There are two key pieces people should consider as they look toward retirement. How they respond to each will help determine whether it’s really time to join the retirees’ club.
Often, they consider the financial aspect first, particularly financial freedom from employment. When people make plans to retire, they look at their financial situation very closely. They compare their retirement income (Social Security and maybe a pension) to their spending and see how to structure their assets to meet any shortfalls. They also look at any debts they may have, considering paying off the house before they’re retired, paying off all their credit card debts and making sure their cars are paid off and new enough to last for the next 10 years or so.
It’s important to have a financial plan that provides enough regular income for monthly needs as well as special allowances for emergencies and spontaneity. The nitty-gritty details of income, investments and disbursement need to be planned. Individuals (and couples) need to first assess whether they have enough money to last their expected lifetime, making a plan on what to spend and which accounts to draw from. A detailed plan needs to put investments in the right places, with real diversification for security. It’s also important to deal with the tax implications to avoid paying more than is needed. Finally, they wrap up their financial plan with adequate consideration of risk: Is risk tolerance balanced with need for growth? Are the right insurance plans in place? Is more insurance needed or can some be eliminated? Ongoing review helps confirm that needs and goals are being met while ensuring they don’t run out of money.
Many do all this planning in expectation of living perhaps 20 more years. But what they don’t spend enough time thinking about is what they want those 20 years to look like.
The other critical factor, which is arguably a priority above finances, is identity. This question is much more basic than where to live, whether to move to Delaware or relocate to a different community within the state. This foundational question considers why (values and motives) as well as how they’ll be spending time. It should include ambitions, interests and relationships. What kind of activities do they want to be involved with? Who do they want to spend their time with? How does family fit in? Having an established sense of identity means knowing who they want to be throughout retirement. Once that’s settled, there can be meaningful planning for financial needs and the income to reach personal goals beyond just a lifestyle in retirement.
Life’s purpose is not synonymous with work, but many people have focused on work for so long and so hard, they struggle to identify the important things to do with their life that are not career-related. Building friendships beyond workplace and career boundaries is vital. Are there exciting, satisfying pursuits in place (hobbies, activities and goals) beyond the grind of 9-to-5 commitments? Retirement is much more than simply not working, and preparation for retirement is so much more than financially not needing to work. It’s crucial to create a satisfying identity beyond work so when the job is no longer there, the pieces are in place for a flourishing retirement.
Throughout life, work provides most people with both reliable income and identity. Work is the stability and structure of daily life for many, while retirement is a nebulous concept, often defined more by what it is not: “no more work.” On long days, through many years, pretty much everyone entertains dreams about retirement. However, saying, “I can’t wait” is very different from being ready.
Stepping into this new stage without income and assets would ruin any plans, but lack of identity and purpose outside of work is also a recipe for a sour start. In fact, some retirees report that after the initial thrill of freedom, they struggle with anxiety, purposelessness and even depression. In fact, clear understanding of their personal goals can help anyone consider how and when to make the lifestyle shift to meet financial needs without losing personal meaning.
For a reality check, ask these questions: Will there be sufficient identity and income independent of work? If the answer is yes, then the stamp of approval reads “Ready to Retire.”