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The Transition To Retirement: The Ups And The Downs

Being in the investment advisory business for more than 30 years, I've come to witness the journey to retirement with more than just a few folks. When I first started working with them they were just starting out, perhaps in a new career or with little kids, starting a college fund or that first 401(k) contribution.

But, after being together for a few decades, we all tend to age and move into the next stage of our life: the contemplation of retirement. It takes much planning and saving, and we encounter more than a few speed bumps along the way, but eventually for most, you finally get to that magic day of retirement. Is that a good thing, or maybe...

The past 6 years or so has been devastating to our economy, and to the unemployed. While in February the unemployment numbers ticked down to 6.6%, the governments numbers aren't fooling anyone: they don't include those that have stopped working, only work part time, or have been forced to retire due to the expiration of benefits and the realization that finding a job in these times is hard enough, let alone with grey hair.

Now, I don't mean to pick on those who's hair is color challenged (mine is white) but to state what we all know: the older we get, the harder it is to assimilate into the workforce in a new position. It seems that employers these days tend to value cheap instead of experienced, saving a few bucks in lieu of respecting tenure.

As an entrepreneur for most of my life, I find this strategy to be absolutely backwards: the one thing you can't buy for any price is time and experience.

But, that's a debate for another article. The point is, many are forced to retire before they planned. They may not be financially ready, as well as mentally or emotionally. No my friends, life does NOT always go as planned, and if you think you have life under control, we all could use a good laugh about now!

The step to retirement, whether planned or unplanned, is a time you may have thought you were ready for, but most find out quickly the transition is a big one with great surprises.

Your whole life was one big schedule: retirement at first leaves a huge hole in your routine. You no longer have to get up at the crack of dawn, scrape the ice off the car in the dark, or be somewhere at a given time. It sounds great in theory, but after working with so many retirees, the feedback I get is it takes quite a bit of adjustment. The familiarity of a routine schedule now gone can be mentally challenging, and going from Mister So and So to just another retiree wandering aimlessly throughout WalMart can be emotionally challenging.

You may have thought you were ready, but as you get closer to that magic date, your life changes. It will take some time to adjust, to realize you now have your life to yourself (or as much as your spouse or partner allows you to!).

The key is to get used to the new routine slowly: you can't accomplish the list you mentally have in a week. Besides, what’s the rush... you have all the time in the world... enjoy it.

It's important to prepare well in advance... years, if you have it. You've worked with your Certified Financial Planner™ to make sure you have enough income to support your lifestyle, or you may be gearing down, cutting expenses to balance the change in income.

Don't wait for the month before retirement: it's a ramp up kind of process. Start reviewing your plan annually for at least 5 years before retirement to make sure you are on track with as little surprises as possible.

Be prepared to be flexible and to make changes if necessary: it's all new and different, and since its uncharted territory- be aware that it may not look like you initially pictured.

Look around: do you need everything you have presently, or is there something you always wanted but never achieved? Now is the time to see how the puzzle pieces fit together, and finally see what that mystical thing called retirement really is. If it's not exactly the way you thought it would be welcome to the club... roll with it and have the time of your life!

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