By Rob Morrison, CFP
Throughout our lives, we go through many different phases, all while planning for what’s next. As kids, we plan for life after high school or college. As adults, we prepare for things like marriage, children, and our next career move. As we approach retirement, however, we tend to focus almost exclusively on money – will I have enough? How long will it last?
As you consider the retirement phase of your life, I encourage you to think in a different way. As in all the other phases of your life, receiving practical, objective advice is key -- whether it’s in the form of a professional relationship (such as with an attorney, financial advisor, or your doctor), or on an informal basis with family and friends. One way to help ensure you’re getting holistic feedback and a sense of accountability is to form your own retirement “dream team” -- a sort of personal board of directors to assist you as you transition. This group can be especially valuable a couple of years before you retire, during the year you retire, and for a few years following your retirement. Here’s how to put it together:
Consider both financial and non-financial needs. While it’s important to know whether you’re financially ready to leave the workforce full-time, it’s also important to know whether you’re emotionally prepared. A 2021 study by Savant Wealth Management and Absolute Engagement found that planning for a transition that provides meaning and purpose is critical. Among those who retired but later returned to work, the primary reason had little to do with finances. Instead, more than a third of respondents said they were financially ready, but not personally ready.
For career enthusiasts, moving on from working full-time can seem daunting. That’s because we – and others around us – tend to closely associate our work with our identities. As Tom Fryers, then a visiting professor of public mental health at the University of Leicester, wrote in 2006, western societies are work-oriented cultures, with strong moral pressures to work deriving from Christian heritage. Fryers also discusses that “retirement” may be associated with “dependence,” which can be a negative perception, particularly for men.
As you enter your retirement phase, someone who knows you well and who has similar personality traits – perhaps a co-worker or supervisor who preceded you in retirement – may be able to share perspective on what leaving work was like for them. Did they work part-time or volunteer? Did they become more involved in their hobbies? How did they maintain their social connections or overcome loneliness?
Look for an unbiased viewpoint. Sometimes family members and friends who know you well have a hard time being objective when they give you feedback. And let’s face it, hearing honest feedback can be uncomfortable, even downright painful.
How can you get the honest feedback you need? When seeking professional advice, consider working with a fiduciary – someone obligated to place your best interests first. This could be an attorney working with you on your estate plan, a bank with trust powers, your CPA, a trust company, or even your doctor. Many financial advisers are fiduciaries, but not all, so be sure to ask before engaging someone to help you with a financial plan or money management.
Maybe the feedback you’re seeking is less about money, law, or medicine and more about how to enjoy life and feel fulfilled in retirement. You have options here, too. Just as career coaches can help you get a better job, retirement coaches can help you make the most of this period in your life by helping you adjust to your new normal, connect you to others in similar situations, and counsel you through any stress you may feel. Or, if you prefer to take matters into your own hands, you might consider joining or forming a mastermind group of people with similar interests.
Don’t forget about the people who know you best. Once you retire, your lifestyle and daily activities may change, and those changes have the potential to affect some of the most important people in your life – your spouse or significant other, your children, and even your closest siblings. What does your retirement look like to them?
If you are married or in a close relationship, consider involving your partner as you set your goals for the next phase of your life. Frequently, one spouse may retire months or years before the other. The spouse who is still working may have an expectation that the retired spouse will be free to tackle the “honey-do” list, assist in managing the household, or will have time to devote to other projects. Your adult children may expect you to babysit your grandchildren while they work, run errands, or enjoy a date night. Your siblings may expect you to spend more time with them, or expect that you’ll be available to travel with them. Be sure that as you articulate your dreams for retirement and establish your core goals, you are communicating with those who depend on you.
Finally, be true to yourself. To be blunt – we’re typically not great at goal setting. In fact, some people spend more time planning a two-week vacation than they do planning their retirement – a period that could last 30 years or more! But having a well-thought-out plan, good communication with loved ones, and objective counsel from your retirement “dream team” can make a huge difference.
Here’s an example from a book I co-wrote with author Mike Drak a few years ago, called Victory Lap Retirement. In the book, I talk about playing a round of golf with a colleague and a couple of his friends, John and Tony, at their new private club. John and Tony were part of a social group that had either sold their businesses or left the corporate world in their late fifties with enough to retire fully. After having a post-round beer, we started to say our goodbyes. John turned to Tony and said, “Are you coming back to play cards tonight?” Tony responded by saying, “Of course, what else would I do?”
That short conversation stuck with me because it appeared the only reason Tony would be coming back to play cards was the absence of anything else even remotely engaging enough to capture his attention. I eventually heard from my friend that many of the members of that social group had returned to work. Without a better option, it seems that they each had decided that the merits of work outweighed the boredom of retirement.
The bottom line is we need purpose and passion to enjoy each day. Having a plan and surrounding yourself with the right personal and professional advisors can make all the difference in helping you do more than just retire from work. They can help you feel confident that you have something to retire to.
About the author: Rob Morrison
A CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional, Rob Morrison is the chief strategy and innovation officer at Savant Wealth Management, a fee-only, fiduciary wealth management firm. He is also a co-author of Victory Lap Retirement, second edition, which explores the evolution of retirement and how to create a post-employment lifestyle that’s right for you.
Savant Wealth Management is a Registered Investment Advisor. This is intended for informational purposes only and should not be construed as personalized financial advice.