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When Retirement Planning, Don't Forget the Emotional Aspect

Mark Zaifman   |    Tue, May 22, 2012 @ 04:46 PM

retirement optionsWhat will it be for you? Ahhhhhhh retirement.... or AHHHHHHHH retirement!!!

You may be one of the lucky (but very few) who have no retirement worries as a result of a generous and secure pension. For the rest of us, there is some very careful and strategic planning to be done. But before crunching the numbers, it’s imperative to begin with the emotional side of retirement planning.

Setting goals, figuring out how much money you need to save between now and your retirement target date and then down the road, figuring out a safe withdrawal rate is just one aspect of retirement planning.

It’s no secret that we are living longer, so that old number of 65 is often too early to retire, while others are counting the minutes before they turn 60.  Some have been forced into an earlier retirement than planned for because of the economic downturn, but regardless of the circumstances, one retirement planning goal should be to consider and attempt to avoid severe emotional upheavals.

I’d invite you to ask a few people you know who have already retired about their experience once they launched into retirement mode and chances are (if they are honest) they will admit that early on in their retirement, it was stressful.  One way to avoid that kind of stress is to ask yourself the following questions. In some cases you’ll want to include your financial advisor in on this emotional fact finding mission..

  • What exactly does retirement mean to me?

What you thought you wanted out of retirement may not be the case once you actually retire – so be flexible in regards to possibly changing your mind about your previously held beliefs. Couldn’t wait to stop working but now wish you went from full time to part-time instead of down to zero-time? It’s not too late to find a part-time job perhaps in a new field. You never thought you’d be tired of traveling, but your home may be exactly where you want to be for a while. Check in with your partner and tune into what you really feel and what you really want and change course accordingly – it’s your life and your retirement – you make the rules!

  • How do I feel about having a non-structured life that often accompanies retirement?

Having to be at a job at a certain time gives some people the structure and purpose they need to function optimally, to others it feels like prison time. Having no structure feels scary, for others it’s complete freedom. Connect early and often with your spouse and keep the communication honest and open, allowing for changes and creative ways to think about your new retirement lives together. Take baby steps if that feels more comfortable – go from full time to part time, then perhaps contract to temporary.  Consider semi-retirement. Don’t wait until you are retired to begin participating in hobbies or volunteering. These activities can provide the structure you need and will certainly give you the social hit you may be missing by not being at the job. And I highly suggest, prior to retirement, reading Work Less, Live More: The New Way to Retire Early, By Bob Clyatt.

  • How does the idea of not collecting a paycheck feel?

Getting a paycheck weekly or monthly feels good on many levels. A steady paycheck feels secure, it provides a sense of accomplishment and a reward for a job well done. But now, instead of receiving, you’ll be withdrawing from your savings account.  Don’t wait until this phase to meet with a financial planner in a panic and ask, “will I have enough to live on for the rest of my life?”

Retirement planning is a process and depending on when you decide to retire, you may have 30+ years of life left to live. Knowing that retirement, like other stages in life, is a process – be prepared for the different and often difficult emotional phases. Plan, adjust, prepare, be flexible, communicate and most of all enjoy.


Not sure you're ready for retirement?

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