Retirement is a phase of later adulthood that remains the ultimate goal for many professionals who dream of leaving the daily grind behind. But is retirement right for everyone? How do you know if retiring is the best option for you, or when to retire?
Deciding whether to retire and when involves many factors. Retirement impacts several areas of your life from your mental health and well-being to your finances and family life. Can you afford to retire, and will you continue to live a happy and fulfilling life as a retiree?
From 2002 to 2022, the average retirement age in the US increased from 59 to 61, even though most Americans reported to Gallup that they plan to work until age 66, according to US News & World Report.
For some older adults, the decision to retire is made for them by circumstances such as an illness or infirmity, which impacts their ability to continue working, a layoff, an early retirement package, or a family event. For others, the decision about if or when to retire can be a tough one to make.
Will the reality of retirement live up to the dream?
“Most people dream of retirement but then feel a sense of loss and purpose (afterward),” said licensed family therapist, Caroline Madden, Ph.D. “Men especially can fall into a depression after retirement. Why is that? It is theorized that because men identify so much with what they do for a living that once they retire, they lose self-worth.”
Madden shared that after her own father passed away, her mother, Irene Madden of Snellville, struggled as a widowed retiree, but channeled her energy into writing a book and volunteering.
“I’m proud of (my mother) for channeling her grief into writing,” Caroline Madden said. “She credits her volunteer work at the (Veterans of Foreign Wars) and the Aurora Theatre in Lawrenceville as keeping her feeling connected to her community.”
When deciding about retirement, the financial piece is often the initial focus, as adequate savings are required to maintain one’s quality of life beyond retirement.
“Obviously, financial resources are usually the first consideration,” said Paige Wilson, founder and CEO of Naborforce, a platform that matches older adults with trusted, vetted neighbors — “Nabors” — who are ready to lend a helping hand. Longer life expectancies have impacted the financial aspect of retirement.
“While increased longevity is great, it also comes with a price tag. Since Social Security was originally passed in 1935, life expectancies have increased significantly, especially for those who reach 65,” Wilson said. “That means that there are more years of retirement to fund. And unfortunately, also with that increased longevity comes an increase in chronic conditions, such as kidney disease, dementia, and diabetes, which can be costly.”
Financial concerns are only one piece of the retirement puzzle
In addition to the financial factors, future health and well-being are important to consider.
“Staying active is absolutely better for your health,” Wilson said, which can include working or tapping into your purpose in other ways.
“In addition, as COVID-19 taught us, isolation can be deadly,” she said. “Studies show that being lonely has the same negative impact on your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Whether you choose to keep working or retire, staying connected is very important to your health.”
Therefore, when considering retirement or staying in the workforce, Wilson advises older professionals to think about what keeps them going and what will keep them feeling fulfilled, passionate, and purpose-driven later in life.
“It is important to think about how you derive happiness and purpose … take an honest assessment of what drives your overall contentment,” Wilson said.
Consider what drives you
If you think you’re ready to retire, be sure to have a solid plan for how you’ll spend your free time post-retirement. Will you be happy to play endless rounds of golf for the rest of your life? Realistically, what will your day-to-day life be like?
“There is a thought that you’ll be able to have ‘more time with family’ (after retiring). However, both partners being at home can put stress on a marriage,” Madden said. “Also, there is the idea of visiting (more often with) adult children. But adult children often live far away and have their own busy lives.”
Like most major life decisions, retirement is a highly personal choice, and no one can make the decision for you. Changing times, advancements in new technology and unprecedented circumstances such as the recent pandemic are shaping life decisions in new ways and causing novel forms of retirement to emerge.
“From a practical perspective, most people choose to retire when they have saved and invested enough money to fund their lifestyle after leaving the workforce. However, the definition of retirement is evolving,” said Ari Parker, J.D., a Medicare expert and author of “It’s Not That Complicated,” a guide to help educate Americans on how to protect their health and wealth as they approach retirement.
“More clients I’ve spoken to in the past year are choosing to leave their traditional careers in pursuit of another job that offers them more flexibility and allows them to work reduced hours. The start of the pandemic sped up the use of technology, especially among America’s senior population. More people approaching the age of 65 are now taking advantage of the ability to work remotely so they’re choosing to stay in the workforce longer,” Parker said.
Additionally, he has recently observed a new trend growing in popularity, which he calls “unretirement.”
“More people who chose to leave the workforce have realized how much they miss working, so they come back to their previous positions or find a new position in a field they are passionate about,” Parker said. “Do what feels right for you. The right time to retire is such a personal decision that is influenced by a myriad of factors for every person including their personal and professional goals, health concerns, and financial situations.”
The decision to retire should not be taken lightly or made hastily. It’s important to be smart about it when considering the next steps, according to Parker.
“Retirement can be very expensive, especially when you factor in the current economy. The price of food, housing, and health care have all gone up. Take a close look at your portfolio, cut costs whenever possible, and find savings in reoccurring expenses.”
Parker suggests health care costs are one significant way for Medicare-eligible adults to save money. Yet while money is a key factor and requirement for retirement, it shouldn’t be the only factor driving the decision.
Wilson has found that, upon retirement, people truly enjoy paying it forward and giving back to their community, especially after spending decades working just to make ends meet.
“At Naborforce, we see and hear all the time that the ability to use one’s life skills, experience, and empathy to help a peer is incredibly rewarding. We have Nabors in their 60s, 70s and even some in their 80s lending a helping hand to other seniors,” she said.
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