windy road

It seems like retirement is such a big issue right now. I’ve helped my parents a little in choosing retirement options by helping them figure out which were best for their situation. However, there doesn’t seem to be much good information out there. It’s mostly fear and scare articles written by journalists who have little or no financial knowledge. I’ve read all too many opening lines such as “the stakes are high and the issues complex…” Oooh. Really? It might feel that way with a impending retirement, but if you take a step back, breath, and think about this for second, it’s rather simple and straight forward.

Retirement for anyone breaks down into three concerns: finances, enjoyment, and general fear. Finances is pretty obvious, you need and want $X for retirement – how else can you retire if you don’t have enough money. Enjoyment is pretty obvious, you’re entering a new part of your life that’s there precisely for your complete enjoyment – no one telling you want to do tomorrow morning, or when to wake up (besides your significant other at least). The fear involved should be obvious too, but there are many facets, most bad, but some are actually good – fear of your financial situation and having enough money, fear of finding enjoyment after a lifetime of having outside objectives define your day, and fear of the unknown such as the impact on the stock market, or whether social security will hold up, or any number of other issues.

I think the most common problem for baby boomers when thinking about retirement is the over obsession with your financial picture. As with everyone else, there’s already the basic misunderstanding of fiancial matters, but then there’s the added fear of a new financial situation – no job bringing in new money. However, this is probably the easiest part of your whole retirement because you can either educate yourself by reading books or websites, or by talking to a professional. In the end, run some numbers and do some planning. If you don’t have enough money, then maybe you don’t go into full retirement, but the bigger question is, “what is enough?” because that depends on what you want to do. What kind of enjoyment and activities do you expect to do and want to do?

The second most common problem comes at this point, “oh my. What do I actually want to do? I’ve got 10+ years of retirement that I have to plan out.” Wrong. You have 10+ years of retirement to LIVE. Planning your finances with enough flexibility for many different options is relatively easy. The key is keeping it simple. Don’t over plan, and don’t look at too many options. Make a check list of things that would be great to do in the next year, two, or three. Get an idea if that’s financial feasible. Also, most importantly of all, pick things that will have meaning to you. This might not be an easy task if you’ve never really thought about this much before.

Finding meaning is the real dilemma of retirement. Not social security, not the stock market, and not your kids’ inheritance (this doesn’t apply to you mom and dad – inheritance is numero uno for you). A life defined by your work, and now what? Work had some level of meaning, and through that meaning, you derived (hopefully) a high level of fulfillment and enjoyment. Now, you have to find that meaning from some place else, or so you think.

If work has really been a place for meaning and fulfillment, then there is no requirement to stop working. Maybe partial retirement is a better option even if you have enough money. Remember, with the workforce getting smaller as baby boomers retire, baby boomers will be in growing demand. You have a wealth of knowledge and experience that’s still valuable. Either way, partial retirement or no, the key is finding meaning, and if you aren’t finding ways to give back either to your community or elsewhere, then you might find retirement lacking.

All of this might be a little scary because it’s a part of life that’s new. Personally, I think that should be exciting. Life is uncontrollable and unpredictable, so when something new comes up there is something great in that, especially after a lifetime of semi-predictable work. The freedom in retirement is a little scary, but has a lot of potential. After 40+ years of work, when was the last time you thought about the potential in your life like when you graduated from school? Potential eventually turns into fulfillment (or not), but now that’s back again, and should be a fun thing to deal with.

Brining this to a close, you shouldn’t be overly worried about the financial situations that are outside of your control. Baby boomers are the most powerful political group out there, and if you think the government is going to let social security fall apart, then you’re forgetting how influential your generation is. Additionally, many people are worried about the stock market. With so many people moving their money around and potentially getting out of the market, what will happen your money in the market? Easy, as you and other retirees take your money out, you’re going to spend it on something. You’re not taking the money out and hiding it under your bed. Your money is going directly into another company and providing economic growth somewhere, and that is what the market thrives on. The circle of money will continue, and baby boomer retirement money will leave your hands and move into the hands of those worthy of that money. I expect the stock market to do quite well in that situation, so don’t worry about a thing you can’t actually control, but instead get started on what has meaning to you.