Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Retirement for Boomers: The Fitting Room Method

Sometimes, the message for Boomers is mixed in with a variety of other, often unrelated topics. But if you are like me, they exist in a subsurface thought, an attempt by my subconscious to always be searching for some clue, some answer, some key to this puzzle. 

Last night on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart, Charles Barkley, basketball star turned sportscaster offered his thoughts on retirement. Granted, professional athletes are hardly the poster boys and girls of those seeking to retire. They have made huge sums of money in a relatively short amount of time and retirement usually means a second, perhaps third career managing that money, be it a car dealership or real estate investments or sportscaster.

So they aren't usually who writers such as me profile as "retirees". And he wasn't directly speaking to Boomers. But he did make one comment that was noteworthy: "I was bored out of mind by the third month of retirement". (I'm paraphrasing of course but it was as close to the quote as I intend to get.) We spend so much of our time and mental effort focusing on the goal of retiring at whatever age we pick, that we seldom realize that for many of us, a whole lifetime may await us when we retire.

I know what you are already thinking: yes, you might live for an additional twenty or thirty years after retiring but they are hardly years of increasing quality. And as one well-to-do acquaintance recently suggested: "rich people never retire". So when I suggest that whole lifetime awaits you in retirement, the suggestion either falls on deaf ears or scares you more than you want to admit.

In reality, you will live at least an additional ten years after whatever date you pick to retire. While 75 or 80 doesn't seem to be that old, at least in the conversations I have overheard, it is. You are not the person you once were and the mechanized hum of that inner world of you is not humming along the way it did when you were forty. In fact, when you were forty you barely heard it. At sixty, your insides send you regular messages. At eighty, I imagine its a cacophony of sounds.

So have you asked yourself what retirement will really be like, beyond the dreams you may have harbored for most of your life? Have you equated what your body has told you about those dreams in some sort of altered wish? 

Probably not. What you may have thought would have been the ideal place to retire, the ideal lifestyle to live, may no longer be what you are capable of doing.

So you should try it on for size. First, the dream place. Warm climates attract your tired bones with thoughts of heat and sun and outdoor activities you may have enjoyed for week long vacations while you were working. Resort living is not the same as permanent residency. Many warmer, resort like climates offer an enticing postcard view of how you might end your days. But proximity to good medical care - even if you think you are healthy - should be a consideration.

Hawaii, for example is warm and tropical and part of the US. Medical care there is good. But the cost of living on the islands, and that includes medical, food and utilities, is almost twice the cost of living based on the whole of the contiguous US. Accumulate a month's worth of vacation and spend it in your dream locale before you retire. Many resort locations have rentals that are more residential and less beachfront. Families often seek these places out in the hopes of saving a few bucks. Compared to what it might cost to live there full-time, you will get a fairly accurate picture of the day-today expenses.

I have been an advocate for second careers for as long as I can remember. So try your second career out now. You may like where you live. It is close to friends and family, places you are familiar with and activities you enjoy. So take a month off and stay at home. Mr. Barkley said that by month three he was going crazy. And he had a good sum of money put away to indulge in whatever whim passed his way. You won't have that luxury - you'll be on a fixed income. A month should be enough on the average income to understand what you can do and what you can't afford to do. It will also give you the chance to work at career two.

Which brings me to the last part of my try it on for size. Your income will be fixed. Although in reality, it will be diminishing, which is fixed with minuses. Inflation, taxes and insurance will play a much more major role when it comes to your income. Yes it might be the same amount each month but each passing month will take a little piece of it. Try this concept on for size.

You could do a lot of positive things for yourself in 2012. But pretending to be retired, if only for a month, will give you some clear understanding of what retirement, at least the early years of it, will be like. Doing it while you are working gives you time to alter the course and embrace a new life while still living in your old one.

Paul Petillo is the managing editor of and a fellow Boomer


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