Planning for a Happy Retirement

By Sheng Wang
For MedHunters

Planning for a happy retirement

Dictionary definitions of retirement include, “to give up working or serving, usually because of advancing age” and “to remove from active service.” However, many people are redefining retirement through the varied and fulfilling lives they lead. They remain physically and mentally active, may still be a part of the workforce, and are crucial members of their social circles and their communities.

When to retire and how to spend the following years are two of life's most important decisions. As the average lifespan lengthens, many people can look forward to a retirement that lasts 25 or even 35 years. Some believe that retirement should be treated as a final career - one that requires just as much planning and foresight as the one they're leaving behind.

“Health care professionals can be particularly reluctant to retire, since their work is often an integral part of their personal identity. Fortunately, there are many opportunities available. Your experience can be put to good use as a consultant, lecturer at a local college, writer or editor for medical publications, or mentor to new graduates.”

Two Crucial Numbers

Two numbers are crucial to deciding when you'll be ready to retire. The first is your age, and the second is your retirement number—that is, the financial assets you will need to live comfortably throughout your retirement.

The age of retirement is largely a personal decision. Americans can begin collecting Social Security retirement benefits at age 62, and Canadians can begin collecting their government retirement pensions at age 60. However, in both countries, those who start to collect before the full (normal) retirement age (65+) receive less money.

As for what your retirement number may be, most financial experts say that you should accumulate enough assets to provide you with 70 to 80 percent of your usual income for each of your retirement years. Americans can make a good start by maximizing their 401(k) and individual retirement account (commonly called an IRA) contributions, and Canadians should maximize their registered retirement savings plan contributions. It is also important to take advantage of any workplace savings plans that your employer may offer, and you should make long-term investments specifically aimed at funding your retirement. The key to retirement savings is to start as early as possible, since compound interest and the tax savings from government-sponsored savings plans will allow you to build up a much larger nest egg than if you start late.

Speaking with a financial advisor can help you to establish a retirement strategy, or to determine if the strategy you already have is a sound one.

Planning your New Life

Respondents to the 2004 Lincoln Long Life Survey, conducted by the Lincoln Financial Group, reported that major sources of satisfaction included independence, housing, health, financial situation, and time spent with their children and grandchildren. The best piece of advice they had to offer was to prepare for your retirement through financial and life planning. Always remember, a satisfying retirement will not simply happen on its own—it's something you must actively work to achieve.

Beyond money, saying goodbye to full-time employment means approximately 2,000 hours of extra free time each year. This figure may seem irresistibly tempting while you're still on the job, but all that free time can quickly turn to restlessness and boredom for new retirees. Just as you once worked hard to define your ideal career, it pays to spend some time figuring out what your ideal retirement will be like.

Asking yourself these types of questions will help you start planning:

  • What hobbies or activities will fill your days?
  • Do you enjoy city life, rural living, or something in between?
  • How will you stay in touch with friends and former colleagues?
  • Are travel, sports, or the arts important to you?
  • Are there any ambitions that you have yet to achieve?
  • Are there family members or friends you'd like to move closer to?

Whether or not to relocate is a common decision for retirees. Although sunny beaches or desert vistas may beckon, experts caution against making hasty decisions. Many retired couples move too quickly, begin to miss their family and friends, and then must bear the expense of maintaining two residences or traveling frequently between their old community and new home. Rather than selling your home and moving immediately, consider renting property in the community in which you're considering setting up residence. After experiencing all four seasons there, you'll have a good idea of what the community has to offer and whether or not you'll want to live there permanently.

Once you've decided on the general shape of your retirement life, it's important to visualize, hour-by-hour, what your typical post-retirement day will be like. Of course, there will be some surprises once retirement actually hits, but successful retirees say that they plan their days just as carefully as any day on the job.

The Working Retirement

Many health care professionals ease into retirement by gradually cutting back their hours or switching to part-time work. Over the past few years, the trend has moved towards later retirement.

Indeed, many happy retirees report that part-time or volunteer work is a major source of fulfillment. The 2004 Lincoln Long Life Survey found that affluent adults over the age of 70 were three times more likely to be employed than their peers. Although they didn't need the money, they enjoyed the intellectual stimulation and social interactions that came with the work.

Health care professionals can be particularly reluctant to retire, since their work is often an integral part of their personal identity. Fortunately, there are many opportunities available. Your experience can be put to good use as a consultant, lecturer at a local college, writer or editor for medical publications, or mentor to new graduates. Professional associations, local clinics, and community health education groups are excellent places to look for work. To keep your mind sharp, consider taking a few courses, or even completing a new degree.

Retirement and Relationships

If you have a spouse or long-term partner, then retirement planning must be a joint endeavor. In a March 15, 2005 interview on Today, relationship expert Dr. Stephen Treat recommended broaching the subject with your partner at least five years before the event. You need to create a shared vision for what your retirement years will look like. This will include issues such as finances, where to live, how much time to spend with each other, and how your respective roles in the household may change after retirement.

Often, one-half of a couple will retire a few years before the other half. A commonly occurring problem is that the retiree becomes overly reliant on his or her partner for company, and his or her partner begins to feel stifled by all the time spent together. It's very important for the retiree to maintain a network of relatives, friends, former colleagues, and acquaintances, and to enjoy activities outside of the home. Both partners need to spend some time alone, some time together as a couple, and some time with other people. How much of each type of interaction is needed will, of course, vary. Ultimately, Dr. Treat believes it's healthier for couples to retire at different times, since it will give both of them more time to adapt and grow as individuals.

After all, the extra time that comes with retirement can be a great boon to all of your relationships. Couples have the opportunity to renew their romance and create a new life together. There is more time to spend with children and grandchildren. Additionally, stronger friendships may be forged, and new friendships may be created, through shared hobbies and interests.

Maintaining physical and emotional health in retirement is of the utmost importance. Find sports or physical activities that you enjoy, and participate in them on a regular basis. If you experience loneliness or depression, seek help immediately from family, friends, or a counselor. Also, be sure to seek support after traumatic events, such as a major illness of your own, or the illness or death of a friend or loved one.

And remember: no matter how carefully you plan ahead, there will still be a few surprises along the way. Good communication is essential to resolving any problems that may arise, and both partners need to be open-minded and supportive of each other's decisions. And, because retirement can have a major impact on a person's self-esteem and self-image, don't forget to ask your partner for patience and support as you go through this exciting major life transition.

Planning for your retirement is an important process and one that should be handled as such. Beginning to plan early on in your career will give you more to work with when the time comes. Considering your spouse or partner and consulting him or her will help you shape your retirement in a way that will benefit your relationship. And, filing your time with exciting, fun, and stimulating activities will help you enjoy this "final career" to the fullest.

If you aren't quite ready to retire, but are looking for a change, visit the ACR CareerConnection to see what rheumatology positions await you! CareerConnection is free to job seekers searching for opportunities in the field of rheumatology. Benefits include a personalized website, job alert notifications, and a résumé builder.

This article is provided for informational purposes only. The ACR is not responsible for any career decisions made by those consulting this article.

© 2015 American College of Rheumatology