For most Americans, retirement is one of life’s major turning points. We’re no longer required to take part in the work-a-day world, and can turn our attention and considerable experience to family, friends, service, and personal interests.
But it isn’t as easy as it sounds. Many people find retirement jarring, and have trouble adjusting to the new lifestyle. With that in mind, we’ve asked our retired clients for advice for those about to make the leap — what lessons they’ve learned, what they did well and what they wish they’d done differently. The responses are full of fantastic insights, important reminders, and creative ideas. Whether you’re facing retirement now or at some point in the future, you will find something of value here.
Double check that retirement transition plan.
Well in advance of entering retirement, take time to discuss your future plans with family, spouse, and good friends. Just as every other important step in life requires planning, retirement is no different. Is your financial house in order? Have you (hopefully dispassionately) put in place legal documents and directives that can be followed, much down the road?
If you have a substantial financial position, your retirement should be carefully planned. Make sure you understand the impact of taxes on your projected financial affairs (e.g., pensions, retirement plans, directed company stock sales, etc.).
I always assumed that at retirement, living expenses would drop like a rock, but that isn’t true at all. My strong advise is to develop an income plan very close to your current bring-home pay and assume that your overall expenses will remain the same after retirement.
Craig and Jan D.
Comprehensive estate planning is essential for every family. Prior to retiring plans should be reviewed to ensure that the future is secure. While most people focus their attention on financial planning, it is also very important to ensure that the legal aspects of wills, trusts, etc. are also in good order. At some time in the future a family member will become responsible for managing the financial and legal aspects of the estate, and their duties should be made as easy as possible by good advanced planning.
Michael and Maureen B.
Consider a gradual retirement.
My advice is to retire gradually over a 2-3 year period rather than just stop working completely. You could work part-time at something, even if you’re not paid the amount you’re used to. Or you could volunteer on a regular basis.
Going directly from full time work to no work is like a crash. It takes some time to detach.
Give yourself time to get accustomed to retirement. Transitioning from full time employment to part time, was helpful for me.
Prepare for the extra free time.
In our situation, enjoying retirement required making a plan for what we were going to do with our time. We already had a 7-year post-retirement plan, and that went smoothly. But once the 7 years ended, we weren’t ready for all the extra time we had. It took a few years to figure out what to do next, and we felt adrift. We have since developed a new strategy and things seem to be much better balanced.
Greg and Vicki S.
While some retirees make good plans for their retirement years, many do not. The biggest problem is that retirement is often viewed as impacting only the person retiring from professional employment. However this is not the case since someone’s retirement affects the family as a whole. Identifying retirement activities therefore should address how both spouses can enjoy the fun time available together, and also share in the activities needed to run a home.
In a related problem, the retiree often does not understand what giving up full time work really means (lack of interaction with colleagues, loss of responsibility for work decisions and outcomes, lack of mental stimulus from professional problem solving, etc.) Retirement activities should provide adequate and stimulating replacements for previous work activities. Volunteering for example, provides many interesting avenues for retirees, and also provides an opportunity to give back to the community.
Michael and Maureen B.
Know what you’re retiring to. And whatever it is, make sure you think it’s just as important as your past work, and lots more fun. Otherwise, don’t retire.
Have a plan for what you are going to do from the first day of retirement, but be ready to make changes almost immediately. Your plan has to have flexibility. Maybe you won’t like golf five days a week. Maybe that retirement home at the ocean isn’t as much fun in winter as you thought it would be. After all, life is what happens when you are busy making plans.
One of the most important aspects of the retirement transition is to establish a schedule that will make your day successful. Some days are just jinxed from the very beginning, but that happens to everyone. Don’t linger in bed, but set a reasonable start of the day so you can have many productive hours. You are retired from your job, but not from life.
Do what you love.
You have worked your entire life and should now enjoy the retirement you have earned. Life and health is unpredictable — we all have friends and family who suffered untimely death or illness. Develop your bucket list and then get it done. If you’re blessed, you may find yourself working on your 4th or 5th bucket list before you have to slow down.
If you like to paint, garden, woodwork, cook, dance, entertain, or travel, now is the time. Go now. See the world. Learn the culture. Meet the people. Taste the food. Take the pictures. Now is the time.
Pursue the interests that you’ve always wanted to dabble in. I’ve taken bridge lessons and also want to take my interest in entertaining/cooking further. I know of several friends who are going back to school to study a language or horticulture; depending on your age, it might be free of charge at a local community college or state university.
This is also a good time for travel. I’d like to visit many places here and abroad, and have been prioritizing them based on schedule and cost. In my case, finding a compatible traveling companion has led to some re-swizzling on where and when, but I hope to get to most of my key spots eventually.
I began my retirement wanting to do what I had not done in my working career: I wanted to cook and clean my own house, like a true housewife (something I had not done at all). Well, that lasted two weeks. We eventually found a cleaning crew and my husband, the erstwhile cook in our household, resumed his duties in the kitchen. He’s a fantastic cook and continues to find that effort satisfying, creative, and delicious. I have resumed my kitchen cleanup duties.
Based on my own experience and others (most of my friends are retired), it’s important that you have something you really enjoy and want to do with your extra time. Mine involved a fairly large home improvement and woodworking projects, along with some volunteering.
I have friends who find retirement boring, and this seems to be the missing element. The ability to see their family more frequently just isn’t enough.
Chris and Carol D.
Be sure that you have a place to go most days of the week that gives you a sense of fulfillment and motivates you to get out of bed in the morning. For me, this has been a volunteer opportunity that has been very rewarding. There are plenty of options to choose from.
You will be amazed to discover all the organizations that will cherish your offer to work as a volunteer. This volunteer service is generally offered at a modest 2-3 hours of involvement per week. Imagine how many organizations you could really cram into a week at that pace!
The lovely thing about this involvement is that it provides inter-generational contact. I consider this a crucial part of retirement: It’s alright to reminisce and speak fondly of “The good old days,” but it’s also important to remain engaged in what the kids and grand kids are involved in. You’re guaranteed to learn a lot!
It may take a while to figure out how much time you want to give, and to what. When asked to volunteer, give yourself ‘thinking time’ to decide: Is this activity or commitment something I want to invest my time, talent, and heart into?
This is also a good time to consider mentoring someone else.
I recommend becoming a volunteer. I have just been certified to prepare taxes for elderly/low income individuals, and started investigating volunteer opportunities early on. Take a look at what’s out there, and consider how your prior training and skills might be useful to various organizations and causes.
You also need to find out where these volunteer opportunities are located — you want to help out, but you don’t want to spend all your time commuting just to do so!
You now have more time to serve others, so get involved with your church or community groups. By reaching out you will meet new people and create a stronger sense of worth by helping in ways you never had time for previously. I have gotten involved with disaster relief through Samaritan’s Purse and find that these one-week trips provide more spiritual growth and satisfaction to me than any amount of help I might bring to the disaster site.
One of the challenges I’ve faced is that before retirement, I would typically interact with 100 or more people a day and have significant dialogue with at least 20 people. After retirement, there are days when I only have significant dialogue with my wife.
Join organizations of like-minded individuals: a book club, a garden club, knitting, cooking, bridge, mahjong, embroidery, knitting, golf, cycling. You could learn a new language and, by all means, travel. It’s all out there and that connection will link you with persons who may become kindred spirits along the way.
I became involved in the Homeowners and Condo association where I live, and am currently the president. I found that all the years of working on many budget committees, heading up special projects, classifying jobs, and managing other people’s work added up to competence and experience in conducting the business of the associations. In other words, instead of starting to learn and do other arts like cooking, I extended my management capacities toward working for my community and built upon skills I had already mastered. I have made friends and gotten involved with community members on projects in my community as a consequence of that involvement.
Keep your mind sharp.
It’s vital to remain mentally sharp. Reading is a daily habit which I enjoy — it helps me keep on top of current events and also offers an escape. Scrabble is another fun, yet challenging game (when played with my husband).
I have taken many classes at the local Lifelong Learning Academy here in Delaware (they are all over the country). I chose courses in subjects I know nothing about (like watercolor painting and espionage) and also in subjects of which I had rudimentary knowledge but wanted to know more (like Renaissance Art and Philosophy). In this undertaking, I met many folks who live nearby, who share my interests, and with whom I have formed friendships.
I now have much more time to learn about (and contemplate) world events. I have a greater grasp of local, state, national, and international issues, and that is a bit disconcerting. I find I am more confident in my opinions, while at the same time less confident in knowing best solutions.
Enjoying a long and happy retirement requires that we minimize any medical issues. One way to do this is to take fitness seriously, and increasing your focus on diet and exercise will have beneficial results. Giving up work may well mean that we live a more sedentary life, unless we take steps to ‘keep moving’.
Michael and Maureen B.
You must stay physically active, regardless of your previous physical involvement and ability. Do check with your physician for proper medical advice. Otherwise, a simple walk around the block — lengthened each day by a few more steps — is a great start. Try to find a partner or two (or more) for these activities, and that boring hour will become fun.
It seems to me that my day is successful if I can plant my feet on the floor and walk (sometimes even run) out the front door. This also helps my thinking and connecting process. I always feel more invigorated after exercise and often feel inspired to take on something entirely new. I can’t say it enough: Physical activity is crucial.
Daily exercise is very important. I joined a new gym where I have made several women friends — we typically meet in the morning and exercise together. Before retiring, I also started hiking with some friends and a club, which was something I always wanted to do but never seemed to find the time to pursue. I plan to further research clubs that have active but low key activities, such as biking.
Get into an exercise routine — I always say you can’t be in shape unless you are retired. I had always exercised sporadically, but two events motivated me to make it more regular. First, my doctor told me to stop running after I developed knee problems. Then my wife developed an enthusiasm for exercise classes. As a result of these two things, my wife and I now go to the gym every morning. She does classes every day, while I split my time between guided exercise and the machines. I also now do yoga (which I always thought was for women, but is actually very demanding) and spin classes. I love it and am probably in the best shape I’ve been in in 20 years.
Chris and Carol D.
Don’t neglect the practical.
Once we made the decision to retire, I began to prepare. First, I scheduled all of our doctor’s appointments for the family — physicals, vision tests, dental and dermatological checkups — prior to changing or losing health benefits.
I also purchased a cell phone. At my job I had a company cell phone for 20 years, but had never owned a personal cell. I knew that when I retired I would want to have many of the phone numbers and email addresses from my work phone. I shopped for the right cell and then had the old contact directory transferred to my new phone. It has been nice to have those numbers and emails when I want to contact old friends.
As we get older, moving becomes an increasingly stressful event. Transitioning to retirement gives us the opportunity to consider where we should live in the future. Of particular importance is that at some time in our lives, our home should be close to the family member(s) who will be our future care givers/estate managers. Also as we age, homes become too large for our needs, and downsizing helps reduce the work required to maintain house and garden. It also enables us to recover equity from the home, which can be used to support one of our other retirement dreams.
Michael and Maureen B.
A happy retirement, in one sentence.
Ultimately, the secret to a successful retirement is this: Do the things you enjoy, make a contribution to an organization with your time and expertise, and find folks who like to do what you like to do.
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