Retirement—Dealing With Uncertainty And Fear

If you are like most people, you find comfort in a certain level of stability and routine. After all, during years of working and child-raising, routine is the name of the game. You get up, shower, dress, eat breakfast and off to work. Days flow into weeks, weeks flow into months, years and decades—before you recover from the whiplash of what-the-heck-just happened, retirement is staring you square in the face.

Retirement can be a source of great anxiety and uncertainty. Think about it, perhaps for the first time, you are confronted with unallocated swathes of time, expenses that can vary greatly and the realization that life doesn’t go on forever. Fear can spread like crabgrass while you consider whether you’ll outlive your nest egg. Going from the accumulation phase of your life to the dispersion can be emotionally challenging and the “what if’s” can become debilitating if you let them.

Here are a few tips to help reset your thinking: 

  1. Create a 5-year vision statement. Include your thoughts about your lifestyle, important occasions, your social life, your intellectual pursuits, your health and your community. Really write about what gives you the greatest joy and satisfaction.
  1. Imagine a typical week in retirement. What will get you out of bed in the morning? What is your purpose? If you’re thinking, I’m going to sleep until 11 AM every day, know that probably won’t last too long. And then the panic sets in. How will you fill your days? Think social outings, learning opportunities, babysitting duties, part time jobs, yoga classes, travel or long walks in the neighborhood. Regardless of what ultimately fills your calendar, make sure it’s meaningful for your health, emotional well-being and happiness. If you’re struggling to find things to do, it might be time to do some soul searching, join a group or pick up a copy of “Don’t Retire, Rewire” (by Jeri Sedlar and Rick Miners) to get your juices flowing.
  1. Understand your current money situation. Know the division between your fixed costs and your discretionary expenses. Create a list of your outflows (expenses) and designate three columns: Fixed Costs (rent, loan repayments), Discretionary-Slightly Controllable(food, utilities), Discretionary-Very Controllable (vacations, entertainment).
  1. Decide which insurance coverage you’ll require. Going forward, think beyond your employee benefits to plans such as Medicare supplements or long-term care. What risk can you bear vs. the risk you choose to transfer—for a cost—to insurance? Weigh the difference between low deductible-high premium and high deductible-lower premium options.
  1. Create a spending plan that focuses on what you value most. Would you rather put your resources into extensive travel instead of maintaining a larger residence? Think, I want “this” more than “that”.
  1. Recognize that transitions are tough for most people. If you are one who finds this especially difficult, find a therapist who can help you work through the transition. Consider the idea that the pain of remaining where you are is greater than the pain of working through your situation to a satisfying conclusion.

Retirement is “your time” but that doesn’t mean it’s easy or simple. Like learning any new skill, it takes the willingness to learn, a little patience and the real desire to get through the bumps to enjoy a more satisfying and meaningful life.