A woman approached us after a recent retirement life planning workshop. With slumped shoulders, drawn face, and sad voice, she told us that her husband had retired ten years earlier, and although they were financially secure, he had spent most of his time sitting on the couch watching reruns. “It has been a lost decade in my life. What can I do?”
Although this may be an extreme example, we find it common for Baby Boomers to be unprepared to make the most of retirement. Those who have done any planning have typically focused solely on their finances. While critically important, financial security is but one of the ten elements of a fulfilling retirement.
Perhaps we’ll spend a subsequent post reviewing those important components. For now, let’s start with the fundamentals of how each of us can best prepare for retirement. Or said another way, how can we make the rest of our lives the best of our lives?
You have spent a great deal of time planning. You have created business, lesson, and other plans at work. You have planned home projects, vacations, and the complex weekly schedules most families deal with.
Yet you would likely to be among the vast majority of the thousands we have talked to in retirement life-planning workshops over the years. When we ask those who have a life plan to raise their hands, typically fewer than 10% do so, and even fewer have written that plan down. Yet virtually everyone knowingly nods his or her head when we say, “Most people spend more time planning their last two-week vacation than they spend planning the next 30 years or more of their lives.”
The learning is consistent. Have a life plan, and you’re more likely to live the retirement you deserve. Write it down, and you’re five times more likely to see results.
What do Sam Snead, Mahatma Gandhi, Yogi Berra, and Arnold Palmer have in common? They each understood the value of practice.
“Practice puts brains in your muscle.” Sam Snead
“An ounce of practice is worth a ton of preaching.” Mahatma Gandhi
“In theory there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice there is.” Yogi Berra
“The more I practice, the luckier I get.” Arnold Palmer
Each of us fundamentally gets the concept of the value of practice. OK, I’ll wait just a bit before going on, while you think about what Yogi said.
But very few people who are still working think about the value of practicing retirement. Here’s what practicing retirement is, and then here’s why you might want to consider taking advantage of the opportunity.
The idea is to first develop your retirement life plan, thereby identifying what you want to be doing in retirement. To practice retirement, find a way to bring as much of the activities of that plan as you can into your life now.
Add one time per month of playing bridge or mah jongg or golf or tennis or whatever. Take a short trip more frequently. Knowing we’d want to travel in retirement, five years before we retired, Ann and I started our own “vacation-of-the-month club.” No, we didn’t fly off to Hawaii every month, but we did plan a getaway. We took day trips and long weekends and an occasional longer trip.
Why should we practice retirement? There are a number of reasons. You may actually find out that something you thought would be exciting for you in retirement really isn’t. You can learn that early and change your retirement plan, making the transition from your career smoother and more successful.
Validating your retirement life plan can inform your financial plan. Isn’t that what a financial plan is for—funding the things you want to do? Every financial advisor we talk to about this, nods his or her head.
And here’s the most important reason to practice retirement. If you are looking forward to the exciting and fulfilling things you are planning to do in retirement, why not bring them into your life and enjoy them now? Why wait?
Think about the woman I mentioned earlier. She knew she was miserable, and she knew her husband was wilting away. And yet, neither before he retired, nor just after he retired, nor over the past decade had they talked about it.
Again, perhaps an extreme case, but we have been shocked by how few couples have discussed and agreed to their retirement plans. And these are not discussions just for couples. Each of us should be having the “crucial conversations” with those closest to us; a spouse, partner, or friend; aging parents; adult children. Our retirement will affect them, and they will affect our retirement.
Discuss and agree to your life and financial plans, where you will live, how the daily routine will change, and anything else that might affect long-term relationships and happiness. Have the crucial conversations as early as possible, and renew them as life circumstances change.
You can choose to plan or practice or partner. Or you can choose to do all three. Or you can choose to do none of them. Which choice do you think will help you make the rest of your life the best of your life?