The jack o’ lanterns are grinning maniacally. The ghosts are keening. The witches are flying on broomsticks against the harvest moon. Costumed freeloaders will soon be knocking on our doors demanding candy and threatening mischief if none is forthcoming. At least that would be happening if we didn’t live in an age restricted community of oldsters in central Florida. Halloween is just around the corner. Maybe we should talk about zombies, werewolves, and vampires today. Or maybe we should talk about something that is really scary…. Five common fears people often face when thinking about retirement.
So…. Turn down the lights and get ready to do some ghost-busting!
- I will not have enough money to live as I wish in retirement.
It is difficult not to feel anxious about money when you are facing a rather substantial decrease in income upon retirement. Most people have a sort of intuitive feeling about how much money they can spend without having to think about it too much. We live at a certain standard of spending, based on what is often a fairly stable work income. We buy things we have always bought because we have always been able to afford them. We have a “set point” in our minds about discretionary spending. We have a sense of some dollar amount at which a non-recurring payment stops being an impulse buy and starts being an expenditure requiring deliberate decision-making. When we retire and cut our income 30-50%, that “set point” may change. In fact, our whole intuitive sense of what standard of living we can afford becomes murky. We don’t have any empirical practice at what living on this lesser income feels like when it comes to buying stuff.
One way to mitigate this dilemma is to “practice” living on a lesser income while still working. This helps show us that we can live the way we want to, even on a smaller income. It also helps train our financial muscles to work differently. It hones that intuitive sense of what we can afford. For more information on how to “practice” living on retirement income, you can review my blog post, “The Elephant In The Room. http://www.terrilabonte.com/2016/02/the-elephant-in-the-room/
It is also important to remember that you don’t have to stop earning income completely when you retire. Earning doesn’t have to be an all or nothing proposition. Presumably, you don’t need to earn as much money as you did while working full-time. Maybe, though, you find you need some amount of additional income to shore up your retirement lifestyle. You can probably find a part-time job to fill the gap. You might even decide to start a small business to share your skills. Maybe you can babysit. Maybe you can do light caretaking, like running errands or doing housecleaning or laundry for elderly or disabled neighbors. Maybe you have a skill from your working life or a hobby that you can monetize. It may help you embrace retirement with financial confidence if you know that you have a back-up plan.
- I’ll start gaining weight or….
Smoking too much, spending too much money, drinking too much, getting depressed over a failed relationship, or…. insert your bad habit of choice.
When I retired, I was worried about eating too much and gaining weight because I would be home more and have more time to consume food. When I was working, the amount of time I had available to eat was so restricted, it seemed like it shouldn’t be all that hard to minimize my caloric intake. Once I could reach for a snack from my own kitchen cabinet or refrigerator any time of the day, I was afraid that there would be no external circumstances to limit my grazing. I had friends who had the same concerns about being able to smoke without having to wait for a moment to run outside the office for a smoke break. I am sure it is the same with any unhealthy habit. It can feel like the freedom retirement brings may also take away the work-related limits on bad habits.
I found that it was actually easier to maintain and even lose weight once I retired. Yes, I had more time to eat. Yes, I probably do eat more than I did when I was working. However, what I eat is very different. Since I am eating from my own kitchen, my choices are limited to the pretty healthy stuff I’ve put there. I am no longer wolfing down a candy bar at 2:00pm because I could get it at the vending machine and it is the only food I have had time to acquire since I ate breakfast at 5:00am. I don’t feel as compelled to soothe myself with high fat and high carbohydrate comfort foods because I am not as stressed. In short, I am eating more, but the more I am eating is higher quality, more nutritionally dense foods. The other element is exercise. Because I am retired and have much more flexibility in my schedule, I walk over six miles a day and do water aerobics once or twice a week. The exercise has many benefits, including helping to manage my weight despite not eating perfectly.
The additional time you find in retirement can result in the expansion of unhealthy habits, but it all depends on how you look at it and what you decide to do with that time. That time can also provide you with the opportunity to explore, at your own pace, why you built those unhealthy habits in the first place. Rather than gaining weight (or bankruptcy, lung cancer, liver disease, another dysfunctional relationship, or some other consequence of an unhealthy habit), retirement can be the time when you gain happiness.
- I’ll lose my friends.
Most of us have a social network that we establish through our jobs. Most of my friends were my work colleagues. Having these wonderful people in my life certainly enriched and sweetened my working years. I wasn’t sure how I was going to cope if those relationships withered when I left the workplace. Guess what? I never had to cope because those relationships never withered.
It is probably naïve to think that all your work friendships will endure after you retire. It is also counter-productive to think that the relationships that do endure will be exactly the same. However, it is defeatist thinking to assume you will lose your whole work-related social network. I found that, for the most part, the people I cherished from my working years are still closely in my heart’s orbit today. For more information about maintaining friendships after retirement, you can review my blog post, Should Auld Acquaintance Be Forgot. http://www.terrilabonte.com/2016/12/should-auld-acquaintance-be-forgot/
It might also be helpful to “practice” a new social network before retirement. If you are worried about not being connected to your work friends any more, perhaps it would be good to start expanding your circle of friends to other areas- church groups, civic organizations, neighbors, etc.
- People retire and then they die.
Many of us know people who worked their whole lives in relative good health and dropped dead soon after retiring. There are enough of these stories circulating that we can get a little superstitious about entering the retired ranks. I think the logical fallacy of “because something happens after an event, it must have been caused by the event” is at play in those superstitions.
It is probably true that some people are so connected to their work that they get bored and lose their spark when they retire. I suppose that could contribute to a premature death. However, I don’t think most people die after retirement because they are so depressed they lose the will to live and just fade away. There may be a period of confusion and depression, but most of us find our way through that time and find our new lives. If a person does die shortly after retirement, seemingly for no reason, I think there is likely some reason. That reason may have actually been present before the retirement, but the person may just not have wanted people to know about it. The condition may have presented itself after retirement, but would have reared its ugly head at the same time, whether the person was working or retired.
- If I retire, I’ll lack purpose in my life.
Most people think that their purpose in life is what they do. In reality, the opposite should be true. We should do what is our purpose in life. Unfortunately, for many of us, the work that we do to make our living isn’t what truly makes us feel whole and the best version of ourselves. We may find it satisfying and interesting and reasonably lucrative in providing for our wants and needs, but it probably isn’t what makes our hearts sing and our souls expand. Even though what we do for work probably isn’t truly our purpose and driving force, it’s easy to get in the habit of thinking that it is over many years of a career. Partly this happens because we just don’t have any time for much else while we are working. Partly it happens because it is much easier for us to measure progress and success towards “purpose” by keeping our focus on a career than it is to explore where our true purpose lies. After all, no one gives you a raise or a promotion for self-actualization.
If you are one of the lucky people whose “career” purpose and “self” purpose intersect, it is likely that you can find a way to live out that purpose passionately in retirement. You may be able to work part time or volunteer to follow your heart. If you can’t physically do the work that is your purpose, you can probably still consult, mentor, teach, or write to share your skills with others.
For more information about finding your new life, you can review my post Get a Life. http://www.terrilabonte.com/2016/09/get-a-life/
So maybe the shadows of retirement are not so scary after all. Now that we’ve pushed these skeletons back into the closet, how about some candy? Trick or treat, anybody?
Now it’s your turn! What were your fears about retirement? Do you think those fears were well-founded? How did you overcome them? Please share your perspective by leaving a comment. In the alternative, you an email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.