January 14, 2023

I Have Cold Feet


This post has nothing to do with the weather. It has nothing to do with my ability to feel cold in my extremities.

Rather, "cold feet" refers to indecision or a lack of confidence, when faced with a major change in our life. Anything that can disrupt what we know and are accustomed to qualifies. That is a natural reaction. I would guess it is somehow connected to the flight or fight reaction.

Retirement would certainly qualify as an event that could cause cold feet. There aren't many experiences quite the equal of stopping something you have done for dozens of years, has probably defined you in some way and has paid the bills. 

Not having your job description as the answer to "what do you do" can be scary. I may preach about the tremendous joy of a satisfying retirement, but I can attest to my own case of almost frozen feet when it came time to close down my business over twenty years ago.

A while ago, a reader reminded me of this common occurrence. An e-mail detailed the struggles her husband was having in letting go. The family business was up for sale, and the decision to move on had been discussed for over a year. This couple had downsized their housing and belongings. They had started making plans for their time together. But, when it came time to actually walk away...those cold feet poked through her husband's socks.

After my assuring her that hubby's reaction was very normal and would eventually work itself out in a way that was best for both of them, I agreed the general topic of last-minute retirement cold feet was worth a post. Like always, I am depending on some insightful comments and suggestions from you.

I will assume that this couple's financial house is in order. To retire without a good plan and a solid financial footing isn't wise. That would cause anyone to have second thoughts. 

Retiring when someone is tired of going to work every day or had a fight with the boss, or any other reason...without months, if not years, of thinking through all the aspects of life without full-time work, is very likely a mistake.

If, on the other hand, money has been saved and invested, expenses have been reviewed, and projections of future needs have been made, then retirement becomes doable. The decision as to when to retire can then be approached without unnecessary financial fears. 

True, life is going to through some problems your way. Your retirement plans are not going to unfold exactly the way you may hope they will. At some level, financial concerns will be with you under you die. But guess what? Being employed doesn't change that. We have no guarantees, working or not.

I will assume the couple has a firm foundation for their relationship, one that won't be harmed by having both spouses together more of the time. Even for a loving, long-term relationship, retirement takes compromise and adjustments. The cliché of being "joined at the hip," implying a couple that is with each other 24/7, is usually not a good idea. There is a need for private "me" time for each partner.

I will assume the couple isn't planning on quickly leaving family and friends behind to move to a "dream" location near the ocean or halfway up a mountain. Living on a canal boat in France sounds nice, but how realistic is it to most of us? Moving soon after retirement doesn't always turn out well. No longer working is a major stress producer. Add a move to that, and you are off the charts in terms of pressures on you.

So, that brings me back to the central question: how does one deal with cold feet after making a decision, whether it is our own hesitation or that of a loved one?  I can make a few suggestions, but then want to turn the forum over to you.

Retirement is a step, but not one that is irreversible. Plenty of folks stop working and then decide at some point that they miss some part of the working world. It may be the extra money, but it also could be time with coworkers. A sense of being part of something bigger than one's self motivates some to return to work. Feeling productive is a motive.

The point is, if you find you simply can't settle into retirement at this point in your life, then don't. Stay where you are. Find another job, either full or part-time. Of course, once you leave your chosen field, picking up where you left off may be a bit of a struggle. But retirement today isn't necessarily a permanent state. You have options.

Secondly, start focusing on what you will gain from retirement and less on what you may be leaving behind. Think about the hobbies, activities, travel, extra time with family, reading that stack of books on your nightstand, or sleeping until you want to wake up....all the good stuff waiting for you. A satisfying retirement is about gaining the freedom to do what you want when you want.  

OK, cold feet experts. How did you break through that final mental barrier that kept you from taking the plunge? What was it that finally allowed you to look forward rather than backward? Regrets? Second thoughts?



  1. Just waiting to read the comments. My husband is less than 9 months from when he said he would retire. I'm at the 5 year mark. Both already have changed le feet.

  2. Our original plan was to retire at 50. Home and mountain cabin paid off-this one required full remodel as it was a tear-down with a good foundation and structure. Enough in savings to replace everything at least twice. We hit 50 and thought "well this crazy" so we moved that to 55. Traveling more, did structural change to cabin garage, new metal roof,cement siding (snowproof), replaced our vehicles (mine being my last intended ever). Oopsy, still feels too young. Kept traveling for vacations and enjoying life.

    At 58 I decided one Friday I was DONE! I told hubster I wanted to resign on Monday. "Okay, do it". I did renew my license that summer just-in-case. I did hire as a temp to give Covid vaccines for 90 days to support our community. 2y later when it was going to expire I did a check-in and he was good with me being forever retired.

    It is important to know how you will spend some of your time though. "Finding" 50-60 hours a week can be overwhelming. I walked 600 miles summer of 2022. I completed and donated or gifted 45 quilts from baby size to Queen size and I kept 1. I read 89 books. I spent 4 weeks traveling (15d on a dream trip w/hubster).

    Cold feet? Well, 3.5y later I still wonder if I should have worked a few more years, saved more $ etc. But our retirement funds are fine and I had reached the point where I didn't love going to work anymore. I draw a small allowance from my funds equivalent to 25% of what I last earned. (that includes paying for hubster's new SUV for 5y-our earnings were/are higher than interest so we got a loan).

    Hubster knows people who retired, lived waaaayyyy too high on the hog and HAD to go back to work. They returned to his workplace unhappy people. Very sad to see people doing that mid to late 60s but it is possible in some fields.

    The key to a peaceful retirement is to "know thyself" and have realistic plans for your life and your finances. I've tracked every penny since the year 2000. I have records/dates of any purchase, replacement in our homes/vehicles. We have savings set aside to cover those anticipated replacements for another 30 years. We've both developed hobbies and interests we can do into old age barring TOTAL physical collapse/illness.

    Most of all? Don't live in the past. Mom had me take her to walk w/walker 30 yards 2d before she died "because she could". "Be grateful for what you can do, not angry about what you can't do". Wise words from her when I was just 45yo.

    1. In just a handful of paragraphs you have covered some of the most important points of the internal debate regarding retirement. You will know when the time is right. You wake up one morning and say, I am done. I am ready. For you, Elle,your first goal of 50 simply didn't fit your desires and mindset at that point.

      Way too many look at all the time available and those dollars in investments and go crazy, as if all the hard work to save enough to retire could now be abandoned. They live the high life until reality, a softening economy, or some other issue jerks them back to planet earth. Then, they are faced with the difficult task of restarting a career, or settling for something that simply generates an income.

      Finding activities to fill all the available free time is a much bigger problem than many assume. The natural response is to over-commit, and then realize you have no more control over your time than you did will working. Balance is a must.

      And, absolutely yes on living in the past as something to avoid. Re-litigating decisions you made and avoiding new experiences leads to unfulfillment or unnecessary agtnger.

  3. Boy the "cold feet" when it comes to retiring is very familiar feeling. My wife and I are the same age and I had originally penciled in 60 as the time we would retire. Well 60 came and went. As 61 was approaching we were still dithering when my mother-in-law, age 86, was diagnosed with terminal cancer. during her final few months my mother-in-law had a heart-to-heart talk with my wife. She said to my wife "Promise me you'll retire as soon as you can, it goes by in a flash."

    My wife came back from her visit with her mother, told me what she said, and I agreed but said "Yes, we can retire, but let’s give it one more year just to have everything set up properly".

    We could probably have retired right away, financially we were fine, but the "cold feet" made me put it off though there was at least a firm date - June 30th the next year, My mother-in-law passed away soon afterwards and my wife was ready for retirement though I was still hanging back from committing. The months rolled on but I didn't really like what turned out to be my last job but I was soldiering on. It is so easy to keep on doing what you've been doing. You keep going in, they keep on paying you, and nothing changes.

    Then one day in January of the retirement year I was in a management meeting when there was clash and raised voices. I could feel it in the pit of my stomach that I couldn't take it any longer. I called my wife and said, "That's it".

    Still, I set my retirement date for May, so I still had a few months to go. When you live in Canada, and if you have a choice, January probably isn't the best month to retire. I informed my financial adviser of my retirement date, transitioned my role at work, and prepared for what felt like a big step into the unknown. I would be lying if I were to say it wasn't a little bit scary.

    My retirement date in May was about 6 weeks before my wife retired at the end of June and I had lots of projects lined up for those weeks which kept me busy, the summer had the grandchildren close by and in September we had a trip to Greece lined up. That January we planned to head south somewhere warm for the winter, we ended up on a lake in Mexico.

    Honestly right from day one, we knew we did the right thing. We've never looked back and have never been happier. The relationship between my wife and is the best it's ever been. People often say they'll miss the people at work, but I didn't. Other than one or two, most people at work are acquaintances rather than true friends. They quickly move on and so did I, the true friends stick around. I often say the retirement is the best job I've ever had and 8 years in it still is. As FDR said "the only thing we have to fear is...fear itself"

    1. "It is so easy to keep on doing what you've been doing. You keep going in, they keep on paying you, and nothing changes." Truer words were never spoken. It is so easy to get comfortable with an uncomfortable situation. Humans resist change even when they know, intellectually and emotionally, it is needed.

      Virtually everyone has hesitancies and false starts after 30 or 40 years of living a particular way. It is a giant leap into the unknown and there will be stumbles and mistakes. But, weren't there similar problems that came with a paycheck?

      Thanks, David. BTW, my daughter is on a business trip in Banff. She loves your country.

  4. When my time came, I had no cold feet, I had sheer panic. Because I did not retire by choice, I was "downsized" in a corporate reorganization. But I figured it out with -- well, I got a package, and I continued to work freelance, and my IRA & 401K were bolstered by the 2008 - 2022 bull market. So now I feel lucky, and my cold feet are more in the area of what you said in the beginning -- the weather and the extremities.

    1. I can relate. My consulting business began a slow ride to irrelevancy in late 1999. By mid 2001 it was obvious I had to infuse a lot of capital into rebuilding my practice, or shut it down. After years of 100,000 miles on planes, 150 days in hotels, and a marriage that needed more attention, the choice was obvious: STOP!

      I wasn't mentally ready to walk away from everything; it took me almost two years to get comfortable with my new life. I have never looked back or regretted the choices my wife and I made.

  5. The Energizer Bunny couple: you two have always amazed and impressed me with what you tackle year after year after year. I am 6 years older than hubby, and Betty is 8 years your senior, and yes, the energy decline is real. We traveled a lot when we were in our 50s and younger 60s, and very glad we did.
    A train trip to Portland and a river cruise from Paris are about our speed now. Hiking across Spain? Not so much.

  6. Nice warm feet here, but I'd like to reiterate what the above gentleman from Canada said, don't retire during winter! The isolation of winter can make cold feet frost-bitten.

    1. Ha...true, unless you are in Arizona, Florida, or southern California! I have lived in very cold climates...cabin fever is a real thing.

  7. What could have been a serious financial and lifestyle mistake turned out well because of planning for all possibilities. That is an important lesson for everyone. And, I will emphasize that moving shortly after retirement often carries unintended risks.

    A science writing class? That sounds fascinating.

  8. I was going to retire at the end of the 2010 school year. In January, being sick again, my doctor said I could not keep doing that. It was my 4th course of antibiotic since September (I was moved into a new room, under some duress). I went and talked to the boss to see what could be done, requested 1/2 days (thought less time of exposure might help) and his reply was nothing could be done. By the end of the day the 1/2 request had been refused and I walked back with a letter resigning as of that Friday (end of a semester). That was it. I was done!

    1. You had to take steps to preserve your health and live your life. Good for you. I imagine you never missed that toxic work environment.

  9. Alan and I had been planning for early retirement for decades, so I can't say that I had cold feet. We both had projects at home we were looking forward to and there were countless items on our travel bucket list. I liked every single job I had, but I still refer to retirement as my escape from the workforce.

    I do agree with many of the previous observations. Knowing yourself well makes the transition to retirement, a major transition in life, an easier one. Best to spend some time alone with yourself considering your expectations for the years ahead. Planning what your retirement will look like, at least initially, will ensure that you're retiring to something instead of from something. And I truly believe that when the time is right you'll know it. Change can be difficult and uncomfortable. It's much easier to let life roll along at a familiar pace, doing familiar things. Luckily, once retired, you have the chance to choose your own pace and your own priorities. That kind of control does much for the soul. Understanding the reality of your financial situation at all times is critical. As Tom mentioned, not all retirements are by choice. Knowing where you're at financially will allow you to make better decisions, and more quickly if need be. Flexibility is key. It's true that some decisions are irrevocable, but retirement isn't pass or fail. We have many chances along the way to change our direction, our location, our goals and our attitude. Life, itself, will change our perspective for us as needed. Time does, indeed, fly whether you're having fun or not, and the years in retirement seem to go quickly. If your plans for retirement are particularly robust, the more years you allow to accomplish your goals the better off you'll be. Memories are better than regrets. I do believe that there's a natural tendency to slow down as we age. I'm active and healthy, but I struggle with not being able to accomplish as much in a single day as I used to. Although if Tamara, of all people, is admitting to a drop in energy levels then I'm no longer going to consider myself a wimp if my body is delighted to crawl into bed at night!

    1. So much wisdom in this comment, Mary: "Retirement isn't pass or fail." Absolutely. It is an evolving lifestyle. ":Flexibility is key." It is so easy to become rigid in what you think you can or can't do. "Time does indeed fly by whether you are having fun or not.: Why not do all we can to enjoy the ride? James Taylor calls it the Secret O' Life.

      And, yes, on Tamara and Mike. They set the standard for making the absolute most of each day.

  10. When my husband and I started seriously discussing the “right time” to retire I began reading as much as I could about the joys and pitfalls of retirement. Your blog was one of my favorites.

    A few months after I started this research, my boss was indicted (insurance fraud) and I found myself with nowhere to go on Monday morning. Rather than find another job I decided to throw myself into the arduous task of downsizing the house. Having this daunting, 2 year project was a lifesaver for me. I didn’t feel the tug of wanting to work.

    After the house was sold we opted to rent a luxury apartment in the next state so that we could plan out our next moves deliberately. (My husband worked from home so all he needed was a good internet connection.)

    For 2 more years we discussed (endlessly) when the “right time” was for him to retire. He had major cold feet about pulling the plug on a lucrative career. We tentatively decided May 2023 would be good, but secretly, we both knew he wouldn’t walk away.
    Long story short, 2 weeks ago his entire department was laid off. My husband was offered a major 7 month severance package…..so he retired.

    His transition has been easier than I ever imagined. We still need to find a rhythm in our daily lives, but now we are looking forward to spending time at the gym, kayaking, reading and exploring our new state.

    Thank you for your excellent blog, Bob. I’m sure you are touching more lives than you could ever have imagined.

    1. Congrats on starting your new retired life together! The great thing about the instant date is that you've been discussing/planning for awhile. Wishing you many decades of kayaking/reading/exploring.

    2. Getting cold feet is normal after making major decisions. Just before my wedding 50 years ago I got cold feet. Yet, I've been happily married since that time. I got cold feet before purchasing my house 36 years ago, yet I'm still enjoying that home.

      However, I had absolutely no cold feet when I decided to retire. At that time I was barely 53 years old and did not have a million dollars in the bank. I never had a strong work ethic, and didn't miss the work nor my coworkers one bit. Prior to retirement I focused on knowing myself, building good relationships outside of work, hobbies, frugality, and good work/life balance. Those things paid big dividends when I retired. I've enjoyed retirement so much that often the joy is exhilarating.

    3. A deep appreciation to "anonymous" for the compliment. Thank you for being with me throughout this journey. For both you, and now your husband, your stories prove the importance of planning ahead of retirement. There will be constant adjustments, but going in with confidence and a direction are critical for handling what my come.

      I echo Elle's good wishes fort you two. And, Jake, a man who knows himself is a powerful creature. You had the tools and self confidence to bring you joy!

  11. I put in my notice to retire in 2008 after 35 years on the job. The 2008 financial meltdown was just ramping up and I did start to become anxious, as at the time it was unclear where 'the bottom" of the downturn would be. But I decided to continue on course and pulled the plug on the designated date. I was still anxious, and was having to assist family with some of the impacts on their finances. Two months into my retirement my former department head called and asked me if I would consider coming back and helping out part-time. I agreed and it turned out to be a good opportunity for a slower transition. A little additional income and a more gradual phaseout of my career. As a result of my experience I recommend to friends and family that they try a part-time, phased-in retirement if your employer is willing. If you have been a good employee with critical skills to offer they may be open to the idea. It will help to keep your feet warm and allow them to adapt to the new life more gradually and with confidence.

    Rick in Oregon

  12. I agree. If possible a trial run, slow transition into retirement provides a much easier shift into a very different lifestyle.

    It was a blessing that you were called back for part time help. That doesn't happen all that often.

  13. No one has ever accused me of being spontaneous, and my very deliberative approach to retirement fit very well with the personnel practices in academia. Because of the long timeline for college faculty hires, I had to complete the paperwork and commit to a retirement date more than a year before I would actually be done. By the time the planned date rolled around, I was more than ready!

    1. I had year to prepare but under very different conditions. I had fully expected to keep working until my late 50s, but that was not to be.

      If I had the choice, I would pick your scenario!

  14. Hi Bob!!! I have been reading your blog and some other American bloglers for several years, and what I see is that here in my country ( Colombia) retirees have a different vision of what retirement is . For us, jubilación, the word we use for retirement, is something that give us a lot of contenment.. So we identify completely when you say " start focusing on what you will gain from retirement and less on what you may be leaving behind " It is a wonderful thought!!!!!. We focus our attention in what is coming more than in what is part of our past. I mean it is a new life that is worth to live.
    Maria Elena

    1. Thank you, Maria, and hello to you and Columbia! I have read the word you mention before, and believe the English translation is jubilation, which strikes me as a perfect description. Life is for living, not just reminiscing.