The Dilemma of Retirement – Now What?

59 year old man ponders the dilemma of retirement.

All he gave me was a blank stare. I had just asked a 59-year-old, “You said you can retire in 3 years. How will you spend your time after that?” Expressionless, he replied, “I never thought about it.” The dilemma of what to do after retirement: he wasn’t the first 59-year-old with that answer. “I don’t know” is more common than most think.

According to a study by United Capital, when asked about their financial life stories, most people defined them by decisions they made about working and spending, not saving and investing. Over the decades of our lives, many of us follow a disciplined formula: Work. Spend. (Save). Repeat. We do this knowing one day those (savings that we don’t think about) should equal a nice sum, (hopefully) enough to reach the nirvana of “Financial Freedom.” Along the way, we get trapped into planning meals and vacations, but not a potential 25-year chapter of our lives. If nothing trips up the formula (divorce, premature death, disability), then when we either turn a certain age, lose a parent, or get a new boss, we dial up a financial planner and ask, “Am I there yet?”

To which the answer should be, “That depends.” That depends…on where “there” is. Good financial planners are simply translators. Tell us what “there” is – how, with whom, and where you will find purpose, meaning, and happiness in life after Work-Spend-Save-Repeat – and we can translate it into financial goals and strategies. If you don’t know what that looks like, then any attempts to answer the question are merely rough guesses. More important, if you don’t know, you’re not likely to enjoy that supposed nirvana time nearly as much. Thus, a dilemma.

There are many thought leaders contributing to discoveries about the time of life past “Working” and before “Old.” That time of life, which will be 25 or 30 years for a lucky few, goes by many names: Your Third Age. The Third Stage. The Encore Years. Your Life’s Next Chapter. Planned well, it has the potential to be a time of life where fulfillment is at its peak. Not planned, the potential paths lead to boredom and even depression. The dilemma is in figuring out the tradeoffs and choices required to get “there” – the definition of how you will spend that finite time, a more precious resource than money. Check out our website’s Resources page for more info.

Many people, including financial advisors, associate “retirement planning” with “IRA investments” or “401K rollover.” But the best, yet sometimes the most difficult, kind of retirement planning is not something you can find on your investment statement. It’s found inside of you.

Holly Donaldson

Holly P. Donaldson, CFP® writes and consults on the psychology of money. Her fee-only, product-free financial planning practice focuses on increasing financial self-efficacy for those seeking a financial navigator to help them make good decisions. She is the author of The Mindful Money Mentality: How to Find Balance in Your Financial Future (Porchview Publishing, 2013) and publisher of the award-winning monthly e-letter, "The View From the Porch." With a fully virtual practice in Seminole, Florida, she primarily serves clients located in the Tampa, St. Petersburg, and Clearwater areas. Holly will also work with clients who are a good fit located elsewhere in the United States.

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