Anyone who has spent serious time planning for retirement knows about the many challenges that might derail even the most meticulous financial plan. The unpredictable economy and possibility of health problems makes retirement extremely difficult to plan for. And strategies that worked for retirees a generation ago are nothing like what is needed these days.
Talking with my father I discover a different world not so very long ago. He was a physician in a small farm community in Stockton, Calif. His career spanned more than 35 years until he decided it was time to retire at age 67. When I ask him what he did to prepare he looks at me with a tolerant smile on his face as though humoring a confused child. Yes, he saved money along the way to build his nest egg and occasionally thought about what it would be like to be retired. But beyond that he did not waste his time worrying.
For him the biggest decision was when to retire. Because of the nature of his job, he was not forced to call it quits at age 65. In fact, other doctors work well into their 70's. His decision to retire at 67 was due in large part to the incredible changes taking place in the medical world. He did not like the way things were going and felt it was time to move on. With many hobbies along with numerous interests shared with my mother, he did not worry about becoming bored. As it turns out, he had no reason to worry. My parents maintain a packed calendar of events.
Can retirement really be that easy? It probably depends on whether you have prepared financially. While 21 percent of Americans say they spent two hours or more selecting a flat screen TV, only 15 percent say they spent at least that much time selecting an IRA investment, according to a recent survey by TIAA-CREF.
After spending a significant part of the past four years fine tuning the most important pieces of the retirement puzzle, I am very much looking forward to retiring. But I also have a variety of concerns:
-- Do I have enough interests to keep reasonably busy for the next 20 years?
-- Without my job to define me, who will I be when I retire?
-- How will I stay healthy and active along the way?
-- Will my wife and I complement each other as we spend 24/7 together?
-- How will I deal with the realities of aging?
-- Will I want to work in some capacity after age 65?
-- What legacy do I hope to leave?
I do find a certain peace of mind in the knowledge that my parents did not do much planning for retirement beyond the financial side of things, and they are happy. Although they did not address all of the potential areas for concern before retiring, they have been able to deal with challenges that arose over the years. Their marriage has also lasted more than 57 years and survived many transitions, including the one into retirement.
The retirement fears we face are nothing new. The realities of aging and a diminished capacity or desire to work have always been faced by the oldest citizens. It helps to put some thought into what lies ahead, and make sure you have a little extra money and patience to help you weather the unexpected.
Dave Bernard is the author of "I Want To Retire! Essential Considerations for the Retiree to Be". Although not yet retired, he focuses on identifying and understanding the essential components of a fulfilling and meaningful retirement. He shares his discoveries and insights on his blog Retirement-Only The Beginning.
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