Welcome to retirement. Now what?

Some people focus too much on saving and not enough on planning for life after work, financial experts say.

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

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    Adjusting: Julianna Quinn has worked part time at New York's Binghamton University since retiring from a full-time position there last August. 'I still need that structure,' she says.
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As a financial planner who counsels current and prospective retirees, Kelly Campbell emphasizes the importance of saving for the later years. But as he helps clients consider their future cash flow, he is often surprised by their lack of attention to another kind of planning: How they'll fill their days.

"People are focusing 80 percent of their time on the numbers – how much money they'll need in retirement, and where it's going to come from," says Mr. Campbell, founder of Campbell Wealth Management in Fairfax, Va. "Unfortunately, they're spending only 20 percent of their time thinking about what they'll do with all that time. A lot of people get in retirement and don't know what to do."

As the first boomers turn 62 this year and begin leaving the workforce, that challenge – figuring out what to do when work no longer fills a week – will loom large for many people. So great is the need that Campbell now devotes his first meeting with new clients to nonfinancial subjects.

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"It's one of the most amazing conversations I ever have with clients," he says. "I find out more about them in that meeting than I'd ever find out in any traditional financial planning meeting."

That information, along with their wish list of retirement activities, can help people determine how much money they'll need to sustain their chosen lifestyle.

Campbell suggests that some who are planning their postcareer years could reverse the 80/20 ratio, spending 80 percent of their time considering future activities and 20 percent planning their finances.

In recent months, one woman told Campbell that she dreams of opening a deli on the beach in retirement. Another woman, an attorney trained in biology, wants to take children on nature walks.

While many women have long lists of things they want to do in this next stage of life, their husbands often don't.

"It's really hard to get the men to focus that way," Campbell says. "They focus on the financial." He listened as one wife spent 20 minutes talking about her plans. By contrast, her husband "couldn't come up with anything other than wanting to be sure the kids are taken care of."

Some men talk confidently about having a "honey-do" list of projects around the house. But, Campbell cautions, "Once that's done, they're lost."

When Peter Kilduff retires on Feb. 1 as director of university relations at Central Connecticut University in New Britain, Conn., he knows his "honey-do" list will be waiting. "I think every man in retirement faces this," he says with a laugh. But he also looks forward to continuing a long-running part-time pursuit as a history writer.

Referring to retirement, Mr. Kilduff says, "My wife and I have been talking about this for a long time." Each of them has separate outside activities, and they enjoy shared interests.

From time to time, Kilduff has watched retirees struggle with too much free time. "I've made a little mental note, that's not going to happen to me," he says.

Even women with lists sometimes find anticipation tempered with apprehension as they approach the end of their career. In July, Roberta Winter of Des Plaines, Ill., plans to leave her position as outpatient care manager at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago. She will begin collecting Social Security in October.

"It's been a job I've enjoyed greatly, but it's time to pass the baton," Mrs. Winter says. "I'm looking forward to new challenges, but I have some anxiety about what those challenges might be."

She and her husband, Edmund, a rabbi, started saving for retirement when their youngest child graduated from college. They also started thinking about what they might do. Her list includes studying and volunteering in Israel, spending more time with out-of-town grandchildren, and traveling. He wants to study in Israel and fish with his children and grandchildren.

Like an increasing number of current and future retirees, Winter hopes to maintain professional ties. She would like to teach a course at a local university's school of social work. She is also exploring the possibility of continuing in a limited role with her current employer, although "that may not come to pass."

One place where continuing connections are possible is Binghamton University in Binghamton, N.Y. Six months ago the school created a program that invites retired employees to return for special projects or part-time work.

Sylvia Hall, who retired Dec. 31 as assistant vice president for human resources at the university, now works part time in its training center.

When the school recently surveyed former employees who have been retired three years or more, many of the 170 respondents lamented their lack of preparation. "Many said, 'I now realize I needed a plan beyond planning for the money,' " Ms. Hall says.

She finds that retirement comes in phases. "The first six months, you think, 'Oh thank goodness, I'm free.' Then reality sets in. We're funny creatures. We wait and wait for retirement, then when it arrives it sometimes isn't at all as we envisioned it."

To help bridge the gap between dreams and reality, the university offers a preretirement education program. "It's more than the finances," Hall says. "We help people think about how to be productive after retirement. This is something organizations are going to have to pay a lot more attention to as we try to help people through this transition."

Julianna Quinn, who retired in August after 23 years as a secretary at the university, now works part time in the same department. "I still need that structure," she says. "I want to be helpful to people."

When Ira Schwartz was 52, he retired as managing director of a large advertising agency in New York. "I had always wanted to retire young but never thought about what I wanted to do," he says.

After six months of unstructured activity, he discovered the National Executive Service Corps on the Internet. In the 4-1/2 years since then, he has joined other former executives who serve as volunteer consultants to nonprofit groups. "There's a lot of satisfaction," Mr. Schwartz says. "You get to use your skills and keep fresh. You get to give back to the community."

Without plans, Schwartz adds, "There's a certain loneliness that can creep in. You lose day-to-day contact with people. People realize there's a need to have human interaction."

Some inertia in planning stems from an unwillingness to embrace new options, says Carol White, coauthor of "Live Your Road Trip Dream." "So many people are afraid of retirement. They mask it with the 'I love what I'm doing' line, or the 'What am I going to do?' line, but the truth is they are afraid of change."

As vice chairman of Kanaly Trust Co. in Houston, Jeffrey Kanaly observes generational differences in attitudes toward planning. "Those in their 50s are thinking more about doing things with their lives in retirement than those in their 60s," he says. "A lot of them have seen what their parents did or didn't do."

For every generation, Mr. Kanaly's advice about anticipating a new stage boils down to a few sentences. "It's not something you wait until 65 to do," he says. "If you plan for the transition, it's not as difficult to make up your mind what you want to do. It's basically just paying attention to what you want your future to be."

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