Is retirement all it’s cracked up to be?
Perhaps not. You probably know a few newly retired friends who have found themselves bored and restless. This isn’t an isolated occurrence: a study from the Employee Benefit Research Institute has found that dissatisfaction with retirement is on the rise. Some retirees are discovering that gardening isn’t as pleasant as they had once imagined. Others don’t want their grandkids (as delightful as they are) to be the sole source of joy in their lives.
For the silver-haired crowd on the verge of the official retirement age, what’s the best strategy for a long-term return on life?
Know what makes you happy
Step one: don’t wait until retirement to discover what makes you happy! Instead, test-drive your ideas right now. Experiments in retirement don’t have to be expensive or all-consuming.
Think that volunteering will be your thing? Begin now. You might find that it’s a fantastic source of new acquaintances and meaningful work. Or perhaps you discover that a life of volunteering leaves you yearning for getting dressed up, networking with colleagues, or being in front of a classroom. Whether your dream retirement includes gardening, yoga, walks, baking, or painting, start testing your hypothesis today.
Keep in mind that being “busy” isn’t the same as being happy. Choose carefully to make sure that every day includes something you will genuinely look forward to, something you can trust to give you purpose. Your joy is retirement is a complex and highly individual recipe, and the sooner you have the right ingredients – the better.
Remember also that for some people, working in a professional capacity is a key component of happiness. This doesn’t mean you don’t love or enjoy your family, just that you need work for connection, mental stimulation, feeling like you matter, or just being your complete self.
Understand your financial picture
Whether you choose to stop working altogether (i.e. retire in a traditional sense), continue working full-time, or do something in between, you will face a unique set of financial consequences. Reflect on what would bring you the most joy, then combine it with a solid understanding of your financial needs and resources.
Work with a financial planner to build several scenarios. How prepared are you to stop working and just rely on your savings from retirement until you pass? Can that plan withstand a stressor, like getting sick or needing professional nursing care? What would happen if you transitioned to part-time employment?
Your stress-test variables will be unique to your situation. While there is no way to predict exactly what will happen to you and your family, it’s helpful to understand the range of possibilities and outcomes so that you can make informed decisions.
Keep in mind that your decision to continue working will affect Social Security benefit timing, Medicare, taxes, Required Minimum Distributions from your retirement savings accounts, and much more. Make sure that you are looking at after-tax consequences of every decision.
Stay open to trying new things
It is possible that your silver years bring you to unexpected places. You may discover a new passion for music or art. Perhaps you find great satisfaction in tutoring or mentoring young people. Or maybe this is your space to finally do something that you’ve set aside in your youth in order to support your family. Retirement can be about second chances – if you let it. So, do explore and stay open to new possibilities!
Redefining retirement: your turn!
The least happy retirees are those who have allowed inertia to define their life in retirement. Their days may be full, but their hearts aren’t fulfilled.
Advances in medical science and the standard of living have given many of us an extra 20 years to live – and it is of critical importance to put that “extra” time to great use. Be mindful. Be honest. Be financially smart. Finally, don’t be afraid to shape your own retirement, change your mind, or not retire at all. Your silver years deserve to be filled with learning, connection, contribution, and joy.
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