By Mike DuBose
As we age, time seems to fly. I began seriously planning for retirement in 1999. At age 69, after decades of creating, growing, and managing companies, I’m suddenly here!
Retirement brings many changes and demands, some of which I anticipated. Others were unexpected. Based on my experiences, research, and advice from retirement experts, I encourage those who are approaching (or are already in) retirement to consider these tips:
Ease into your new life: Leaving full-time employment is a huge psychological adjustment. Individuals who retire too early or abruptly may experience depression, anxiety, boredom, irritability, and feelings of isolation—and since mental and emotional stress affect health, this can lead to serious problems and even disease. Unfortunately, many people don’t plan before retiring. According to the Federal Reserve Board, 1/3 of retirees return to the workforce due to a lack of psychological and/or financial preparation.
Even though I had carefully planned for the event, when I finally retired, it felt like falling into a void. Gone were the frequent employee e-mails, strategic planning discussions, and problem-solving sessions with company leaders. While I removed much time-consuming stress by selling my businesses and retiring, I lost many outlets for daily communication and socialization.
To make your retirement transition easier, consider moving from full- to part-time (with reduced benefits) or contractual employment before tapering off into full retirement. For the first year of retirement, avoid making major life decisions or commitments—give yourself time to adjust!
Develop a purpose…and pursue it: Retirement is your chance to experience new activities you never had time for while working. You might take short-term courses, seek a college degree, try a second career, devote more energy to your hobbies, play sports, volunteer with charitable organizations, or spend additional time with your spouse, children, and grandchildren. Seek exciting activities that bring you joy and avoid being trapped in things that don’t. We recommend traveling while you can—the older you are, the more likely you are to become homebound.
Develop a budget: List income and expenses in a spreadsheet, keeping a careful watch on the “miscellaneous” column…it can really add up! Hire a Certified Financial Planner (CFP) who is not commission-based to guide you. This planning will help estimate how much money you must save, as well as amounts you’ll need to generate during retirement from investments, pensions, Social Security, etc.
Save enough money: Depending on health, genes, and retirement age, you and your spouse may need to live off your retirement funds for decades! The National Center for Health Statistics places the average American’s life expectancy at 76 for males and 81 for women. However, the Social Security Administration (SSA) predicts that 25% of current 65-year-olds will live to 90, so plan for long lives!
Diversify investments: Stock markets are volatile, so don’t place all your monies there! Consult with unbiased financial advisors to allocate funds into different, safe options. To avoid stress, check your portfolio only once per month.
Delay Social Security: Avoid the temptation to draw Social Security until you reach Full Retirement Age (FRA)—for most baby boomers, 66. Preferably, wait longer: for every year you delay drawing after 62, your monthly check increases 8%. Waiting until 70 can nearly double your benefits! Many experts recommend initially tapping into savings upon retirement to allow Social Security benefits to grow. Unfortunately, as USA Today reports, 57% of retirees apply before their FRA, which can penalize them and limit employment income.
There are many complex Social Security options and variables, especially when considering spousal benefits. Visit www.ssa.gov to set up a Social Security account, which provides resources and tools to examine benefits. Active members can request online calls from SSA staff within 15 minutes (versus calling 800 numbers and waiting hours). However, representatives often give conflicting answers, so conduct thorough research and consult with experts before drawing.
Review estate plans: When you retire, work with experts to update your estate documents (life insurance, health directives, will, etc.). Ensure that your spouse has access to important information (like your online passwords), and make sure your estate beneficiaries are current.
Obtain medical coverage: Although expensive, health insurance is essential, since unexpected medical bills can devastate your savings! Begin Medicare at age 65, even if you don’t draw Social Security. Supplemental retirement insurance plans, such as BlueCross BlueShield Medicare Advantage, are also helpful.
Strengthen your relationship with your spouse: After years of focusing on careers and raising children, couples often drift into living separate lives. When retirement comes and they’re thrust into togetherness 24/7, they realize that their relationship has deteriorated. Consequently, divorce rates have doubled for individuals over 50 in the last 20 years, according to the Pew Research Center.
Fortunately, retirement is a great opportunity to positively change your marriage. Ask your husband or wife how you can improve as a partner; then, listen and act! Make a list of things you and your spouse enjoy, both separately and together, and plan weekly fun activities. Giving each other some space and occasional “alone time” is also necessary (and healthy).
Protect your health: Research by Harvard University Medical School documents the need for regular exercise and strength training amongst older populations to decrease stress, improve balance, strengthen bones and muscles,and reduce the likelihood of injury (especially dangerous falls). Brisk walking is a great way to exercise and socialize with your spouse. If you join a gym, seek guidance from certified personal trainers before using equipment to avoid serious injuries!
Eating healthily is also important to extending your lifespan and improving the quality of your golden years. The Mediterranean diet, which relies on whole grains, beans, olive oil, lean proteins, fruits, and vegetables, is one of nutritionists’ top recommendations, along with the DASH (Dietary-Approaches-to-Stop-Hypertension) diet and the Flexitarian diet, which is eating mostly vegetarian with occasional meat.
Schedule annual physicals with an experienced internist who has been trained in detecting diseases and health problems in their early, treatable stages. Carefully monitor yourself year-round for mental and/or physical changes. Note that prescription drugs can generate serious side effects, and with an estimated 25% of people ages 65-69 taking at least five medications (according to the Washington Post), retirees should be especially wary. The mind and body are very closely connected, so reduce stress whenever possible to support good health, and keep your brain strong through continuous learning.
Limit television: Research verifies that increased sedentary behavior, combined with low physical activity and increased TV viewing time, drastically raises the risks of disability and disease among seniors. When watching television, choose uplifting, positive programming (rather than divisive, one-sided, and depressing cable news stations).
Cultivate positive relationships: Scientists have determined that an active social life can add years to your lifespan, increase happiness, and decrease health problems. Surround yourself with optimistic people and strive to be positive yourself. This means forgiving others, accepting your past, and looking forward to the future!
The bottom line: Many individuals don’t realize that retirement is a major life event requiring careful planning and adjustment. Don’t rush into it. Create a new, exciting life and enjoy the adventure!
Mike DuBose has been an instructor for USC’s graduate school since 1985, when he began his family of companies, and is the author of The Art of Building a Great Business. Please visit our blog for additional published business, travel, and personal articles, as well as health articles written with Surb Guram, MD.
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