Lessons on retirement from the experts: retirees
Trudy and Paul Schuett are still a decade away from retirement. But that defining event has been on their minds, at least indirectly, ever since they moved from Detroit to Yuma, Ariz., in their mid-30s. Surrounded by older neighbors, friends, and relatives, they absorbed, as if by osmosis, the positive and negative comments people made about retirement choices.Skip to next paragraph
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"It's totally changed our outlook on retirement," says Mrs. Schuett, a library aide. "We're already planning right now what we want to do. We're talking it over. Do we want to stay here? Do we want to move up North to be with our son? A lot of people have regretted leaping in without really seeing where they're going."
As the first baby boomers turn 60 and approach a new stage beyond full-time careers, retirement advisers are trying to spread an important message: Leaping in without planning could lead to uninformed or impulsive decisions and the possibility of mistakes and regrets. Although some baby boomers are already considering future finances, housing, and activities, others are taking a mañana approach, largely ignoring these issues.
"Many people don't give any thought to retirement until they get there," says Bruce Juell, who leads retirement-planning seminars at the University of Southern California. "They think, 'I'll love this. I don't have to get up in the morning. I don't have to shave. I can play golf, go on trips.' But after a few months, they're bored. If they had a choice, they'd go back to work."
In an age of shrinking pensions, rising healthcare costs, and increasing longevity, many current and future retirees rank money as their biggest concern. In a MetLife study released last month, nearly two-thirds of 55- to 59-year-olds and almost half of 60- to 70-year-olds wish they had done better financial planning.
"The people who are most regretful are those who have retired without benefits," says David DeLong, who conducted the study. Although he notes that retirement planning is more complicated today than in the past, he adds, "It isn't always the people who are richest who are happiest. Some people living on fairly limited incomes are actually having the time of their lives. Income is not the only predictor of satisfaction in retirement."
Anne Hartman of Truro, Mass., a retired career counselor who now advises retirees, hears other kinds of dissatisfaction. "The most regrets seem to come from people who enter retirement abruptly, without daydreams, thoughts, or plans," she says. "They haven't talked with their life partner to learn what is on his or her mind. They have neglected to explore what might satisfy them. They retreat. Or they go into the community with unrealistic expectations about work, about volunteering, about community opportunities, only to be disappointed."
Mr. Juell, author of "The Retirement Activities Guide," urges people to "find a need and fill it." A passionate advocate for productivity in the later years, he sees "a lot of wasted talent." He even proposes that the government appoint an unpaid "retirement productivity czar" to encourage involvement in meaningful volunteer work.
Some people learn from their parents' mistakes. "In a typical case, their parents had put off retirement, and then it was too late," says Robert Weiss, author of "The Experience of Retirement." "They had plans to travel or maybe just take it easy. But by the time they retired, they didn't really have good years. People who could tell that story about their parents used it as an admonition to themselves: 'Don't you repeat that.' "