Real Life Retirement:  what real people are doing after age 55 


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"Step-Down" retirement vs. "Jump-Off-A-Cliff" retirement

About a third of the people who retire do not have a choice: they are forced into abrupt, overnight retirement by their companies' policies.  This is what I call "Jump-Off-a-Cliff" retirement.

One day these people are working at their primary lifetime employment; the next day they are not.  Many are delighted to be free of a daily work obligation. They have looked forward to it for years. They have plans to travel, to visit friends and family, to focus on personal interests.  And they immediately begin to do all these things.  It is like being on permanent vacation. Yipee!

The new reality:  too much time on your hands in retirement

Then a new reality sets in. (Often this happens within a year or two.)  The person who retired abruptly finds that he/she has done almost all of the big things on the "to-do-when-I-retire" list and still has seemingly endless hours and days to fill. 

Many discover they miss the cameraderie and structure of the workplace.  As a solution to this too-much-time issue, some try to find a way to involve themselves in their previous work, either as a part-time employee or as a consultant, even if they do not need the money.  Others take on part-time employment in an unrelated field to give their lives some structure. Still others start new small companies--some of them online businesses.

Other people take up new activities, but approach the activity as if it was "work"--without the requirement that the activity generate money. 

Unfortunately, all too many begin to spend more time in front of the TV to the detriment of their physical and mental health. If this sounds like you, please read the page about Bucket List planning for your future.  Don't wait!)

A second option: the gradual retirement, but it may not be easy to do

Recent research has revealed that 4 out of 5 people over age 50 intend to keep on working after a traditional retirement age.  Some will continue working for financial reasons; others because the enjoy their jobs.  However, those who are not forced to retire at a specific age may discover as they grow older that they would like to spend fewer hours working and have more time for personal interests.  They want to go the gradual route to retirement. This choice, however, has no fixed path to follow and may take some detailed planning and diplomacy to manage well.

Ask yourself these questions:

1. Does your company already have a policy about partial or gradual retirement? (And what impact will this have on your retirement income and health care?)

2. Does your company already employ part-time workers frequently?

3. Would your company would be amenable to employing you part-time if you suggest it?  Or would they show you the door as fast as they can if you mention working part time?

4. Is is possible for you to launch a consulting service in your field and work for one or more companies if you wish?  (This would allow you to still use your skills and knowledge, but--hopefully--control the hours you work.)

Your answers to these questions will dictate how you should progress with your gradual retirement.  It may take some skilled negotiating.  (If your gradual retirement is, in fact an early retirement, read this.)

Whichever approach you take to retirement, just be aware that retirement is not simply "cruise control" for the rest of your life.  You will have to make plans and make decisions about those twenty plus years you live after you retire. Yes--twenty years!  So start planning now.

Two Jump-Off-a-Cliff Abrupt Retirements:

1) Elise worked in the Capital as an environmental  lobbiest for decades, but her company's policy was retirement at age 65.  Her generous retirement benefits gave her the freedom to do what she wanted.  She knew, however, she would not be content to sit at home.  She was far too committed to protecting the environment, so even before she retired, she contacted her favorite environmental organization.  They were thrilled to have someone with her contacts on their team and offered her an unpaid management position.  She accepted.  For the first three months after her retirement she and her husband traveled.  And now--six years later--she still has short, flexible hours and a satisfying professional life. 

2) Mary was the chief financial officer at a private college with a mandatory retirement age of 65.  Her husband had retired several years earlier and simply wanted her to be with him and, in particular, spend time traveling.  It turned out his idea of traveling was a long weekend here, a week there--most of it in the U.S.  Happily, she was invited to join the Board of Directors for a retirement facilities corporation where she now is an advisor and attends monthly meetings, but does not have to be involved in day-to-day management.  She has plenty of time with her husband.
Two Step-Down Gradual Retirements:

1) John worked as a truck driver for a city government in Southern California.  He was eligible for retirement by age 60, but, at the request of his boss, agreed to stay on the job "for a while."  Realizing that full retirement would perhaps now come with almost no forewarning, he bought a show dog--something he had planned to do in retirement--and began breeding and selling them.  He also took a part time job at a  weekend farmers' market where his wife sold her crafts.  Four years later he is still working almost full time for the city, while his pension has grown.  His dogs are now greatly in demand.  He knows that the politics of city hall may lead to sudden retirement, but now he has taken some steps to prepare for it.

2) Dede worked as a freelance graphic designer and decided that she wanted to retire.  The management changed at one major client, so she told them she would not continue doing work for them.  It was a pleasant parting of ways.  A year later she decided to say goodbye to her last remaining large client and gave them six months notice.  Ignoring her generous notification, they replaced her within three weeks--much to her dismay.  She began to have doubts about her decision to quit working and the lack of professional contact.  Within six months she had acquired new new clients.

NOTE:  All names on this site have been changed to protect individual privacy.  The stories are real, the names are not. 

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