Some thoughts for those contemplating retirement
February 15, 2021
Just like there’s no universal savings amount that everyone should reach to secure their retirement (“What’s my number?”), neither is there a universal retirement age for everyone. The fact that your friends are all retired doesn’t mean it’s the right decision for you, and vice versa if none of them are retired but you think it’s your time.
Even the fact that your spouse is retired doesn’t mean you should take the leap. (Regarding the latter, the opposite might be true, but more on that below.)
A dream fulfilled?
For many retirees, retirement is a dream fulfilled. For others, less so. If you believe retirement is all you fantasize it will be, spend a moment reading a sobering paragraph in a Wall Street Journal article titled: The Case Against Early Retirement1:
“… in our rush to leave the office, we don’t realize that retirement also has a downside, especially over the long term. Many retirees indulge in unhealthy behaviors. They become sedentary and watch too much television. They eat too much. They drink too much. They smoke too much. Without the purpose of fulfilling work, retirees can feel adrift and become depressed. Without the camaraderie of their co-workers, retirees risk becoming socially isolated. Without the intellectual stimulation that work can provide, retirement can accelerate cognitive decline.”
While it’s true that we can’t always dictate when we’ll retire due to our health, job security, and other related issues, we may have the ability to decide the extent to which we want to work by securing a part-time (or full-time) position even if our careers end. There are at least two obvious benefits from doing so: health and financial. In fact, the aforementioned Journal article cites data showing a “32% change in the five-year mortality risk for men in their early 60’s when retirement is delayed.” And let’s not forget about the boost in future income by working longer and not starting to deplete your assets sooner.
But what if you think you’re ready?
Like professional athletes, sometimes we wait too long to decide when to retire. A psychotherapist writing in the AARP Bulletin2 posts seven questions that every potential retiree should consider to help determine whether he or she is prepared to trade “the familiarity and stimulation of a job for an unstructured life of redefinition.”
- What will you miss from work? The challenge? The social life? Your authority?
- Will not working make you feel less vital?
- Do you have an agenda for filling your time with your choice of hobbies and interests?
- What will make you rise each day as excited as you were at the high points of your career?
- What ambitions are you waiting to fulfill?
- How do you think your being around the home will affect your partner, if you have one? What does your partner think?
- To what extent will you be in service to other family members once you retire? How do you feel about that?
Should you retire with your partner?
Whose retirement is it? Are you jointly retiring? After living separate work lives for decades, are you both prepared to live together from sunrise to sunset? Every day. To the end of (your) time.
From a financial perspective, it certainly makes sense if one partner continues to work. Obviously, there is considerably less strain on a budget when one income continues and smaller withdrawals (if any) are taken from savings and retirement accounts. Added bonuses to working a little longer might also include employer-provided healthcare and employer contributions to a 401(k) plan. And let’s not forget the financial benefits of delaying Social Security and getting a paycheck during a bear stock market. Aside from the above, Anne Tergesen writes in the Wall Street Journal3 there are other potential consequences when couples stagger their retirement dates.
A study from Harvard Medical School reveals that women especially have a lot to gain by working longer.”…women generally reach their peak earnings in the mid-50s… while men tend to see their earning power decline throughout their 50s.” With continued higher earnings comes higher Social Security, as higher-earning years replace lower-earning years for Social Security calculations.
Aside from financial benefits, staggering retirements means that couples don’t have to both settle into their new routines at the same time. Interests may change in retirement, and each partner may need time to explore new challenges and focuses. Retiring together may impinge on each partner’s independence, potentially leading to conflict.
What about a new rhythm for chores around the house? Should the working spouse be required to continue the same activities as his/her newly retired partner, who may have more time on his/her hands to complete more tasks? Will the working spouse look upon his/her partner as no longer carrying his/her weight by not earning any income? What if the working spouse no longer wants to work; will that bitterness be felt in their relationship?
Suffice it to say that if you have the opportunity to choose when you want to retire, plan ahead. If you’re in a relationship, retirement impacts your partner as much as it will impact you.