Navigating the financial and emotional gamble of retirement.


For some, it’s a decision you’re weighing right now. For others, it’s something in a galaxy far, far away. And still for others, “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” is the chosen declarative mantra. Figuring out the ideal time to retire, when exactly to stop earning a full-time living, is a biggie.
The Social Security Act of 1935 helped with that decision by making 65 the target age. It was the first insurance program of its kind to pay retired workers a regular income with funds acquired via taxation. Today, an individual’s “full retirement age” is determined by birth year, typically falling between 66 and 67 years of age to receive full benefits.
Unfortunately, social security didn’t account for the fact that we are now living longer and having fewer children, resulting in more retirees taking money out of the system and fewer workers putting money in. Recent projections put social security running out by the year 2035. That means that now, more than ever, we need take retirement planning into our own hands.
The most obvious question to ask in determining when to retire is: “Do I and will I have enough money?” This calculation takes a lot into consideration and, lamentably, there is no magic formula. Ideally, as soon as you enter the workforce you should start planning for when you will eventually exit the workforce. Few people have this foresight.
“Financial planning and retirement planning is a whole package. It’s a balance of current living versus future living,” offers Lea Bowman, an advisor for Mutual of Omaha. Start the process early, but if that didn’t happen, start right now. Best courses-of-action will be different for a 25-year-old vs. a 55-year-old, but the most important part is initiating the conversation.
Inform yourself of savings and investment options (401k, mutual fund, IRAs, 529), understand available insurance policies and company benefits packages. Take the time to evaluate your lifestyle, your health, your travel desires, your penchant for “toys.” Ask probing questions: How do I want to live now? How do I want to live in 10 years? In 20 years? What can I afford? What can I regularly save? Generally speaking, you need approximately 70% of your income to live comfortably in retirement. But what does “live comfortably” mean to you?
It’s a good habit to go through this self-audit annually and make financial changes accordingly. If there is a major life change – the birth of a child, a job change, a move, a critical health diagnosis or even something as simple as a raise – your retirement plan may need a complete overhaul.
Accommodating all of the “what-ifs” is an exhausting, but necessary, exercise. “I tell my clients, let’s plan for what you want. But let’s also plan for what happens if something changes,” Bowman states. Traveling down all possible avenues along the way assures the freedom of choice in the future.
Being prepared financially is one thing, a huge thing. Being prepared emotionally deserves equal consideration. It’s a lot easier to deal with the emotional aspects if you’ve solved the financial questions. “Retirement is seen as an opportunity for a better emotional quality of life and a chance to redesign one’s priorities – both of which work better in the absence of financial risk,” says Johanna Jones, a licensed professional counselor in Blacksburg.
Thinking of the loved ones who will be most affected by your planning, or lack thereof, triggers the heartstrings. Historically, parents have shielded children from financial portfolios and future planning. But when it comes to retirement, letting them peek behind the curtain will help avoid needless surprises and unwelcome burdens.
“You have to have the talk,” Bowman declares. “Adult children need to be more aware of what their parents have in place, and our children need to know what we have planned.”
Once all the dust settles and the work-a-day band-aid has been ripped, what then? What happens mentally when there is nothing but empty days ahead? For a lot of folks their identity and purpose are tied to a career. A feeling of loss, disconnect and a certain amount of anxiety are completely normal. But if those emotions become hard to shake or the threat of depression is knocking, therapy is always an option.
Jones adds: “I would encourage retirees to define what qualities have made them good at what they do, and what specific things about their employment they like best – social contact, respect, solving problems, or whatever. Then we’d talk about specific ways to transfer those things into what they can do when they’re retired.”
The tiniest shift in mindset can make all the difference. Sure, retirement marks the end of one chapter but it’s also the beginning of another. Reconnect with old friends, travel, volunteer or continue to work part-time. Maybe even start a new bucket list. Take time to understand who you are in the absence of a career and embrace a new routine. Allow yourself to be proud of your accomplishments thus far and, more importantly, give yourself space to look forward to the future.
Being successful at retirement may warrant the same amount of thought, effort and productivity that being successful at a job required. Only for this round, the benefits reaped belong solely to your bottom line. Relax and enjoy them. You earned it.


Text by Nancy S. Moseley

Nancy S. Moseley is a writer from Blacksburg who more closely aligns with the: “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” approach to living.