Editors' pick: Originally published Dec. 8.
What will you do the first Monday after you retire?
That's the question Indiana financial planner Warren Ward throws at his clients who are preparing for retirement. What's the right answer? Ward elaborated: "We really don't care what their answer is, but often there simply isn't one. Instead we get a blank stare, sometimes even a look of terror."
Just that is the very wrong answer - but ask retirement planners where their clients go wrong, and they will tell you usually wrong turns aren't about about money, they are about emotional readiness - or the lack thereof.
This just may be becoming a crisis, as 10,000 Baby Boomers turn 65 every day - and many are absolutely unprepared emotionally for what lies ahead. Their 401(k)s may be stuffed with dough. But the emotional aspect of retirement is for many much harder, said Tom Foster, a spokesperson for MassMutual Financial Group. "The people who are happiest in retirement have planned for it," said Foster, who added that he means real planning. "For at least five years. Those are the people who really enjoy their retirement."
Yes, Foster means it takes five years - not months or weeks or days, but years - to get ready to retire. It makes sense too, after a working life that for many is 40 plus years.
What's not to like about retirement? No boss. No clock. No hectic to-do list.
Chuck Underwood, founder of consulting firm The Generational Imperative in Ohio, said what's not to like: "Most retirees badly underestimate the severity of the impact of awakening each day without a major purpose. Retirees who feel grandparenthood, volunteerism, travel, and just 'relaxing' will fill the purpose void consistently learn this hard lesson: for decades, their jobs have guided their entire lives, claimed the most vital eight hours of their weekdays, and been the source of most of their thinking. For decades."
So what happens when the purpose provided by work is gone. Said Underwood, "The thought that fills the void is, 'My life has lost its greatest purpose, I am aging, and I'm on final descent toward death.'"
Some retirees plummet into depression. Many develop opioid habits. Others drink too much booze. That's not what any of them had in mind as they contemplated an end of work. But those grim realities are indeed all too real for many.
That indeed is a bummer, and that - vividly - is why the easy part of retiring is getting the finances in order. The hard part is the rest of the job, the emotional preparedness. But experts are ready with tips to smooth the transition.
Stephen Chen, CEO of planning website NewRetirement, said: "It is important to retire to something, not away from something. The most successful and happiest retirees have a purpose in mind for retirement. When you retire it is important create a new or modified purpose for yourself. This purpose can be anything that you find gratifying: working on your golf score, caring for your grandchildren, getting involved with charities, pursuing an encore career, anything."
Pedro Silva, a financial planner in Shrewsbury, Mass., said that indeed retirement can be fun - many of his clients would agree, he said - but he added: "Our most fulfilled clients tell us they are busier now than they were before they retired. They are volunteering, spending time with grandchildren, have made their hobby into a business; in general they have moved on to the next chapter of their lives with a purpose."
That's fact, said multiple experts. So how to get there? Do a lot of advance thinking. Pre-retirement, come up with a detailed to-do list. Mix in recreation, spirituality, education, family, and, yes, very probably work, either volunteer or paid (one in four of us now say we will keep working at 70 years of age, mainly because we have to).
Some retirees have bucket list trips. Many others have bucket list intellectual pursuits (journalist I. F. Sone learned ancient Greek in his retirement and went on to write a book about the trial of Socrates). This is not one size fits all. You have to discover your own purposes.
Bottomline: It takes planning to provide the finances for a comfortable retirement. Everybody knows that, even if many ignore that reality. But what more are finding out is that a good retirement takes just as much emotional planning and that is something that can be done regardless of the size of one's 401(k).