Note: this post first ran almost 5 years ago. The information remains timely.
Your voice and your mind scream: "I am tired of working. I am tired of the commute. I am tired of waking up each morning wondering if I still have a job. I am tired of watching the stock market bounce around like a crazed kangaroo. I want to retire NOW!"
To quote a former president, I feel your pain. I know what it is like to be more than ready to start a new stage of your life, a stage that promises the possibility of a re-birth and a renewed joy in living. I know what it is like to really, really want to start your satisfying journey through retirement.
Of course, if you read almost anything related to retirement in your daily paper or on the Internet, you are probably scared...scared that you will never be able to retire. Retirement is a concept that doesn't make sense anymore, according to many. I respectively disagree.
I assume you will talk with your spouse or significant other about what you are contemplating. You have read this blog for awhile and feel comfortable in your decision. As a final review, let's look together at a few of the last minute questions my experience suggest you ask:
1) Can you sleep at night with your financial resources and plan? There is no such thing as a perfect financial plan. There will never be a time when something doesn't throw a wrench into your carefully crafted budget. The last few years have confounded even those who make a living from this stuff. But, you must feel confident that you have anticipated most situations. You have what you need, plus. You have worked the figures under different scenarios and you are still OK. Maybe not flush, but OK.
If that is where you are, you should be good to go. Could a world-wide crash put all of us in deep trouble? Sure. But, if that happens your job would disappear along with everything else so it wouldn't matter if you had retired. If you believe you have done the best you can do to anticipate your future demands on your resources, then you can sleep soundly.
2) Do you have a budget that takes into account eventual inflation and unexpected emergencies? Retirement doesn't end the basic laws of economics. Inflation will be a part of your future and emergencies will arise. No one comes home from a day at the park and expects to find 3 inches of water on the floor from a broken pipe. But, it happens. Would such an occurrence render you homeless or could you handle a biggie like that? Do you have enough liquid assets to stay afloat (pun intended)?
At the center of your financial plan must be a budget that allows for change. What can you cut if need be? What would you like to increase if the circumstances presented themselves? Are you forgetting to budget for expensive things like new cars, hearing aids, large medical cost increases, or assessments on that condo in Palm Springs? Believe it or not, when I retired I completely forgot to budget for travel and new cars. Adjustments were made and we are fine, but it was quite a shock at the time!
3) Does your partner agree with this move? Your being home more will change the dynamics of your relationship. Roles and responsibilities will change. From the voice of experience, trust me. Work out the "ground rules" and expectations before retiring. I urge you to read two earlier posts about the need to think through how your life might change when one half retires: Who is that Person Sitting Beside Me? and You Owe it to the Person You Love.
If your partner has real problems with your plan to retire my advice is to work it out before making your decision. If his or her resistance is not swayed by your logic and begging, it might be wise to delay your move for awhile. I can't think of anything more fraught with tension than a retired person at home with someone who strongly disagrees with that status. Of course, if you are single, you can skip this worry.
4) Do you have hobbies, passions, and interests outside your job? A lot of us are so wrapped up in what we do for a living, we have no other life to replace that. The first question everyone asks when meeting a new person is, "What do you do?" They mean how do you earn a living. That is how we define who and what we are. When you retire, the possibility exists that you will lose your sense of self. Without a job to define you, what will you do to fill your time and satisfy you?
One of the leading causes of dissatisfaction with what should be a satisfying retirement is boredom. Some folks go back to work for the simple reason they don't know what else to do. Don't let that be your fate. If you already have a hobby or two, interests in all sorts of activities, even a passion for something then you will be fine. If you have nothing to turn to, develop at least a few interests before retiring.
It is absolutely true that you are very likely to find all sorts of opportunities and interests open up to you when you are retired. Your creativity can soar. You will discover sides of yourself you never knew existed. But, during the initial phase of a year or two, you will be much happier if you have stuff to do.
5) Are you prepared to battle the health care mess? Besides the budgeting and planning part that I referred to earlier, there are other things for you to face in this area. Paperwork and red tape can overwhelm you. At times you will conclude that no one is listening and no one cares. That isn't true, but, the medical establishment is so stressed that you are really on your own to get much of the medical help you require. You will have to develop unending patience and a belief that you are your best advocate.
I hope the above 5 points didn't discourage you. They just happen to be reality that all retired people face at one time or another. To know about them ahead of time is your best preparation. If after reviewing your reaction to these cautions your feeling is still, "Yes, I'm ready and I want it now," then take the leap.
The first ten years (now 15!) of my retirement lifestyle have been amazing. There have been down periods and scares that kept me awake at night. But, there have been the highest highs and the biggest personal growth spurts of my life. I have spent the past decade discovering how to make this journey as smooth and productive as possible. I wish you the same.
My satisfying retirement is featured as part of a lengthy interview in Money Magazine. After you've read that material, I'd be more than happy to talk with you about your situation. Drop me an email by clicking here.