Thinking ahead about life transitions

By Greg Garvan

Life planning is a way of looking forward that allows you to use your skills, interests, money, and time to consciously create the life you’re looking for.  Two areas of financial life planning are particularly relevant to baby-boomers these days: “retirement/transition” planning and estate planning. As you can imagine, they can be very related. In the last newsletter I went through some of the estate planning issues; now I’d like to focus on life transitions, a fancy new term for retirements that may involve more than just kicking back at home.

Our lives tend to follow a pattern: be a kid, then a young adult, partner up with someone, maybe have kids of our own and see them through to adult years, and presto: you’re 50ish, a wee bit tired, and starting to slow down. That word ‘retirement’ sits out the horizon before you, and the story goes that we all chill, move to Florida, and play golf. But wait, this isn’t your grandfather’s retirement – it’s yours! And of course, even for our parents and grandparents, retirement has always taken lots of shapes.

Natural Investments type folks are much more likely to see the post-kids years, their 50s and 60s, even 70s or 80s, as one of new opportunities. We may dive into second careers or expand our community service commitments; many find a renewed energy for travel and connection with old and new friends. From a financial life planning perspective, that means understanding where your investable money is, as well being sure that your money life is in order for the long term.

These later life transitions can be vey challenging, due to our prior attitudes, plans, etc. An empty nest can force couples to realize that they’ve grown apart; a spouse or partner who wants out of their job to retire at 55 may be with someone who loves their work, and has no desire to stop; age differences might mean one of you is ready to stay home and be with the grandkids, while the other wants to go serve the world as a church volunteer in Africa. We’ve all heard these stories, and it can surely be challenging to find our ways.

Guess what the research says is the key to a successful retirement or transition?  Not surprisingly, it’s having a well-considered plan, specifically a plan for at least a few years. Think of it this way: when a friend suddenly loses a loved one, what do we say as they put their world in order? “Don’t do anything for a year – don’t buy or sell a home, don’t move, don’t give up all your possessions and move to the ashram.”  We say this because, first, they’ve just had a sudden emotional shock, and second, they were living the life they had, and haven’t considered what they might do next.

Life planning is meant to help you take the time to consider and create a roadmap, perhaps with a few alternate routes to consider down the line. Moving out of work you loved can be pretty jolting, and while some folks flow smoothly into the next thing, many of us don’t. Having a planned transition into your retirement or next stage in life can be very exciting, for both singles and couples!

Best advice? When you’re beginning to feel interested in a change, (e.g., no more paid work, or trying out a community service project as a break from work), spend some time with your sweetie exploring your individual and shared visions. Then, come up with a 1-year plan. Meet with your financial advisor to talk about the consequences of your plan on your financial life. Discuss with both the likely results of this transition and where it may lead next. People often wonder if they can afford to retire or transition, and many discover they can, as long as they’re willing to make some adjustments to their style of living. Are both of you on board with the changes?

Life planning for retirement/transitions can be a very rewarding process, as you realize you can use your money to make a difference in your lives, and in the world. I encourage you to engage this kind of work, and don’t be afraid of changes – by having a life-plan, you’re moving forward in ways that are likely to make your later years an especially fulfilling time!


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Greg Garvan

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