Intelligent Retirement Planning: It's about More Than Money

By Trauth, John; Bernstein, Alan | Aging Today, July/August 2007 | Go to article overview

Intelligent Retirement Planning: It's about More Than Money

Trauth, John, Bernstein, Alan, Aging Today

Ron, a career civil servant with the federal government, took the standard retirement package at age 65. He and his wife, Muriel, apart-time nurse, sold their three-bedroom house in suburban New Jersey and moved to a condo in Florida, where they had escaped the rat race and winter cold for two wonderful weeks every year. Every winter, they told themselves, "This is where we want to live when we retire"

After a year of sitting on the beach and playing golf, though, they found that they missed their friends and colleagues, ' missed the feeling of being productive, missed the cultural attractions of the city, and-most of all-missed their kids and grandkids. As they sat looking at the ocean and feeling disconnected, Ron admitted, "The things we thought we wanted were not what we really wanted at all!' The pair moved back to New Jersey. Relocation was expensive, though, and they found themselves in weaker financial circumstances than they would have been had they net moved.

Ron and Muriel succumbed to one of the classic myths about retirement: that it is a perpetual vacation. Instead, they should have thought of retirement as a new career-and, like any new career, something one needs to plan and prepare for.

Most people assume that retirement will be easy. Unfortunately, the statistics do not bear this out. For example, Ameriprise Financial's 2006 study titled "The New Retirement Mindscape" found that five years after retirement, 40% of those surveyed reported being unhappy and said they had been happier when they were working. Retirement can also create marital difficulties: The divorce rate in the United States is now highest for those age 55 or older.

Work provides three essential life components: structure (when to get up in the morning, where to go, how long to stay there, when to come home); community (a social fabric for relating to other people), and purpose (a focus, with goals to accomplish within a certain time frame). When people retire, they need to put these elements back into their lives.

"" How can those of us who work in the field of aging help our clients and ourselves avoid these mistakes and prepare intelligently for retirement? Most of the retirement books these days focus primarily on finance. Yes, everyone needs to prepare financially, but money is only one aspect of a successful retirement. People also need to prepare psychologically and strategically.


In our book Your Retirement, Your Way: Why It Takes More Than Money to Live Your Dream (New York City: McGraw Hill, 2007), we advise people to begin planning their retirement by thinking carefully about what really makes them feel happy and fulfilled. Guided self-analysis through personality profiles, such as the Birkman Method, can be very insightful for people who wish to understand themselves and the type of retirement lifestyle that will make them happy. Another major advantage of personality tools is their ability to identify interests that may have been unexplored or only vaguely understood.

In addition, those who are approaching retirement or have recently retired should reflect on those times when they needed to do a project they weren't sure they could accomplish and, in attempting to accomplish it, functioned -at a high level and lost all track of time. Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi identifies this condition as a state of flow. In understanding these experiences-what they were doing, what the environment was at the time, and which of then- inner needs were being met-people gain considerable understanding of how they go about satisfying their deepest sense of self. This understanding will be crucial later on for creating a legacy.

Try to think of several of these flow situations in your own life. Then ask yourself, "What was I doing? Who was I with? What was the environment? Which of my needs were being met?" Your answers to these questions will provide valuable insights for planning your retirement life. …

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