Life Planning in your Retirement Years

As your retirement years begin to come into view over the horizon, you may be wishing that you’d saved a gazillion dollars, bought a couple extra houses, or remembered to train your kids to quickly get wealthy enough to support you. Despite what you may have heard, though, enjoying a rich life in your twilight years is not as difficult as it’s sometimes made out to be.

Let’s take a closer look, through the lens of behavioral psychology, at the reality of these years for most folks. While your life circumstances will be changing, you’ll be able to build on the same foundations that have served you well for the past several decades. Most NI clients are fairly engaged in their lives: making the most of what’s before them and open to new opportunities. Not surprisingly, you’re likely to find ways to stay engaged, whether via new interests—writing, archeology, volunteering for a social change organization—or deepening your current interests, like caring for grandchildren or serving your religious community more intimately.  How would you rate your “life engagement” level now?  If you’re thinking about transitions in the next few years, what can you do now that will help you engage more fully? 

Have you been a “planner,” at least at some level, up to now?  Sure you have, as a Natural Investments client; you planned how to save money, how to help it grow, and hopefully have done some estate/tax/insurance planning with your advisor.  Again, not surprisingly, this attribute doesn’t suddenly disappear. In a similar way, a key to success in your the retirement years is to spend a few years prior planning what you want to do with them. Having a general idea of what you expect will help set the stage.  As you approach this time in your life, consider working with a life coach or planner to put together the outline of a plan for you.

Of course, how to use all the extra time you’ll have is the great opportunity, and often the great fear, of those approaching retirement. If you love what you’ve been doing during your working life, are there opportunities to use those same skills part-time for a few more years?  Or is there something else you’ve always wanted to do in work, and just need some training or apprentice program to help you learn?

Volunteering is often an inspiring option, as well. Ralph Warner’s Get a Life: You Don’t Need a Million To Retire Well reminds us of the benefits:

  • A chance to do interesting work. Many nonprofits are involved in fascinating work. For example, nonprofits preserve rain forests, record oral histories of elderly residents, and teach low-income children to read. If you check around, you’ll find an organization that piques your interest or passion.
  • A way to add meaning to life. Knowing that you are doing good and needed work can make your life feel more meaningful, and allow you to pass on the love and support you once received.
  • An opportunity to meet interesting people. Regular workplaces are great places to make friends, too, but nonprofit groups tend to attract like-minded people (such as people interested in adult literacy or bilingual education or reptiles). Volunteering can help you form lasting friendships.

If helping out with mailings or being a volunteer docent is all you want, this is easy to find. But often, the most satisfying volunteer opportunities will require some of the same engagement and planning that were the foundations of your professional career. Many nonprofits rely on volunteer board members and advisory committees to develop their organization and new programs; building your knowledge of the field will make you more valuable in these roles. If you start getting engaged before you retire, you’ll be ready to contribute in a bigger way when the time comes. So, in summary: become more engaged in your life now; plan ahead for your transition to retirement years; remember what is critical to you in your current lifestyle and how to keep that present in your later years. And notice that none of this depends on whether you have x or y dollars saved up.  Retirement isn’t about just dollars, it’s about meeting yourself where you are and engaging your heart in deeper ways.  Enjoy!


Greg Garvan

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