Are you age 55 or over? If so, then you may soon have something to look forward to or worry about. One morning you’ll wake up and it will have happened. Before you’ve a chance to say Medicare Part B, you’ll be:
Yes, it’s the dreaded R word; the secretive subject virtually no one wants to discuss until it’s too late for discussion. The underlying problem is that, through the magic of dreams, by the time most people reach retirement age they’ve already fixed in their minds exactly how their golden years are going to unfold. They don’t need help from anyone, thank you.
Retirement is the pot of gold that lies at the end of a lifelong dream; a four-reel fantasy that keeps you going through years of boring business meetings, life insurance spiels and raising a family.
Fortunately, you’ve managed to come this far in life without a calamity to wake you from that dream. Your nest is empty, the mortgage burned. That retirement fund you started decades ago is not an Emu’s egg, but with prudence and thrift it will probably see you through.
So what comes next? You could learn to square dance, take up birding or open a funky gift shop out along the highway. On second thought, perhaps those are not great ideas. You’d almost certainly end up with a bad back, a sore neck or an unsold lifetime supply of Adirondack chairs.
What’s there to discuss about retirement, anyway? All you need is continued good health and enough money in the bank to guarantee a comfortable lifestyle. Right?
Up until now retirement has been a fuzzy subject, centered mostly on saving money or buying insurance. You deposit a few dollars in the 401K each week, pay your insurance premiums and go on with life. It’s simple. That what folks who promote and profit from retirement money schemes would have you think, anyway.
Now, like a spitting cobra, the prospect of trading your life’s work for one of leisure stares you in the face. The time has come to shift from dreams to reality. Will you be prepared for it?
For openers, there are good reasons to prepare for retirement. A study by National Council On the Aging (NCOA) Gerontologists has revealed that, on average, retirees with a poor mental attitude die some 5-7 years before those who go into retirement thinking they’ll be happy. This gaunt fact alone seems to place retirement right up there with smoking and heart disease as a good way to shorten one’s lifespan.
While it never hurts to be a millionaire on gold watch day, it’s equally important to be mentally prepared. To use a faddish phrase, retirement is a true ‘paradigm shift’ in lifestyle. In many ways the transition can be so abrupt that you’ll need to act fast to set a counterbalance, or risk losing control of your life.
A study of older North Americans by David Counts, Ph.D.; Professor of Anthropology at McMaster University (Ontario, Canada) points us in that general direction. Mr. Counts states, “Through our fieldwork, we have determined there are three keys to living a successful retirement: Have control of your life, have interesting and challenging things to do, and have friends outside the
To help you get started in retirement on a sound footing, the following tips may help with your transition to a new way of life:
What about your friends at work? Will you lose them?
The work environment fosters a form of forced socialization, where some people may interact with you in a positive way, not necessarily because they consider you a good friend, but because they know you’re going to be sitting in that office chair again tomorrow morning. For some co-workers, it’s easier to pretend to be your friend than to be noticeably rude to you.
In other cases it may be that your work friends don’t dislike you personally, but have taken the opportunity of your retirement to sever social bonds for other reasons. (Perhaps not all of the noises you make in the lunchroom are eating noises). At any rate, be prepared for some co-workers you thought were good friends to almost instantly forget that you exist.
This phenomenon appears in earlier stages of life such as marriage, high school and college; so this shouldn’t be something new for most people. Although the situation can at first appear traumatic, the solution is simple. Get out there in your new state of mind and make new friends. Since your new and improved replacement friends will not have been acquired under the onerous forced socialization rule, you’ll have a much better shot at finding friendship happiness.
Little Mary: “Mommy. Why is Grampy so grouchy?”
Mom: “Grampy is grouchy because he doesn’t have a life, dear.”
Little Mary: “Why doesn’t Grampy have a life?”
Mom: “I think Grampy is grouchy most of the time because he’s unhappy with the way his retirement is going.”
Grampy, a lifelong fisherman, has a sticky problem on his hands. Last month state workers drained the big lake that fronts his new retirement home. The lake had become polluted with industrial waste. To make matters worse, most of grampy’s neighbors are not of his age group. He says his new neighbors are snooty, standoffish and arrogant.
Grampy no longer has a life because he is missing two of the three basic ingredients that are essential for survival in retirement:
Unlike grampy, you should be prepared to handle this situation on the fly. Be ready at all times to adjust your lifestyle, mental attitude and even your place of residence to maintain your retirement ship on an even keel. Practically speaking, there’s not much time to waste in being negative and stubborn about your mistakes. Unlike a committee-driven work life, you should always keep in mind:
The First Law of Diminishing Returns
Nothing is going to get better until ‘you’ do something to make it better.
Bill’s largest single retirement battle skirmish is on the home front. Besides suddenly now finding himself with tons of free time in which to cram nothing, he must also cope with a high-energy working spouse. Bill’s wife Marsha has no plans for retirement because she enjoys her work.
So the first few months of his cherished leisure have found Bill trying frantically to keep pace with a high-octane working spouse. A few weeks ago a massive honey-do list materialized on the whiteboard next to the kitchen telephone. Since then Bill has managed to repair, paint, stain, remodel, scrub, shampoo, landscape and reupholster just about everything around the house that doesn’t move about on its own power. He’s even purchased a chainsaw to accomplish item #78:
78. Make the backyard bigger
While household maintenance is a practical and money-saving endeavor, retirement should not and must not be an endless succession of chores. In most cases you are simply trading your previous job for several new jobs. That usually doesn’t work.
Rice Bowl Alert
Retirement is not the time to spend a large portion of your waking hours protecting financial investments from harm. Retirement is about enjoying the fruits of one’s life of labor. If you find it necessary to spend more than a few minutes each week managing your retirement fund, then you’re not retired. At this point in your life you should not enter into high-risk investments that may require a full time shepherd.
Mercy! Those first weeks of retirement were heady and exhilarating. Mary no longer had to force herself to get up at 4 A.M. and stumble over the cat to dress in the dark, or face a kamikaze run to the office only to be intimidated by folks who seemed only to care about protecting their careers.
As Mary looked at it while the matter was fresh in her mind, she vowed not to consider turning back. Yet, she knew that in reality every major decision one makes in life somehow relates to money. You need the money. You’ll do anything for the money.
Mary was heard to remark, “What’s all of this fuss about money? Even though I’m probably not prepared for retirement, I’m going to give it a shot anyway. Heck! I can always eat cat food. I hear it tastes like chicken.’
So the question remains: How much money do you need to live a comfortable retirement lifestyle? The obvious answer to that question is: As much money as possible. Unfortunately, many retirees tend to underestimate the true cost of retirement. Others simply have never had the opportunity to save enough money during their working years to adequately fund their leisure years. If you’re in this situation you’ve two basic choices:
– Go back to work.
– Purchase cat food.
Seriously, you have but one real choice. You’ll have to go back to work. However, depending on your age, there is a tidy solution for this problem that works for some people. Enjoy your newfound retirement for 18-24 months. That’s long enough to experience the benefits (such as travel, volunteering, etc), and time enough to promote within you a feeling that you’re living a worthy lifestyle.
After the initial 18-24 month period, casually start to look for a full-time job. When you find a position that suits you (this may take several months), work at the job for exactly one year. No more and no less. During that time you’ll need to stash away every dollar you can lay hands on. After your ‘tour of duty’ is over, you’re now ready to re-retire.
Remember that no matter what federal laws mandate, you’re now over the age of fifty. If you want to find a full time job fast, don’t expect or demand high-paying work. The obvious advantage in this scheme is that you won’t need to struggle with a permanent part time job that can put a hitch in your plans, and effectively erase opportunities to travel and have fun. Of course, there’s always the pain of struggling back and forth through the mental shift that occurs between working and retirement.
However, it beats eating you know what.
Probably the last phrase a new retiree wants to hear is one that contains the words ‘time management’. After all, isn’t that the main reason you retire in the first place; so you don’t have to manage your time?
A strange thing about the human body is that it has a built-in internal clock that always wants to keep you on a precise schedule, no matter what. Your body doesn’t know or care that you are retired. Because there’s no longer a compelling reason to go to bed and wake at regular hours, the new retiree may tend to stay up late to watch TV, or indulge a favorite hobby. The result is called ‘timeslipping’.
Typically, the phenomenon starts out gradually. You go to bed a few minutes later each night for one reason or another. Over a period of weeks and months you find yourself with a growing problem on your hands: It’s 4:15 AM and you’re sitting in front of the tube watching a real estate infomercial as you fall asleep. Eight hours later, you wake up feeling much like the proverbial drunk in church; and you’ve missed the entire morning.
As if that were not bad enough, it gets worse. Another side effect of living in leisure world is that you no longer have a rigid time structure, the Monday through-Friday working week, on which to set your external timekeeping system.
For example, some time ago Fred went grocery shopping at a local supermarket. As he approached the cashier in the express lane he bade the young lady a cheery good morning:
“Not bad weather for a Friday, huh?”
The clerk looked at him in puzzled amazement. They both stared at the checkout computer screen:
Welcome to Stop and Shop – Monday – August 5, 2007
If you’re not careful this will happen to you at some point in your retirement. Don’t worry about it, though. Everyone present when this gaffe occurs will get that knowing look on their face, and then quietly attribute the problem to a ‘senior moment’.
In the new information age it is important for you to at first go light on all forms of media and entertainment, at least until you think you can handle it in larger doses without throwing things at the media delivery device.
This caution includes all forms of entertainment such as television, Internet, radio and newspapers. A good book is a recommended exception. You’ll find lots of them sitting on the dusty shelves of your local free public library.
Warning: The slow-crawling retirement media addiction worm will creep up where you sit, and bite you where it hurts.
Do not attempt to indulge more than an hour or two of media each day. Media addiction, while less of a problem for women, can be especially frustrating for male retirees.
Tom rises each morning after everyone has left the house for work. With an hour or so of total silence under his belt, he’s bored stiff.
Now where the heck is the remote control? Tom locates his eyeglasses, and then gropes under the sofa seat cushions for the device:
Surf-surf-surf – Paid Programming
Surf-surf-surf – Healthy Lifestyles
Surf-surf-surf – Nine Months and Counting
Surf-surf-surf – Oprah
In desperation, Tom settles for Good Morning America and the talking robots again this morning, and makes a mental note to tune in for Blue’s Clues at 10 AM on PBS.
In case you’ve been on an extended vacation to Ursa Major and haven’t yet had time to notice, daytime television is not designed for the 50-74 year old male. With few notable exceptions, the folks that present you with 500 digital TV channels could care less if you are a live or dead male senior citizen.
Unfortunately, you may as well get used to this attitude in almost everything you do that concerns the mass media. Remember that you are no longer a vital part of our nation’s economic strategy. You’re a marketing has been.
Magazine editors and Internet websites, too, are concerned primarily with attracting young people (18-49) because these are the primary viewers and readers that pay the bills. As far as network TV programmers are concerned, you don’t exist.
They Know You’re at Home
You may not be aware of it yet but that wonderful instrument that hangs on your kitchen wall – the communication lifeline that keeps you in contact with the world – is about to become a mortal enemy.
Most telemarketing companies are run by sociopaths of the first order; very smart people who do their homework every night. As soon as the company’s hired minions manage to ferret out a few of the most important facts they need to know about you (namely your name, occupation, age and sex) you’re in big trouble. You can’t escape and you can’t hide – They know you’re at home.
And unfortunately, your caller ID box only works some of the time to block the calls. When you lived in work world you had the pleasure of the telemarketer’s company only at dinnertime. As a retiree, you’ll have this same dubious pleasure several times each day.
Fortunately, there’s now help for this very real and annoying problem. As of October 1, 2003, the date the new Federal Do-Not Call Telemarketing List (http://www.donotcall.gov) became effective, telemarketers now pay up to $11,000 in fines for each violation of your privacy. The list is not a telemarketing cure all because some businesses and non-profit corporations are exempt, but it’s a step in the right direction.
Travel is a perfectly natural adjunct to any retirement lifestyle. However, you may want to consider the bare facts about a permanent vagabond lifestyle before you decide to hit the road.
Consider the case of Susan and Ralph:
“Oh. Have I told you? Ralph and I have decided to travel full time in our new RV. We just sold the house and bought this big motor home (complete with an electrical generator large enough to power Rhode Island). We’re so excited! We can’t wait to get going.”
Fact: Only four of every ten (40%) retired couples who opt to sell their home to pursue a permanent life of RV travel stay on the open road for more than three years.
Accordingly, Ralph and Susan should weigh this fact against that portion of their retirement money pot they’ll need to spend on RV depreciation, their own capacity and desire for extended travel, and the cost to purchase a new home when the adventure begins to wane.
A reasonable alternative to a full time RV lifestyle for them may be to purchase a small secondhand RV, live happily in their spacious comfortable mortgage-free house, and then travel part of the year. For most retirees an expensive RV doesn’t make practical sense, even if they can afford it.
Let Freedom Ring
What is the single most important piece of advice you can give someone who is about to retire?
At any price and at any cost, you should strive to maintain a sense of personal freedom in retirement. A major advantage retirees have over workers is the relative freedom to do and say what they please, when they please to do and say it.
Here are a few do’s and don’ts that may help you to enhance and protect your sense of personal freedom in retirement:
‘Do’ allow yourself to be different – Do something crazy now and then, such as mow the lawn in your pajamas. On the surface this exercise may seem silly. However, you’ll soon realize that ‘you’ are in control of your life. It’s a wonderful feeling that everyone should experience on a regular basis. In a nutshell, this is what retirement is all about.
‘Do’ try to remember that you will not and cannot live forever. Don’t get so wrapped up in trying to stay healthy and fit that you forget to have a life.
‘Do’ get fired up about something once in awhile. Speak your mind on a pet subject, or write a letter to your favorite Congressman. It’s good for the soul.
‘Don’t’ allow nebulous guilt to ruin your life. Remember that guilt is a powerful tool that manipulative people use to influence control over others. While the world of work may be all about power and influence, the world of retirement is not. Unless you live in a commune, there’s no major social penalty for non-conforming behavior (smoking, eating, wearing a silly hat) in retirement. Remember that nobody is watching, and virtually no one cares.
‘Don’t’ just do something. Stand there. If you’ve nothing to do, then so be it. It’s easy to remain a prisoner of old habits, mainly because we are conditioned through years of work to equate busy-ness with business:
Got to go. Got to look busy. Got to say the right thing.
It’s now time to throw those notions out of the nearest window. Above all, take this thought with you into retirement:
Attitude is everything!