdays not only immediately became her favorite day of the week, every time she and her partner met with me for an appointment in my office (always on Tuesdays) she would even sing the lyrics to the Moody Blues’Tuesday Afternoon,which I can still to this day hear inside my head.
I'm just beginning to see
Now I'm on my way
It doesn't matter to me
Chasing the clouds away
I'm looking at myself reflections of my mind
It's just the kind of day to leave myself behind
So gently swaying through the fairyland of love
If you'll just come with me you'll see the beauty of
This went on for years and still makes me smile.
How much structure each of us requires to be comfortable in our own skin varies, but most of us need structure. It’s not a defeat to walk back some of your hard-won free time during retirement. That’s because practically our entire lives since grammar school have been dependent on maintaining a schedule and completing tasks. We are pretty much wired for it.
As a suggestion, if you’re retired and feeling at loose ends, it might be time to devote your Tuesdays to getting outside yourself.
3. Make friendship a priority
The social animals among us will think of the mere suggestion that you need to focus on your friendships during retirement as ridiculous. The introverts among us will break out in a nervous sweat.
We are all different. But even the most social people can find their personal relationships changing once they retire. Work provides a lot of connection to people, and even if you are happily partnered, cutting your personal interactions by 50%, or more, tends to leave a mark.
Just as you might schedule a Tuesday full of activity, you also might pencil in sections of your week to meet with friends. And, with COVID, since you can’t always meet friends in person, schedule some time to at least try and connect via phone or video conference.
The world can quickly become smaller when you retire. Don’t allow this to happen. Volunteer, walk the neighborhood with a smile, or join ameet up group. For most people, our emotional health is enhanced by being around friends.
4. Adjust your spending early
Some retirees live entirely off the interest of their investments. Others begin to draw down their savings from Day 1, and this leads to a cycle of less and less investment income year after year, until they find they have outlived their money.
Retirement requires an entirely new approach to money and spending. This begins with creating a new budget (your advisor will help you with this) that slashes expenditures you no longer need and reins in costs.
Just like scheduling, everyone’s financial situation is unique, and, just like scheduling, practically everyone’s budget simply must change at least some once they retire.
Lastly, whether retirement is looming on your horizon, or you stopped working years ago, I want to remind you to give yourself a break.
It takes time to figure out the type of retirement that works for you. Most of us understand when we are out of balance, and even if we don’t see it for ourselves, our subconscious minds and bodies are very good at telling us.
Along with money, the key to a happy retirement seems to be a braid combining smart spending, healthy activities, ample free time, productive scheduling, and fun people. I’ve worked now with hundreds of people who have transitioned into retirement, and who initially struggled to find their footing, but eventually figured out a path that suits them.
You will too.
Please call our office if you have any questions about your retirement, investments, budgeting, or the way you are feeling about the process. We are here to help.