Just when you think that you have a handle on this thing — what it is, how to prepare for it — new things pop up and you have to punch your internal reset button. The main reason for this expansion in developed thinking on this subject seems to come from the flood of attention now being paid to the baby boomer retirement tsunami increasingly washing over us: 10,000 a day and rising, so I'm told.
What's coming from all of this is the sense that in spite of retirement being sort of a Life Mulligan (a second swipe at it, for you non-golfers) we know that history doesn't really allow re-runs so we should be careful in our preparation.
Most of the focus, traditionally, is on the financial side: structured saving and investing, with new attention being paid to the subject of how you liquidate and live off of the proceeds in your retirement years. Particularly as people are living ever longer, the reasonable concern is rising that some of us may outlive our money — an outcome we would all devoutly like to avoid.
And then there is the occupational side. Experience has taught us that every person needs meaningful activity in our lives, and after many years in medicine — the poster child career for "meaningful activity" — what do we do for an encore? We have many options, perhaps too many, which is a whole column unto itself. But whatever we decide, know that the transition works best if your new activity starts ahead of time and gradually, so when you finally hang up your stethoscope for good, the transition to your new avocation is as seamless and smooth as possible.
All of us have seen patients who have assured us that they have a full dance card scheduled. But when the fence has been painted, the trout caught and the golf course trodden, many slump into a depression. In fact, all-cause mortality spikes in the six months following retirement and this combination of short-sighted planning and denial is likely a factor.
Happily, these kinds of decisions are not cut in stone, either, if your earlier hopes are not borne out in the reality of the doing.
Retirement is simply not a single event but a series of stages, some planned, some not. The unplanned part often has to do with the health wild card, so do what you can starting now to help protect your future. In fact it might be a helpful way to think if you start putting your 80-year-old self first.
"Spend less than you earn to be rewarded later in life," the so-mature Stig Nybo, president at Transamerica Retirement Services, once said.
I find comfort in thinking of the 60s as the "go-go" years, the 70s as the "slow-go" years and the 80s and beyond as the "no-go" years. And plan accordingly. To illustrate, on average during these three decades, leisure expenses slide from an average 46% of income to 20% while health care costs rise from 10% to 44%. Be forewarned.
And the emotional shock of going, overnight, from 30 years of a saving mentality to spending your seed corn is not to be underestimated either. That's another aspect of retirement planning that is usually given too short shrift. Even if you are conservatively budgeted this is not an emotional metamorphosis achieved without some thought and time.
A related aspect has recently been brought up to me several times, which has actually fueled this column. There is a surprisingly frequent discrepancy between spouse's expectations for their future in a rosy retirement together.
The classic is the husband who has dreamed for years about a carefree life in an RV or a tropical condo, playing golf, fishing and so on. The wife now speaks up and says "When do I get to retire?" There is still cooking, cleaning, maintenance, bills to pay and like that. And with so many women having now been in the workplace for many years, earning well and being accustomed to determining their own activities, many men particularly will have to jettison the old dreams of an entirely self-oriented retirement for the new realities of adaptive, equal consideration. From what I have heard from people going through these discussions, this is not a small issue. On-going communication is the key.
If you are years away from all of this and it seems impossibly remote, to get more motivation to get you started, go to in20years.com. There you can have your picture aged so you can have more empathy for your future, older self. Now isn't he/she worth it?