The Big Three Retirement Changes

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OnYourOwnMake sure you read the articles in a special retirement section that appeared in The New York Times on September 12, 2019. In one of those articles, Kerry Hannon writes about three significant changes that take place in retirement, as explained by Ken Dychtwald, retirement expert and founder of AgeWave. These are indeed "The Big Three"...

  1. Identity
  2. Relationships
  3. Activity

I'd like to address each individually, both from Dychtwald's perspective and filtering in my own experience.

Identity

According to Dychtwald, "Our identity has been forged and tweaked and shaped by our work life.” Particularly with professionals, their identities are intertwined with their careers. Imagine an engineer, a software developer, a professor, an attorney, or a physician whose lifelong work has consumed much of his or her time. Imagine a senior manager or CEO who has devoted decades to leading an organization. The shift away from this full-time role, whether it's voluntary or not, is a personal loss of professional identity that should not be underestimated.

My identity was defined by the fact that I was a marketing professional, in large part because I started and ran a direct marketing agency for twenty years. I made the "identity transition" prior to my early retirement by selling that firm to a larger agency and accepting a new role for a short period of time. That helped modify my self-perception. I then started a small business with my wife. When we sold that business, I became a marketing consultant and then a freelance writer. My perception of my identity remains, however: I still at least partially define myself by what I do professionally as a writer -- although now I view it as more of an avocation.

Relationships

At the top of the change list, says Dychtwald, is relationships. In retirement, people miss the relationships they forged as part of their careers. While some work friendships transcend the workplace, retirees may end the relationships they had with coworkers, resulting in a real sense of loss. Other relationships could fray as well, especially if retirement includes a relocation. Moving away from long-time friends can be disconcerting. In addition, it isn't uncommon for marital relationships to suffer or be redefined due to retirement.

I was fortunate in that I could continue some work relationships through freelance writing after leaving full-time employment. I also built new work relationships via volunteering as a consultant and at a non-profit organization. By starting a business together, my wife and I were able to enter a "pre-retirement" phase and share a common business interest. This helped strengthen our relationship (although not every couple is able to successfully work together). 

Activity

Dychtwald observes, “Most of us, until our retirement day, have lived our lives in a structured lifestyle. You retire, and all of that is dissolved." How true this is! One of the more challenging aspects of retirement, even if it is a partial retirement, is the fundamental change of schedule. The busy workday calendar -- with its meetings, deadlines and obligations -- is gone. Remarkably, there is now time to do the laundry and the shopping, which requires a whole different kind of scheduling. For some, this is a breath of fresh air; for others, it can become an affliction if they face the frightening thought, "What am I going to do today?"

I believe the best way to cope with this is to keep busy, creating a post-work retirement that has its own structure and is designed around each person's unique requirements. For some, that may be a mix of part-time work, volunteering, and recreation. For others, it may mean taking courses, playing tennis, or traveling. Personally, I think it is less important what each person is doing than it is to feel that you are getting satisfaction from your activities and are vital and engaged in life.

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Don't Worry, Be Happy... and You'll Live Longer

Musings Woman-1031000_1920Do you consider yourself an optimist? If you answered "Yes," you are likely to live longer.

According to Harvard University, "Researchers from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM), and National Center for PTSD at VA Boston Healthcare System, have found that individuals with greater optimism are more likely to live longer and to achieve 'exceptional longevity,' that is, living to age 85 or older."

“While research has identified many risk factors for diseases and premature death, we know relatively less about positive psychosocial factors that can promote healthy aging,” explained corresponding author Lewina Lee, PhD, clinical research psychologist at the National Center for PTSD at VA Boston and assistant professor of psychiatry at BUSM. “This study has strong public health relevance because it suggests that optimism is one such psychosocial asset that has the potential to extend the human lifespan. Interestingly, optimism may be modifiable using relatively simple techniques or therapies.”

The study followed almost 70,000 women for 10 years and over 1,400 men for 30 years. According to Harvard, "When individuals were compared based on their initial levels of optimism, the researchers found that the most optimistic men and women demonstrated, on average, an 11 to 15 percent longer lifespan, and had 50-70 percent greater odds of reaching 85 years old compared to the least optimistic groups."

Chances are you know or have heard about people in their 80s and 90s who maintain remarkably positive attitudes despite the challenges of daily living. On the other hand, you may be acquainted with older folks who complain frequently and whom you probably view as bitter and pessimistic.

This extensive study confirms what many aging Boomers probably know intuitively: Our sense of optimism, contentment or happiness has a lot to do with our physical health. Looking at this study optimistically suggests a strong correlation between a positive outlook and a longer life. Pretty cool!

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Is Money the Root of All Evil?

Musings Money-2696219_1920"For the love of money is the root of all evil..." is a phrase taken from the Bible. When it comes to avarice, the phrase is indeed appropriate, but when it comes to retirement, money is rooted in reality: It is a necessity, plain and simple, for us to have a worry-free retirement. What may be most interesting about the relationship between retirement and money, though, is that many Boomers haven't got a good grasp on just how much money they really need to retire. In fact, some of us don't have a clue.

As reported by Richard Eisenberg for NextAvenue.org, two studies confirm that there is a gap between perception and reality. Perception: 46 percent of "late career" respondents (workers age 53 to 64) said they thought they'd spend less on housing in retirement. Reality: Only 30 percent of retirees surveyed are paying less for mortgages or rent and utilities than when they worked full-time -- and 17 percent are spending more on housing. On healthcare, the balance tips the other way. Perception: 35 percent of late career workers thought they'd spend more on healthcare insurance premiums. Reality: Only 30 percent are spending more, and 28 percent are actually spending less on healthcare insurance premiums. Of course, that doesn't include medical costs that could exceed expectations as one gets older.

As we approach retirement, Boomers are simply not all that accurate when it comes to predicting their expenses in retirement. That said, one of the best ways to predict expenses later is to manage expenses while you're working and set realistic spending targets for when you retire.

You may have to establish a budget that reflects a more modest lifestyle based on a more modest income. Social Security in combination with a draw from a retirement savings account could very well make up the majority of your income. You may find that isn't sufficient to support the lifestyle you're accustomed to -- which is why you, like many Boomers, may want to keep working. Even so, the work you can get in your later years may produce substantially less income. There really are only two ways to solve the basic problem: Generate more income or cut your expenses. Creating a realistic expense budget that accounts for your basic living expenses and includes line item contingencies for optional or unanticipated expenses will certainly help. At some point, you also may have to face some tough decisions to bring expenses in line with income and assets, such as a possible downsizing of your home.

With Boomers living so much longer, the only thing "evil" about money will be how quickly it is likely to disappear. 

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"Praemonitus, Praemunitus"


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MusingsIf you were one of the fortunate students who took Latin in high school or college, you might recognize the two words that comprise the title of this blog post. It loosely translates into the well-known phrase, "Forewarned is forearmed." This phrase has special meaning for Boomers who are considering retirement: It cautions us to anticipate issues and challenges before taking the retirement plunge.

Lack of advance planning for retirement may be one of the most common problems Boomers face. One reason could be that they intend to keep working and simply don't plan to "retire" in the traditional sense. Another may be that retirement seems unrealistic or far off in the future. Intellectually, we all know we are aging, and some sort of retirement, or "second act" if you prefer, is inevitable. Emotionally, however, we may not want to admit that we will ever "retire."

Advance planning is a kind of mental insurance that pays dividends. On the financial side, advance planning means taking stock of your finances, managing your expenses, and ensuring that you have adequately funded your retirement through a combination of pensions, if any, retirement funds, and Social Security income. On the personal side, advance planning may mean taking steps to improve your physical and mental health as you age.

Writing for The Balance, Wes Moss enumerates eight "headaches" that Boomers should avoid as they move closer to retirement. He discusses such issues as unexpected early retirement, the challenge of what to do with your time in retirement, the possible need to care for elderly parents, how retirement affects your relationship with your spouse, and the reality that you could outlive your money. His article is well worth reading.

The point is this: Boomers who have blinders on about retirement will only find themselves blind-sided if something unanticipated occurs. Life changes both small and large will happen as we age -- the only question is how well prepared we are for them.

"Praemonitus, Praemunitus" turns out to be excellent advice.

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Reconsidering "Woodstock Nation"

Musings Woodstock-art-568933_1920Surely you've noticed all the buzz in the last few weeks about the 50th anniversary of Woodstock (August 15 - 18, 1969). If you had the good fortune (or misfortune, in some cases) to be at that iconic event, you surely have a memory to last a lifetime.

I didn't make it to Woodstock, but I was keenly aware of it. The closest I came to a mini-Woodstock experience was attending a free concert in New York's Central Park. In August 1969, I was a New York University (NYU) student, about to enter my senior year. NYU was a hotbed of radical social protest and anti-war activity; I played a non-violent role as editor of a student satire magazine.

Most of us didn't know it at the time, but Woodstock would come to represent the aspirations of an entire generation. In a recent article for The New York Times, music critic Jon Pareles wrote, "Woodstock was a brief moment that would provide contradictory lessons for generations to come. It was entertainment that felt momentarily rebellious — 'a festival of peace and music' — that posited art as an alternative reality. ...It lived up to that 'peace and music' billing to gather an unexpectedly large, unexpectedly amiable community; it envisioned pleasure as a solution to societal strife, not merely a distraction from it. (That didn’t pan out.)"

Abbie Hoffman, co-founder of the Youth International Party, better known as the "Yippies," famously branded the Boomer generation "Woodstock Nation" in the event's honor, although he may have been projecting his own activism too broadly. The numbers were indeed impressive -- some one million people journeyed to Bethel, New York, where the Woodstock festival took place, and about half a million actually attended the event. However, the impact of Woodstock Nation is harder to define.

One could accurately view Woodstock as the culmination of an era of protest and unrest, largely influenced by young activists. The Sixties and early Seventies included such movements as civil rights, gay rights, women's liberation, environmentalism and anti-war, tinged with the hippie counterculture attributes of "sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll." While activists may have had the loudest voices, a segment of our generation preferred to align with the "Silent Majority."

Can we objectively credit Woodstock Nation with bringing about real change? Yes, the era's activists participated in movements that eventually brought about fundamental change, not the least of which was ending the Vietnam War. Still, fifty years after Woodstock, we face many of the same social and global challenges we protested against then. Why couldn't we sustain the vision of Woodstock Nation? It may simply be that our generation had to accept the reality of moving on in life -- earning a living, starting and supporting a family, saving for retirement and, for some, caring for our own parents. In short, we grew up.

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The "Doer" Dilemma

Question-mark-96288_1920 MusingsMost of the Boomers I know are "doers." They need to be doing something to keep themselves busy, motivated and healthy. The older doers get, the more they realize that some of the things they have been  doing for years are now a lot more challenging. Broadly speaking, aging may make working long hours more tiring. It may make driving in traffic more stressful. It may make strenuous physical activity more difficult.

These kinds of challenges may cause one to contemplate retirement. When faced with retirement, the doer has a real dilemma. It is likely to be pretty scary. What will the doer do when he or she no longer has the multi-year career that was engaging? For some Boomers, their career may have even defined them as individuals.

In her article on NextAvenue.org, retired therapist Connie Zweig wrestles with this dilemma. She writes,"Like many boomers, I had found meaning and even love through my work. So, one part of me wanted to continue to do what I had always done: push hard to be productive so that I could enjoy a feeling of well-being at the end of the day. But another part wanted to leap into the unknown, letting go of old roles until a new beginning emerged."

Later in her insightful article, Zweig asks the question "Who Are We Beyond Work?" She found that she needed to ask herself "tough inner questions" to discover the answer. She pondered such questions as:

  • "What is the role that no longer serves me? How is my identity tied to that role? Who am I if I am not that role? What has been sacrificed during my career to maintain that role?"
  • "What is my fantasy of the future? Am I drawn to serve others? Am I drawn to a spiritual or contemplative practice? What stops me from engaging in service or meditation?"

Zweig admits that her circumstances allowed her the freedom to consider different retirement paths, rather than be forced to continue to work because of financial need. Not everyone has the luxury of such a choice. Still, those Boomers who have the financial security to leave the workforce and do something else should be asking the kinds of questions Zweig asked herself. That may be the only way they will truly solve the doer dilemma.

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Why a "Second Act" can be a Second Chance

OnYourOwn Stopwatch-2062098_1920Whatever their careers, most Boomers have spent a major portion of their lives working to provide for their families. If they've been successful at earning a good living and wisely managing their money, Boomers have a stellar opportunity -- a second chance if you will -- to play in a "second act." Generally, a second act refers to reinventing or rewiring retirement and doing something you are passionate about -- hopefully unconstrained by the need to earn a high income.

Everyone's definition of a second act is different. For some, it may involve a new, more flexible relationship with an existing employer to phase out of a full-time job into part-time work. For others, it could be transitioning into an entirely new career that generates more modest income. Still others define a second act as a combination of  working part-time, volunteering part-time and playing part-time.

How you define your second act is very much up to you -- but a big challenge many Boomers face is how to get there. Mary Kane, Associate Editor of Kiplinger's Retirement Report, writes about the process in her excellent article, "6 Steps to Finding Your Second Act in Retirement." She advises, "You’ll need to do both soul-searching and research first to understand which of your skills are transferable and how they can be useful. You’ll want to prepare well in advance to shore up your finances, paying off any debts and becoming accustomed to a different standard of living—perhaps living with less income on a trial run for a few months. You may need to mix volunteering with paid work, or find part-time work that will provide health coverage, to ease your transition and the stress on your wallet. And you’ll need to create a new professional network in your community, well beyond the circle of former colleagues and contacts you spent decades establishing in your previous career."

There's no question this transition can sound a bit intimidating, so Kane identifies six key steps on the path to a second act:

  1. Begin Early
  2. Fix Your Finances
  3. Build a Bridge
  4. Do a Midternship
  5. Tackle the Internal Work
  6. Take It Slow

Kane describes each of these steps in her article and includes examples and input from retirement experts. It is offers very helpful guidance for starting a successful second act.

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Double Trouble for Boomers: Money and Health

Money-943761_1920 MusingsSome Boomers like to think they're invincible: They fully expect to be able to work into their 70s or beyond. The good news is that the percentage of workers over the age of 62 in the workforce has steadily increased. But consider this: While the national unemployment rate for workers age 55 and older is generally lower than the overall unemployment rate, the long-term unemployment rate (out of work 27 weeks or more) for older workers is generally higher than the overall long-term unemployment rate. That suggests once a Boomer is out of work, it is harder to get back into the workforce.

Cleo Parker's story is all too typical. As reported in The New York Times, Parker was about to turn 50 when her long-time marketing job was eliminated in 2006, a few years before the big recession. For the next ten years, she had to work a variety of contract and lower-paying jobs. She finally found a full-time job but that ended in 2018. Now 62, Parker finds she is overqualified for most of the jobs she interviews for, and the salary for those jobs is far less than what she earned before.

The financial pressure of this type of situation is obvious. Boomers who have had good, well-paying jobs for decades and then find themselves out of work are often faced with a precipitous drop in income in their later working years. Having all of the things associated with a middle class life -- house, car, sending your kids to college, etc. -- may have taken precedent over adequately saving for retirement. So now, the Boomer who is out of work or working at a low-paying job may be stuck with too much debt and expenses that exceed income. If expenses aren't reduced and savings are meager, the Boomer may have to draw Social Security benefits earlier than planned, which means lower monthly SS payments for the rest of that person's life. In addition, any retirement savings, such as 401(k) investments, typically cannot be drawn upon without penalty until age 70-1/2.

Involuntary job loss can be devastating -- but so can employment that is interrupted or abruptly ends because of health issues. Older workers are susceptible to more health problems than younger workers, if for no other reason than they are older. While there is some small comfort in having employer-paid health insurance or Medicare as of age 65, health problems can still be costly, both in terms of out-of-pocket medical expenses and loss of time on the job. Even worse, a serious health problem can lead to an unanticipated earlier retirement from the workforce.

So what can Boomers do about the double whammy of money and health? For one thing, we need to make a concerted effort to save as much as we can for retirement while we are still working. We should also try to delay taking Social Security payments at least until our "full retirement age," as defined by Social Security, or until age 70, when you can draw the maximum benefit. In terms of our health, as we age, it is very important for us to eat well, exercise, get enough sleep, and generally take good care of ourselves. Other than that... it's a crap shoot!

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Is It Smart to Age in Place?

OnYourOwn House-3686128_1920As Boomers age, they may consider relocating from their current home, especially if it is too large. The increasing popularity of active adult and retirement communities is a clear indication that Boomers are more than willing to relocate to improve their living situation.

But for those who do not want to leave their homes, the concept of "aging in place" is gaining traction. According to The Center for Aging in Place, "Aging in Place is a national movement to enable people to stay in their own homes as they grow older by making available the social support, health care, and home maintenance services they require to live happy, productive lives in the community."

Aging in place can have both a positive and negative side. On the positive side, wise Boomers are making a concerted effort to modify their existing homes so they are safer, more secure habitats. On the negative side, some Boomers adamantly refuse to make needed modifications if they do not want leave their homes, creating a situation that could easily result in tripping, falling, or severe personal injury.

If you've made a decision to age in place, you owe it to yourself to take a good, hard look at your physical home, your neighborhood, and your general environment. You should ask yourself honest questions about whether or not there are deficiencies or conditions that need to be remedied for you to be able to live comfortably as you age. This article on NextAvenue.org answers several important questions: https://www.nextavenue.org/answers-questions-aging-place/

AARP has a wealth of material about aging in place offered through the "AARP HomeFit Guide." You can find it here: https://www.aarp.org/livable-communities/info-2014/aarp-home-fit-guide-aging-in-place.html 

Below are a few links to some valuable resources concerning aging in place, courtesy of Marie at ElderImpact.org:

The Most Common In-Home Injuries for Seniors and How to Prevent Them

How to Reduce Hoarding and Clutter to Prevent Falls

How to Remodel for Accessibility

How to Make & Pay for Home Modifications to Enable Aging in Place

Top 7 Garage Safety Hazards that You Shouldn’t Be Ignoring

Making Aging in Place Easier with Digital Health Technology

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The Retirement "Boomerang"

OnaWhim Boomerang-1027826_1920As you might expect, the concept of retirement is not for everyone. Boomers today are much less likely to traditionally "retire" than past generations. In fact, almost 40 percent of workers age 65 or above who retired "boomeranged" back to work, according to a RAND Corporation study. The challenge is that older workers often want to change careers after fifty or so years doing the same thing -- so when they return to work, it could be to a new "second career."

Author Chris Farrell has a good way of looking at it -- as a "sabbatical." In an interview in Forbes, he says, "When we think about retirement as a sabbatical, people are going to retire, take a break and start thinking about what they want to do next. That hopefully will be incredibly liberating. It’s a wonderful idea that you take a year off, recharge and rethink."

Farrell advises those wanting to return to work focus on their skills instead of their job title. While you may have worked in a particular career all your life, in your second career, you may be better off evaluating your personal skill set and pursuing a completely different line of work. Reinventing yourself -- and taking some time to explore what you enjoy and what you are good at -- may be exhilarating. To the extent that you are financially secure, you can even pursue something because you love it, not because you intend it to produce income.

I can totally relate to this perspective. Both my wife and I reinvented ourselves after professional careers. We followed our passions and did something different for our second act. She was a sales professional and became a dog groomer because she loves working with dogs. She worked in her own mobile dog grooming business for seven years and generated income. Then she stopped grooming for money because it was too physically strenuous. Now she grooms when she wants just because she enjoys it, as an unpaid volunteer at an animal shelter. I ran a direct marketing agency, but I always had a love for writing. Now I'm a freelance writer and I work when I want. Some of the writing I do generates income, and some I do just because I enjoy it.

One of the things my wife and I had to learn during our boomerang back to work was that the value equation is different. In our previous professional careers, our perceived value was based on how much revenue we brought in. That monetary value was important to our self-image. It took a while to realize that value doesn't always have to be related to money. Now we are more comfortable with the notion that self-worth isn't based on financial and material assets alone. In fact, we both get a great deal of satisfaction doing things that do not directly result in generating income.

The retirement boomerang is a common condition for Boomers. Don't be surprised if it happens to you.

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