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Preparing for Retirement

Experts give advice on preparing financially and emotionally for the retirement years.

Manage Your Emotions

In planning for retirement, assessing your psychological portfolio is just as important as examining your financial one, says Nancy K. Schlossberg, EdD, author of Retire Smart, Retire Happy: Finding Your True Path in Life, published by the American Psychological Association (APA).

Schlossberg says there are three basic areas of change at retirement:

  1. Change in identity. When people retire, they may have to alter how they define or view themselves. For example, instead of saying I work at the World Bank," a person will need to come up with something else. Some people have a hard time filling in the blank. People in positions of power and authority or those who are used to traveling a lot for work may have this experience.
  2. Change in relationships. Your interactions with people at work, the community, and at home will likely shift. Some workers who may have enjoyed talking at the water cooler will lose that same social outlet upon retirement. At the same time, home life may change with spouses or other family members having to adjust to the extra time together. Turf issues may surface. If both husband and wife retire at the same time, for example, issues may arise over who gets to use the telephone, computer, or TV. Or retirees and their adult children may have different expectations regarding family time or baby-sitting of grandchildren.
  3. Change in purpose. A person's mission in life alters at retirement. He is likely no longer expected to go to the office, construction site, or field on the same schedule.

Coping With Changes

To better cope with identity, relationship, and purpose changes at retirement, experts have the following advice:

  • Retire to something. Prior to retirement, think about what you would like your identity, relationships, and purpose to be. Blazer says people who are most happy with retirement tend to remain active. Some retirees have found satisfaction in traveling, playing golf, volunteering, serving as a consultant, or in taking on a part-time job.
  • Practice being retired. Begin to make acquaintances outside of work and take up activities you expect to have after retirement. Take a few vacation days off work to see what it's like to be at home, suggests Blazer. If you're thinking of becoming a world traveler, take a few international trips beginning five to 10 years before retirement. It is, in fact, not a bad idea to start thinking of your identity, relationship, and purpose changes as early as a decade before retirement.
  • Initiate an expectations exchange. Don't wait until conflicts arise to talk about expectations with spouses, children, grandchildren, parents, and friends. If there are disagreements over how often you'll baby-sit grandkids, for example, try to negotiate an agreeable solution. If a solution cannot be reached, try working with a professional, which may be a mental health expert.
  • Transfer your skills. Look at retirement as an opportunity to start a new chapter in your life. This may mean continuing what you have been doing on a different scale, or doing something completely different. For people who were in positions of authority before retirement or for those who traveled a lot, the adjustment may be more challenging. In this case, try taking on other activities that use your leadership or travel skills.

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