Retirement is often referred to as an event. In our most recent book, Your Next Chapter: A Woman’s Guide To A Successful Retirement, my co-author, Mary R. Donahue PhD. and I describe it not just as an event, but rather a series of new experiences. Before retiring, most of us focus on our financial situation – after all, the majority of us work to earn a living and save for the future. However, when you’re no longer working on daily basis you may be surprised to find yourself thinking more about the emotional adjustments you’re making.
Working women often experience mixed emotions when it comes to retirement. Some, like their male counterparts, may have worked most of their lives and derived much satisfaction from their careers. Others may have interrupted their careers to stay at home with young children but then returned to the workforce. Either way, these women may be reluctant to retire at a traditional retirement age. It sounds good in theory, but when the actual time comes, they may find replacing status, social network, structure, purpose, and challenge difficult.
For most, change is hard – there’s no denying it. Retirement will bring about significant changes in your life but the more you know and better you can prepare, the easier, more fulfilling retirement can be.
Initial emotional adjustment:
Whether you’ve been eagerly anticipating your retirement or dreading it, recognize that it will be a major change. For the first time in your life, you can do what you want when you want to do it. In the past, life was guided by a goal or an agenda such as completing your education, starting your first job, choosing a partner, buying your first home, or raising your children. Now you have to decide what you’ll do with all the free time you have.
Whatebver you have envisioned, it’s going to take some time to adjust to your new reality. After the initial honeymoon period when you luxuriate in your newfound freedom, many women struggle with what they want to do next to feel productive and useful. You may feel the need to create your own structure by investigating various activities such as volunteering, spending more time with family and friends, developing new interests, attending adult education classes, traveling, and/or working part time.
Whether you were one who regularly went to the doctor or someone who may not have been as disciplined about getting to visits, it’s a good time to get a complete physical. It’s also a good time to evaluate your current medical providers. Are they younger than you and have the ability to manage your care as you age?
In the past, you might have exercised routinely, or you might have had difficulty finding time to keep a disciplined exercise schedule. If you fall into the latter category, you should know that exercise can help you stay healthy longer and also contributes to a positive mental attitude. After retirement you will have lots of choices ranging from working out regularly at a gym to taking daily walks. Whatever it is you choose to do, find an activity that gives you pleasure and make it part of your regular routine.
As you’ve aged, you’ve undoubtably had several conversations about maintaining a healthy diet and retirement provides an opportunity to review your eating habits. Here again, you have more time to buy healthy foods and explore different cuisines. Focusing on a healthier diet can contribute to your overall wellbeing – and, it can be fun!
In regard to physical health, we would be remiss if we didn’t address the impacts of COVID-19. The coronavirus pandemic has reminded us that it’s essential that someone has the details about your health, should you unexpectedly become ill. Provide her with a list of your current medications, your current doctors as well as your medical history. This person should also have a copy of your health power of attorney and your living will, because as this time in history has certainly shown us, there is no such thing as being overly cautious or prepared.
Depression due to isolation is a serious concern for retirees. While this typically occurs in later retirement years, particularly for single people, never underestimate the power of friendship. Work-related friendships may fade after you retire, and this new chapter is a perfect opportunity to develop and build new friendships from different social activities you are exploring like bridge, golf, and volunteer work.
Family can also provide a healthy social outlet. When family members realize you are more available to do more with and for them, they may expect you to spend more time with them. Although you may find this enjoyable and satisfying, it’s important to set boundaries and limits right away – it will avoid future family conflict.
Lastly, and certainly not least important, religion may have been important to you prior to retirement. With your additional time you may decide to expand your involvement with your religious denomination or even explore others. Even for those that weren’t greatly involved in their religion prior to retiring, you may decide to revisit this aspect of your life. Either way, this exploration is likely to lead to new friendships.
Before retiring, you estimated what your retirement income and expenses might be. Now you can determine how realistic those estimates were. During this first year of retirement, we recommend you keep a detailed record of your expenses. Fixed expenses may be easy to predict, but there are always the unexpected expenses such as home maintenance, medical procedures and/or loans to family members.
This is also the time to monitor your investments to make sure they are meeting your current investment objectives. During this first year of retirement, you may find it helpful to confer with your financial advisors more often than usual to make sure your investment plan is working or determine any necessary adjustments.
Review of your estate plan with an estate planning attorney is also recommended during this time. It’s important to make sure that the person you have designated as your personal representative meets this lawyer. Trustworthiness is of the utmost importance when choosing your personal representative. They should have a list of your other financial advisors (financial advisor, accountant, banker) and their contact information. This person, or another trustworthy person, should know the passwords to your phones, email, bank, and other accounts, as well as the location of your financial records. You should also provide her with a key/combination to your front door, storage area, safety deposit box, and home files.
During the estate planning process you might even consider going a step further by preplanning your funeral and burial procedure. Do you want to be buried in a casket or do you want to be cremated? What kind of funeral service do you want? It can be a gift to your family if you preplan and prepay for your end-of-life expenses.
Retirement and the life choices that come with it will present a number of new experiences. One writer has referred to the retirement years in three phases: the “go-go years” when you are first retired; the “go-slow” years when you’ve settled into a routine; and the “no-go years” when your concerns are more health related. How much time you spend in each depends entirely on individual circumstances, but there is no reason to go through any of them in this next chapter of your life alone. There are many people who can assist you through your financial and emotional transition. In our book, there is an entire chapter dedicated to describing these experts and how they can help you achieve a successful retirement.
The purpose of Your Next Chapter: A Woman’s Guide To A Successful Retirement is to help you go through the initial stages of retirement as easily as possible. Retiring is a major life transition and will require adjustment, but the guidance we provide in our book can help it be a very fulfilling and enjoyable experience.
If you have questions about your retirement planning, we are always here to help.