If you are like most of our clients at Leelyn Smith, you have dedicated a tremendous amount of money, time, and energy to preparing financially for a successful retirement. You have contributed regularly to an IRA, 401(k), or other employer-sponsored defined contribution plan. If your employer offers a pension or other defined-contribution plan, you have dutifully monitored its progress. You have thought about when to begin taking Social Security benefits. And you have worked with us to map out portfolio management and cash-flow strategies for your retirement.
As important as all of these things are, enjoying a successful retirement requires more than just being prepared financially. You also need to be prepared mentally for retirement.
Going from working full time to having total control over your schedule is a major shift, as is going from earning and saving money to spending these resources. These transitions bring up a host of questions about how you can get the most fulfillment out of your retirement years—questions that you should begin thinking about well before you retire. Having worked with countless individuals and couples as they navigate the transition into retirement, we examine some of the most important things to think about as you prepare for retirement.
Identify your vision.
Well before you retire, you will want to envision your ideal retirement lifestyle—where you want to live, how much you want to travel, what activities you will engage in, and so on. If you are married, you will want to discuss these issues with your spouse. The two of you might have somewhat different ideas about retirement, and if that’s the case, you will want to find some common ground and reach the necessary compromises.
By reaching an agreement on your retirement plans, you will find it easier to create a budget for your living expenses, travel, philanthropy, and other costs. When you create a budget, and stick to it, you should be able to ease some of the anxiety that naturally occurs when you are no longer receiving a regular paycheck.
You will also want to think about how you will stay busy and socially connected during retirement. The move from a clearly defined work schedule to a “free form” retirement lifestyle is a big adjustment for most people. Not only does the structure for your days and weeks disappear, but the outlet that once required 40-hours-a-week of your mental energy goes away, too. Furthermore, you may miss the social interactions that you experienced throughout your career.
So, how can you fill the voids left behind from the loss of a regular work schedule and the absence of work-related social interactions? Here are some ideas to consider:
- Volunteer work and philanthropy – Schools, charitable institutions, and non-profit groups will always need support, whether it’s in the form of volunteer workers at the front lines or board members who are contributing their expertise and resources. Finding an organization or two to get involved with can be an excellent way to contribute your energy and build connections in a way that makes a positive difference in your community. Plus, after many decades in the workforce, you may have some specialized skills that can greatly benefit an organization. Whether it’s tutoring young children, playing the piano at an assisted living residence, or serving on the board of directors, your efforts will be greatly appreciated.
- Hobbies – During your working years, you probably pursued your hobbies whenever you had the chance. But once you retire, you will have more time to take part in these activities, which can lead to a new level of social engagement and fulfillment. If you enjoy golf or tennis, becoming part of a weekly league can be a great way to improve your game and build new friendships. If you play a musical instrument or enjoy woodworking or painting, you can take classes to master these skills or participate in local bands or art fairs.
- Part-time work – Just because you have retired from one career, it doesn’t necessarily mean you need to stop working altogether. In fact, many people enjoy the mental and financial benefits of being able to work a reduced schedule. You might find a company that could benefit from your expertise as a consultant, or you could find a pleasant, low-stress job at a local business.
Take care of your health.
Staying engaged socially is important to your emotional health. But you will also need to make your physical fitness a priority in retirement. As we age, health concerns become more significant.
Fortunately, there is much you can do to remain healthy during your retirement years: exercise regularly, eat properly, control stress, get enough sleep, and so on. If you can combine exercise with social activities, such as playing in a golf or tennis league, taking yoga classes, even just taking walks with friends and family, even better. In addition to staying active, you will also want to maintain good relationships with trusted health care providers. If possible, try to keep a long-term connection with a physician who knows you and your health history.
But you won’t just want to focus on your physical well-being—it’s also highly beneficial to keep yourself mentally sharp. For example, you may want to enroll in classes at a local college or community center.
Many of these classes offer discounts to seniors, and you will likely find it enjoyable to study new subjects. Don’t be afraid to combine physical and mental activities. Studies have found that people who take up ballroom dancing, for instance, show improved cognitive abilities.
Manage your family’s expectations.
It’s important to think about how your retirement will affect your family. This is especially true if you have grandchildren or, at the other end of the spectrum, elderly parents. When it comes to grandchildren, some children just assume that their now-retired parents would love to spend as much time as possible with their grandchildren and will always be “on call” as babysitters. Conversely, some children don’t want to impose on their parents for help with grandchildren, even if the grandparents would like to be more involved. Whatever your preferences, make them known to your children right from the start – by doing so, you will avoid confusion and hard feelings.
Managing these issues can be even trickier for people with elderly parents who need an increasing level of care. As people become less able to do day-to-day activities for themselves, often the burden of going grocery shopping, taking parents to appointments, and paying bills falls on the children, especially if the children are retired. The amount of time you want to devote to caring for elderly parents is a deeply personal decision and many difficult emotions are involved. But you need to have a frank conversation with your parents about the amount of time and energy that you are able to dedicate to caring for them. If you have siblings, they should be part of this conversation, too. Also, realize that professional caregiver services may be a good way to alleviate some of the burden.
Going beyond dollars and cents.
To achieve an enjoyable and fulfilling retirement, you need to take a holistic approach—one that incorporates financial, emotional, physical, and mental components. At Leelyn Smith, our mission is to help you accumulate and manage the resources you will need to retire comfortably, but we also want you to integrate the “dollars and cents” aspect of retirement with those areas that bring you enjoyment, companionship, stimulation, and satisfaction. No matter where your retirement road takes you, we will be there to help you get the most out of the journey.