The way Australians approach retirement planning is in desperate need of review. If you Google “Retirement in Australia”, the first page is filled with:-
- Advertisements for places to live in retirement,
- A Government site that talks about pensions and taxation,
- A few sites about superannuation schemes.
- Some financial planning sites.
Not one mentions that you can retire as wealthy as you like, in the most beautiful villa on the Gold Coast, (why would you retire anywhere else?) but, if that’s all you have, you will live in poverty! If your relationships are a train wreck, if some of your kids don’t speak to you, if you have no friends, if you health goes down the drain, or you miss out on a list of other intangibles, you will join a long line of miserable people who are retired. The truth is, retirement today is nothing like it was when your parents or grandparents retired and yet, much of the thinking, that we use to prepare for it have not changed at all.
If for example, I ask you to tell me what you think of when I say “retirement planning” almost 100% of you will say “it’s all about getting your finances right” or similar. Some of you might say “it’s about finding things to do or places to go.” A few of you will tell me “I really don’t plan to retire – ever”. With the exception of the last one, which is a denial of a coming reality, all of those things are appropriate, yet, all those factors pale in insignificance compared to things that ensure you have a great life.
So what should soon-to-be retirees look at? I think the first thing we should do is to invest first and foremost in ourselves. Robert Laura says “ for every hour you invest in traditional retirement planning an equal amount of time should be spent on things such as replacing your work identity, establishing a healthy and active lifestyle, staying socially connected and involved, resolving relationship issues and concerns, as well as making the most of your God-given skills, talents, and wisdom.” *
When I retired, everything familiar changed in the course of a weekend. On Friday, June 28, I went to the same job I had gone to for just under a decade. I had a weekend just like every other one for my entire working life. Then on Monday, July 1, I woke up to an entirely different role in life. I had to learn how to fill my day when no one was expecting me to be at their meeting. It was a relief not having the pressure of preparing for my week and making sure everything worked out but after a while, not having anyone telling me what to do or where to go, became an issue in itself. I needed to learn an entirely new set of skills.
Unlike many others, we didn’t choose to move when we retired so we were able to maintain our social network – it’s just that the people we knew, and especially the ones we worked with, had other lives and we were no longer included in their thinking. But, we didn’t have the stress of preparing to move. That in itself takes enormous time and energy and the emotional toll is even greater.
Writing for Market Watch under the heading “This first year of early retirement has been one of the hardest of my life” Chris Mamula writes “We’re now a year into my early retirement and five months into our move. I don’t know when we’ll feel settled. We’re not there yet.”**
So if retirement planning is the problem, what is the solution? I believe there are some issues you must spend time working out before you retire or at least early on in your retirement:-
- You will spend a whole lot more time with your spouse. Someone said “at last in retirement we have our finances sorted out but we fight a lot more than we ever have.” I think it’s wise to plan which part of the week you will spend together and which part you will spend doing your own thing. If you can’t figure out what that means for you, try fishing, or golfing or going to the men’s shed. Whatever you choose, make sure it’s something that you enjoy and if you don’t have any idea of what that looks like, try everything you can find until you can figure that out or look here for other suggestions. It’s also important that you try and sort out any issues there may be between you. If you need someones help in doing that for goodness sake get help. It won’t fix itself. You can contact your local counselling service or Relationships Australia may be able to help. This may take a while to work things through and it may cost a few dollars but it will be money well spent and should give you years of return on your investment.
- You need to examine your social network and work out how much time you should spend with friends. If you are a part of a church, that’s reasonably easy since they usually have structured meetings – not just on Sunday but through the week. Then, when you find the group that you think suits your needs, make sure you go and get through the first couple of weeks of feeling awkward because it will get better.
- You need to find a work replacement idea. Not an income replacement idea, but a meaningful employment idea. You could become a volunteer somewhere. There are many causes looking for volunteers and some of those roles can be very meaningful.You could become a grandparent and look after your grandkids. You could offer to help your church and give your skills to the cause of that matter to you.
- You must figure out how to keep your health on track. For me that meant joining the local gym. My wife got involved in the council sponsored seniors classes, but I just do a circuit each week (well most weeks). You could choose just to walk, which is a whole lot cheaper but requires commitment – especially when its cold or raining. You could take up rowing, or sailing or any number of active pursuits.
If you want to read more, have a look at this website https://www.retirementproject.org. But whatever you choose to do, make sure you do something about it today and do something other than planning to do something!