Make Retirement Work: What to do when there's no more 9-to-5 calling
By STEPHEN DENNIS
SPECIAL TO THE P-I
Retirement! It may be something you elect to do or it may be thrust upon you in a “downsizing” or “layoff.” Either way, one day you are a productive member of the workforce and the next you are a retiree. Will you be ready?
Financial experts can help you salvage your financial plan from the market mess. But how about your nonfinancial plan? Assuming you don't or can't go back to work, what are you going to do with yourself? How do your plans mesh with your spouse's? Have you thought about it? Does it matter?
Think about it. While working, you typically have structure in your day and a sense of purpose. You spend time away from your spouse. You exert influence, earn praise and have a sense of identity. Friendships often revolve around work. The day you retire, much more than a paycheck goes away.
How do you prepare and execute your “nonfinancial” retirement plan? There are a few simple steps you can take. Consider these:
• Plan ahead (as in before the day you retire).
• Talk (as in communicate with your partner).
• Compromise (as in be willing to give a little).
• Get a space (as in a shop, office or a place to go).
• Get a life (as in find something to do).
• Know that nothing is something (as in reading a good book counts).
We'll look at these ideas one at a time.
Harry was shocked the day after he retired. No meetings were scheduled. His BlackBerry was silent. No one was asking his opinion. Harry shouldn't have been surprised. He was going through the same withdrawal symptoms thousands of retirees face each year.
There are simple ways to avoid Harry's problem. Learn what to expect in retirement before you get there. Talk to recent retirees. Companies, financial advisers and some colleges offer retirement planning seminars. Buy a good book on retirement planning.
“What we got here is failure to communicate.”
That memorable line from “Cool Hand Luke” aptly describes many post-retirement marriages. Two people, married for years, suddenly find themselves thrust together 24/7. The “half the income/twice the spouse” syndrome can begin to poison the relationship.
The new retiree often forgets that his or her spouse already has a life and a daily schedule. The retiree's presence during the day can be viewed more as an intrusion than a joy. The partners may find they have widely differing views on what constitutes an “ideal” retirement.
Upon retiring, Jeff planned to sell the house and move to their Whidbey Island home full time. But he forgot to tell his wife. They didn't move.
Sally retired and began using Dave's home computer during the day. But Dave used it for his home business and had never shared it before. They bought a second computer.
Larry assumed they would begin eating all their meals together. Betty's schedule didn't include feeding for Larry. They have dinner together.
These examples seem petty and insignificant. But if left to fester all can cause friction. In each case the offended spouse hoped the issue would resolve itself and avoided talking until the minor irritation grew into a major confrontation, resolved only when anger and frustration grew to a breaking point.
The suggested solution: Communicate in ways that work for you. One couple set aside Monday morning for a weekly “meeting” to review plans for the week. Another pair leaves their respective calendars in the kitchen so each knows what the other has planned. However you communicate, do it often enough that the little issues don't become big ones.
My way or the highway! That management style may work at the office, but it's harder to execute at home. Unless a relationship is indescribably harmonious or absolutely tyrannical, the transition into retirement will entail some compromise. Embrace it. The outcome may be better than you envisioned.
Who will take the car for service? Who will plan the vacations? Where will you vacation? Do you work out together or independently? Who pays the bills? When is “my” time on the computer?
Questions that seemed resolved over years of marriage surface again when a former worker comes home. Jerry thought he would have more time to pursue his own interests in retirement. Her response: “When do I get to retire?” In her view it was time to reassign the home management tasks.
Compromise should not be confused with “giving in.” It isn't a win-lose discussion. It's a timely assessment of a new reality.
Get a space
A psychologist could likely explain why we have a need for a place to call our own but, for whatever reason, a retiree needs one. It could be a desk, a shop, a sewing room, a craft area or even a rented space away from home.
The space may reflect the needs of a new hobby or of a second profession. If you take up quilting you need a place to spread out. If you decide to build a wooden kayak you need space to make a mess. If you are managing your investments you need an office area that you might not want to share with your spouse.
Short of space? Look at options. Take a table at the coffee shop. Visit the library. Find a desk at the nonprofit where you volunteer.
Unsure of what kind of space you'll need? Don't worry. It will evolve once you begin to sort out your post-retirement activities.
One final note about space: Don't mess with your spouse's space. No spouse wants to come home and hear, “Honey, I found a new way to optimize our closet and storage space,” or, “Dear, I've rearranged your things in the garage. Doesn't it look nice?” Don't go there.
Get a life
There is no excuse for boredom in retirement. Period. Sadly, not every retiree would agree with that statement. And many potential retirees live in fear of retirement because they dread “having nothing to do.” Studies show that staying physically and mentally active is good for your health.
Successful retirees tend to parrot a hackneyed line: “I'm so busy in retirement I don't know when I ever had time to work.” It's true. There is plenty to do out there if, and it's a big “if,” you find something that matches your interests.
Manage your investments. Remodel a house. Train for a marathon. Get a hobby; there are too many to list. Work for a nonprofit. Visit City Hall and find a board or committee to work on. Get active in a political party. Run for office. Take up reading. Mentor a child. If worse comes to worst, get a job.
Getting a life after retirement serves many purposes. You do something of value. You have a reason to get up in the morning. It gives you some time away so your spouse can nurture his or her interests.
NOTHING IS SOMETHING
Do nothing. What kind of advice is that?
Taken in context, it's sound advice. While post-retirement activity is encouraged, don't forget to stop and smell the roses. It is OK to have a quiet visit with a friend or a grandchild. It is OK to sit and read a book or meet a friend for coffee. After all, you may have spent your entire working career on a schedule treadmill. You're retired. It is OK to take it easy some of the time, provided you still remember the suggestions noted in this story.
Retirement is a time you can do things you didn't have time for in the past. Take advantage of the opportunity. The key is balance. Balance activity with relaxation. Balance recreation with stimulation. Balance time with your spouse with time away. Everyone is different. Find your balance point and enjoy your retirement.
Census numbers suggest that if you make it to 60 the odds are good that you will see 80, which means that nearly a third of your adult life may be spent in retirement. Relish it. Take advantage of it. Enjoy the time you can spend with your spouse while respecting the time you spend away. You may be pleasantly surprised where the retirement road takes you.
Stephen Dennis, a retired corporate executive, is a Bellevue-based writer.