People fear the unknown. You are one of them?
Think about how you felt when you started a new job. Were you a little anxious when you first walked into the office?
Or how about your first child? Did you wonder if he had what it takes to be a good father?
While they didn’t disappear entirely, with each new job, with each new baby, those fears grew less and less.
Look at retirement the same way, except you’ll probably only do it once. If you are like the others the thought of retiring stresses you out. Ironically, once you cross the threshold and move into retirement, you’ll find that life becomes easier. a recent survey shows that more retirees reported living comfortably than non-retired expecting to live comfortably.
What is your secret?
Why do retirees worry less about retirement than non-retirees?
Because you don’t know what retirement will look like until you actually retire, it’s natural to feel anxious as your retirement date approaches. Why does the future pose such a dilemma?
“There’s a lot more uncertainty,” says Derek Sall, founder and leader of Life And My Finances in Grand Rapids, Michigan. “With less known things comes greater concern. Think about it. What if I told you that I’m sending you on a trip? That’s all. Without details. No time lines. I didn’t even tell you if you were leaving the country. That would leave you a bit stressed, right? Now, what if he told them exactly where they were going, what they were doing, when they had to get up to go to the airport, what they had to bring, and who they would meet on the way? Well, that would be a lot less stressful! The same is true for retirement. Before you’re in it, there’s just a bunch of unknowns. But once you’ve lived through it a bit, you learn how to manage your money, what to do each day, and how to give yourself some happiness along the way.”
Why do people fear retirement?
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that the unknown of tomorrow worries people today. What, specifically, causes this fear? Think of it in terms of the basic necessities of life: food, clothing, and shelter. When you’re on the job, you have the confidence of knowing how you stock up on these essential items for you and your family. Retirement throws that confidence overboard.
Doug Ornstein, senior manager of integrated solutions at TIAA Wealth Management in Charlotte, North Carolina, believes that the main concerns of early retirees are running out of money or losing their savings in the market. “This is textbook psychology,” he says. “We tend to worry more about things that are uncertain.”
It’s not just running out of money. Uncertainty also means that you lack the control that makes your life predictable. Before you retire, your instincts may have you wondering who will be driving the car. Every imagined little bump in the road creates the feeling that your life in retirement may be thrown off course.
“People who haven’t retired yet may feel they have less control over their retirement than those who have already retired,” says David Johnston, managing partner at Amwell Ridge Wealth Management in Flemington, New Jersey. “They may be concerned about factors like changes in the economy or the stock market and how those factors may affect their retirement savings.”
There is another thing that causes difficulties in retirement: people. Specifically, the lack of it. When you’re working, you have a certain social consistency. You go to work every day and you see familiar faces. With the prospect of retirement comes the realization that those faces will disappear. What (or who) will replace them?
“People who haven’t retired yet may be concerned about the social isolation that retirement can bring,” says Johnston. “They may worry about losing the social connections at work or not having a sense of purpose or meaning in their retirement.”
Finally, there is the idea that you are about to embark on a long journey with no itinerary. During your working years, you know exactly what you are going to do. Retirement erases that daily schedule. Unless you have a well-planned retirement transition, the potential inability to live the retirement you want can haunt you.
“People who haven’t retired yet may have specific ideas about the lifestyle they want to have when they retire,” says Johnston. “They may worry about being able to afford the things they want to do, like travel or hobbies, or whether they will be able to maintain their standard of living.”
What is the biggest mistake people make about retirement?
Johnston’s point suggests the best way to avoid the biggest retirement mistake you can make. What is this big mistake and how have happy retirees managed to avoid it?
“This one is simple: They haven’t had to modify their lives around that scenario, so the amount of change still seems extremely overwhelming,” says Brian Haney, CEO of The Haney Company in Silver Spring, Maryland. “It’s very difficult psychologically to imagine ourselves ‘not working’ because, for most of our adult lives, that’s all we’ve been doing. We have a whole psychological framework, schedule, relational circles and mentality established and built around work. Retirement isn’t just about ‘generating enough income’ to successfully maintain your lifestyle; it’s about building a new lifestyle (or significantly modifying the one you already have). Those who have retired have had to go through that transition, and no matter how challenging or successful it has been, they have faced it and overcome it to make their lifestyle ‘fit’. However, until you actually do that, the idea can always seem bigger and scarier until you cross that threshold.”
Practice makes perfect, so if you want a “perfect” retirement, it’s best to start “practicing” retirement as soon as possible.
“The transition from collecting a paycheck every other week to living off your savings can be extremely difficult,” says Brian Walsh, senior manager of Financial Planning for SoFi in Grand Rapids, Michigan. “Our experiences shape our expectations, so if your only experience is collecting a steady paycheck, anything other than that will seem abnormal and create fear. People who have already retired have overcome that fear of the unknown, so it is completely natural that their new experience alters their expectations.”
It may be possible to withdraw more than once. As you get closer to retirement, try to take a vacation that allows you to sample a possible retirement lifestyle. Better yet, take some of these vacations. This will ease any concerns you may have about the prospect of retirement.