The ideal retirement plan: it’s about more than money.
I knew a man who couldn’t wait to retire from his government job. With a few decades of hard work and wise money decisions, he was able to call it quits at 55. Thrilled with his newfound financial freedom, he immediately took to cooking, golf, dating, traveling, fishing, and having fun. For the first few years, every time I saw him, I could see the lack of work responsibilities had lightened his step and his heart.
At 65, he moved to a Florida retirement community, the kind with nearly identical roofs, lawns and mailboxes. One of the few ways to stand out was by the cover on your golf cart. To outsiders, everyone looked the same, dressed the same, exercised the same, and seemed to absolutely love their new life in the sunshine.
Happy on the Outside But No One to Talk To
One day on the phone the man said, “Y’know, I really like talking with you. I don’t have anybody to talk to here.”
This was a shock. “What?” I said, “Surely there are some retired CEOs, executives, people that think like you there, that play golf, and that you have a lot in common with.”
“Nah,” he said, “I don’t have that much in common with anybody here.”
I thought that was crazy. He talked like them, dressed like them, shopped like them, and played golf and pickleball with them. He probably was just as well off, financially, as any of them. How could he not have someone to relate to?
Unfortunately at that time, I was unfamiliar with the signs of depression. Five years later, it took his life.
Three Myths About the Ideal Retirement
According to writer Mitch Anthony, there are three myths about the ideal retirement plan.
Myth 1: “This part of my life is going to be about ME.”
Anthony says, “This is a formula for emptiness.”
Myth 2: “I am going to surround myself with people like ME.”
Anthony’s reply: “This is a formula for stagnation.”
Myth 3: “I am going to do nothing but relax.”
Anthony: “This is a formula for boredom.”
Emptiness, stagnation, and boredom. Doesn’t sound much like the ideal retirement. Yet, these three myths form the basis of a lot of retirement plans.
A Mayo Clinic gerontologist told Anthony, “A life of total ease is two steps removed from a life of total disease. The first step is they get bored, the second step is they grow pessimistic, and then they get ill.”
The Dark Side of Retirement Plans
This is what writer Robert Laura termed the “dark side” of retirement. For some who don’t think about how to bring meaning and purpose to their life after work, serious mental health maladies, like depression and addiction, await. Florida retirement communities have some of the highest suicide rates in the country, particularly growing among white males over age 65.
Of course not everyone in retirement communities is depressed. It’s common to have constant fun, be social, and live vibrantly, filling time with volunteering, mentoring, and circles of friends.
Plan For More Than Money
For those like the man above, jumping off the work treadmill onto the retirement scene without a plan can be risky. Instead, South Dakota financial planner Rick Kahler responded to Laura’s article with several wise suggestions for the non-financial part of a retirement plan:
*Ask yourself how much of your identity is tied up in what you do, rather than who you are.
*Start creating a life to retire “to” rather than simply a job or business to retire “from.”
*Consider gradually reducing to part time and taking extended vacations, rather than showing up one day, and having nowhere to go the next.
*In your ideal week, identify how would you spend your time, and with whom?
*Have a diverse social network outside of work.
As one example, writer Douglas Bloch complained his parents’ retirement community had no children, while his retired friends were finding fulfillment in their own neighborhoods mentoring youngsters in math.
The best retirement plans start with a plan for a fulfilling life first, then match up the plan with money decisions. That’s why good planners ask, what’s the money for? For most, it’s not to support boredom, stagnation and decline. If you define what an ideal retirement means first for you, then your retirement plan and your retirement life have far better chances of success.
Dedication to Mental Health Awareness
Following May’s Mental Health Awareness month, every June I republish this story in memory of the man who inspired it. Retirement is a life transition that has an under appreciated impact on mental health.
Resources for Ideal Retirement Plans:
Dori Mintzer, Ph.D. has a weekly live interview series and podcast called “Revolutionize Retirement.” In it, she interviews experts on retirement life.
Mitch Anthony’s book, The New Retirementality.
Sign up for our free monthly e-letter, “The View From the Porch.” We never share your email address.