Financial Planning for Geeks

How to Have a Meaningful Retirement

- Financial Planning

What do I do after the honeymoon period is over?

A black-and-white, Victorian-style drawing of a cherub sitting on a travel case, with travel bags and boxes all around, and golf clubs to the side. The caption says, "The Wedding Trip."
It won't be cherubs and golf forever.

My husband retired a while back, and he recently hit the end of his honeymoon period. What honeymoon period is that, you ask? Isn’t retirement a heavenly place where we all go to fan ourselves with palm fronds while drinking margaritas by the pool? Isn’t it the magical state where I can do nothing forever and love it?

Side note: I’m calling this phase of life “retirement,” but only for the sake of brevity. Please note that most people don’t “retire” anymore in the way we used to think about it, when they abruptly stop working one day and never get out of the Barcalounger again. When I refer to “retirement” here, I’m talking about the phase of life when we stop working primarily for the money. We change what we’re doing and what it looks like, and it might not feel like “work,” but we don’t usually stop altogether.

In fact, stopping altogether isn’t good for us. Humans need meaning in their lives: not just during their primary working years, but forever. Without a purpose, we petrify and feel isolated and lose our motivation. We lose that happy retirement we were dreaming of because we don’t have a plan to replace the purpose we had at work, because whether we liked our work or not, it did give us purpose. Preparing for retirement isn’t just fluff; it’s more important than the money because it’s NEVER just about the money.

So, how do we make sure we have meaning and purpose throughout our retirement years? As you might have guessed, it’s not a one-time set of decisions and actions; planning can evolve over time, and no doubt we’ll need to check in regularly to make tweaks and keep it fresh. That said, let’s take a look at some of the ways we can prepare for this Fun New Phase of life, starting with our brains.

1.        Prepare yourself emotionally for the transition: Realize that you’ll go through phases after you retire, including the honeymoon. Give yourself a break if it’s not all rainbows and unicorns, and keep trying until you find what’s fulfilling for you.

2.        Enjoy the process: This is a great time to experiment with new activities and explore new aspects of yourself. It can be fun or terrifying or anything in between, so why not choose fun?

3.        Stay positive: Medical research shows that optimistic people are less likely to have a heart attack or other heart-related issues, and they also have a lower overall mortality rate than people who are more pessimistic. Buy yourself some extra time by cultivating optimism. It’s not a static personality trait; it’s a choice, and you can train yourself to choose it.

4.        Feel gratitude: Psychological research shows that a gratitude practice increases optimism, reduces the symptoms of illness, and increases the likelihood of helping others. Just making a list of the things you’re grateful for can put you in a good frame of mind for living out your Fun Next Phase. Try to practice this daily.

Once we’re in a good frame of mind, there are a number of actions we can take to have our best possible retirement.

1.        Have a routine: Since most of us had a regular routine while we were working (get up, make tea, log in, work, take a lunch break, etc.), it’s important to keep to a schedule during retirement to maintain our mental health. Even if you’re not a routine-type person, just having a wakeup and sleep schedule can help you stay on track and avoid some of the anxiety and stress of losing that work routine.

2.        Take care of your physical self: We all want to enjoy retirement as long as we can and still feel good. It’s important to stay physically active, eat well, get your sleep, do your regular check-ins with your doctors, and practice other healthy habits so you’re hearty and energetic over the long term.

3.        Pursue hobbies, activities, and interests: If you don’t have any or don’t feel like doing the old ones, try out some new ones. In fact, it might be energizing to try new things throughout retirement to avoid stagnation and boredom. These are the things that make your life meaningful and bring you satisfaction.  

4.        Get a job: If you want to have a part-time or full-time job during retirement, it can be beneficial in a lot of ways. It helps with routine and keeps you active, connected, and learning. It’s also a great way to supplement your retirement income and fund all the other fun things you want to do. Studies show that retirees who get a post-retirement job experience better mental and physical health, and they say they are more satisfied with their lives overall.

5.        Connect with family AND hold boundaries: A retiree’s happiness increases when they live near at least one of their adult children (assuming they have children), but it decreases as a retiree spends more money to support these adult children. Empower your children by letting them make their own living. And don’t let anyone take advantage of you when it comes to babysitting grandkids or helping in other ways. Do as much as you like, and no more. This is YOUR retirement.

6.        Connect with friends: What a great time to grow existing friendships and make new friends. You have the time and mental bandwidth to truly focus on building friendships and staying connected, which will also help you live longer and stay happier.

7.        Connect with community: This is also an excellent way to make new friends and find your purpose. Explore volunteer opportunities like you would explore any other activity and try different ways of getting involved. Studies show that volunteering can reduce the symptoms of depression, improve cardiovascular health, and lower the risk of high blood pressure. Apart from volunteering, there may be other ways of getting involved in your community, like attending community events or meetings.

8.        Keep learning: Have you always wanted to learn about nudibranchs? Differential calculus? How to speak Dutch? Well, now is your chance. Science supports the idea that ongoing education can help reduce your risk of dementia and prevent cognitive decline as you age. It’s important to keep your brain as active as your body to keep those neurons connected and firing.

9.        Maybe set some goals: I’m not going to get prescriptive here, since I think there’s too much temptation in our culture to strive, strive, strive. This leads to stress, stress, stress, which is the last thing you need during retirement. If goals help you stay motivated and give you purpose, have at it! Try to keep your goals light and fun, like traveling to one new country a year or reading five books over the summer.

If you’d like a little extra guidance here, there are professional Retirement Coaches out there who can help you. In general, a retirement coach will take you through a written, data-based process to help you think about your new identity, figure out how to spend your time and resources, stay engaged and connected, and maintain your mental and physical health. Happy trails to you! 

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Penny Farthing

I, Penny Farthing (non-wizarding name Kerry Read ), actually have a day job in the world of finance. This blog came into being because of my deep and abiding love for geeks and Personal Finance.