Retirement Planning Takes More Than Money

Money isn't everything when it comes to retirement planning. There are social and psychological aspects to consider too.

Earlier this month, we focused on some financial pitfalls that can derail your retirement. This week, we look at some of the psychological and social aspects of retirement planning to help you plan for and thrive in your post-career years.

Retirement Planning Involves More Than Money

One of the biggest problems many people face in the early years of retirement is an identity crisis. Who am I now?  For decades, you’ve proudly identified yourself by your occupation, but now you’re an ex-teacher, a former business executive, or a retired attorney. It’s quite a hurdle for many seniors to come to grips with being a “former.”  The challenge is to figure out who you are today without the self-esteem feedback loop from your job. 

You may not come up with an easy answer, but you should confront the issue before walking out the office door for the last time. It’s an opportunity to redefine who you are and begin connecting with others on a different level. You can also put your professional skills to good use as a volunteer or earn a few extra dollars as a freelancer.

Create a New Network in Retirement

Although you may not be best friends with all your work colleagues, there is a certain comfort and familiarity in seeing the same group five days a week (even if it’s just on Zoom). You may need to replace those work friends with a new social network. Even if you have a loving spouse, it’s probably not a good idea to spend 24/7 with them.

Having a social network is extremely important for your mental and emotional health. Loneliness and isolation are real and can seriously impact the health and happiness of retirees. (See below for some ideas on forming new friendship groups.) It’s important to stay active and engaged.

If retirement does not turn out immediately to be the paradise you had imagined, it can trigger stress and anxiety. That can happen if you feel bored or isolated. You may want your retirement to be free and easy, but it’s still a good idea to have some level of structure and routine, even if it’s just one calendar item each day.

Spend Your Money in Retirement

Another psychological hurdle is realizing that the money you spend each month comes from your savings and not your paycheck. For people who have been savers for many years, that’s a tough transition. It requires a mindset adjustment to avoid feeling guilty about spending your own money.

Work with your EKS advisor to strike a comfortable balance between spending enough to enjoy your retirement without running the risk of outliving your savings.

Don’t Let Time Become a Burden

Often, people thinking about retirement wonder: what will I do all day? 

Retirement is like an endless vacation. The pace is slower, but that’s part of the allure. A leisurely morning with the newspaper and cup of coffee, no more commuting, no more office politics, and not nearly as many drop-dead deadlines.

Some retirees say, “I don’t know how I had time to work!” But for others, time can become a burden, and retirement seems like a letdown. So, what will you do with all that time?

You don’t need all the answers right away, but you want to have a vision in mind.  Some people like the “try everything” option: do as many new and exciting things as you can, and then get rid of those not satisfying enough. You can also immerse yourself in one or two callings you are passionate about. Either way, it’s a chance to find new meaning and new satisfactions. Retirement can last 20, 30, even 40 years. Make the most of your retirement experience by giving it more thought, planning, and research than you would when buying a new car. It will last a lot longer.

How to Spend Your Days in Retirement

The list of options are endless, but here are a few popular ways that people elect to spend their retirement years:

  • Take classes (online or in-person). Explore subjects you are already interested in or use the opportunity to delve into something new at local universities, community colleges, adult learning centers, or your town’s Department of Parks & Recreation.
  • Exercise more, take long walks, play sports such as tennis or pickleball, or take up yoga. Retirement can be great for your health if you use the time to move and avoid sitting around watching too much TV.
  • Volunteer at a non-profit, your church or synagogue, or a local elementary school. It provides increased feelings of meaning and purpose in life for many people.
  • Take a part-time job or become a mentor.
  • Try a new hobby, or nurture one you have dabbled in for years. Consider photography, gardening, a new musical instrument, cooking, or painting. And remember, you don’t need to be the best; you just need to enjoy and get personal satisfaction.
  • Spend more time with your grandkids, join clubs, travel, or visit local museums.
  • Get together for a leisurely lunch with old (or new) friends.
  • Get a pet.

The specifics of what you do are less important than the idea that you find ways to enjoy your life, engage with other people, and bring more joy to each day. You finally have the opportunity to be a bit less serious and a bit more playful. Also, you can afford to be flexible in finding the right balance of activities that work for you.

Professor Jacquelyn James, a psychologist at the Sloan Research Network on Aging and Work at Boston College, says that people involved in post-retirement activities reap the most psychological benefits.

The point is, the concept of time changes, and you may need to think about that in new ways. Give some thought to what your retirement will look like.  Do you want to work part-time? If married, is your concept of retirement in sync with your partner’s? ‘Gap Retirements’ can divide baby boomer couples when not adequately planned.

Figure out ways to make your time interesting, fulfilling, and enjoyable so that it doesn’t feel like a burden. Retirement is a journey that evolves over many years and requires flexibility, but the opportunities are unlimited.

As Bob Dylan wrote:

May your wishes all come true
May you always do for others
And let others do for you

May you build a ladder to the stars
And climb on every rung

And may you stay
Forever young
Forever young

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