“What if I hate it?”
You might be surprised to hear this, but there is a large group of people who don’t want to retire. This may be quite odd to anybody eagerly counting down the days til you can afford to wave the working world goodbye.
But it’s true.
In my work as a financial planner helping people plan their retirement, I’ve found that there are many people out there who don’t want to retire. This large group includes a few different categories:
The Happy Ones
We might talk about the others in another post but today, I want to talk about the final group – those people scared of retirement.
The Real Reason
As a financial adviser, my focus is helping people with big life transitions, and few are bigger than retiring. It’s a huge change, it’s (hopefully) permanent and it’s also a big, bright sign that your life has entered a new phase.
And if there’s one thing we all know about change is that it can be frightening.
I was speaking with somebody on the cusp of retirement a while back. I started by asking how we could help, and they told me that they felt it was time to start planning to retire.
We talked a little about what retirement might look like for them, which led to this exchange:
“When were you thinking you’d stop working?”
“I’m not sure, actually, I really can’t decide. I’ll be 74 next May, so maybe the end of the next financial year?”
“74? You must really enjoy your work!”
“…well, I used to. I’m just really tired of it now. I would have stopped a few years ago, but I don’t think we have ‘enough’.”
“OK – how about you tell me a bit about your financial situation then?”
Which she did and while I couldn’t say so there and then, I was confident there wasn’t anything in their finances holding them back.
So I pushed back, a little.
“What is it that really worries you about retirement?”
“Running out of money,.”
“Well, what if – hypothetically – you didn’t have to worry about money ever again, say you won the lottery. Would you retire right away?”
“Um, I’m not sure. I’d still be really nervous.”
“OK – that’s understandable. Is there anything in particular that worries you about retirement?”
“Well” another pause, before she whispered, “what if I hate it?”.
And so the dam wall broke and we were able to have a much deeper conversation about the worries and fears that had driven her to keep working for years past when she could have stopped.
Any financial adviser would have similar stories.
Over the years, I’ve discovered there are quite a few fears people could hold about retiring. Some are rational, some – like our other fears – not so much. But they’re all powerful. And that power seems to be amplified because the people that feel this way also feel a bit odd, like it’s so strange to be worried about retiring.
So, to try and allay that feeling, here are 5 big fears that people can have about retiring:
1. Running Out of Money
I’d place this firmly in the ‘rational fears’ category. Sadly, for many people, there’s a real possibility of running out of money in retirement.
This happens when your expenses are consistently higher than your income. This means that you have to eat into what capital you have going into retirement. Continue that for long enough and you run out of money.
It’s a simple and unforgiving equation.
This will force them to rely solely on the Age Pension to cover their living costs.
While this can be a legitimate worry, I’ve also seen people who’s financial position is so strong that it’s not a feasible concern. When your reliable income is 50% higher than your living expenses, I think it’s fair to ask if worrying about ‘running out of money’ is really masking another, more powerful fear like…
2. If I’m not working, I’m not contributing
Like this one.
I’ve never had somebody come out and say this in our first conversation because it’s a big, deep fear that speaks to their identity, self-esteem and place in the world.
But it’s a very, very common fear. Most often it’s the breadwinner in the household, who has frequently wrapped their identify up in their ability to ‘provide’ for their family.
So, when they stop working – or ‘contributing’, in their mind – that huge, fundamental part of their identify disappears. And if they’re not working, then they feel like they’re not contributing.
The fear of this reckoning leads to people delaying their retirement, time and time again. Which can often become tragic – we’ve all seen people working far longer than they should, all because they can’t conceive of an identify without work.
This one’s tough to overcome, but in my experience, the best options can include:
Spending the 2-3 years before retirement exploring other interests to try and find one that you love.
Transitioning to retirement over a few years to adjust gradually.
Look at other ways of contributing around the house. Managing the money can be a real headache in retirement, so maybe taking that on would be appreciated (or not, maybe – see Fear 3 below!)
Work on becoming comfortable with ‘not contributing’. It’s likely you’ve been working hard for decades, focusing on contributing to your family. Allow yourself the time to kick back now and enjoy (some of) the fruits of all that labour.
3. I’m not sure I want to spend that much time with my spouse.
This is often said as a joke, but given the rates of so-called ‘grey’ divorce, there’s a powerful truth behind this fear.
It seems to be due to a few different factors. One is the shift from spending a few hours a week together to all the hours. Another is that retirement can also coincide with the kids leaving home. Their departure can leave space for some unhappy realisations about your relationship.
How to best tackle this fear, if it’s holding you back from retirement?
Well, I’m not a relationship expert, but I think these steps might be useful:
a. Start with an honest conversation with your partner – they might be feeling the same way.
b. Consider couples counselling to explore the issues before starting your retirement planning.
c. Define what your retirement might look like for both of you.
4. I’ll get bored.
I hear this a lot from people before they retire – but never after they’ve retired. Often this fear is hiding a bigger insecurity like point 2), or a worry that people will see them as bludging.
The truth is that you’ve literally never had more options for your time in retirement than right this minute. In fact, the bigger danger can be over-committing to things, as this can – at extremes – undermine your financial position as you run around, spending money on filling the time.
Here are a few of the things people I’ve worked with in retirement have done with their time:
ii. Took up a musical instrument
iii. Worked part-time
iv .Looked after (spoiled…) their grandkids
v. Worried about their children
vii. Long distance cycle camping
ix. Spent three months a year in the Queensland sun
x. The ‘Big Lap’ in a new caravan
xi. Collected – and drunk – wine
xiii. Ran an op shop
xiv. Looked after their mother
xvi. Had lunch two times a week with friends or family
xvii. Proudly bought outrageous numbers of gifts for their grandchildren
xviii. Started swimming regularly
It’s at a point where I’m fairly sure that if you’re bored in retirement, it’s reflecting something else, because it’s certainly not from a lack of options.
5. Retirement is the first step towards death.
This is the big fear.
People who have spent 50-some years working now have to face up to the reality that this phase of their lives is over – and that there are fewer phases in front of them than behind them.
This can be a confronting discovery for some people and triggers deeper feelings and emotions, about their mortality, legacy and impact.
Now, I’m not equipped to discuss this properly, but I’ll do the usual adviser thing and fall back on one specific mathematical reality – this is the period in your life where your time will, often for the first time, be entirely yours.
No work obligations, the kids have most likely moved out and, hopefully, your financial position is relatively secure.
While you may well feel this new phase is the scary start on a downhill road towards the end, there’s also an opportunity there for you to take this time and truly make it yours. That’s not something many people get to experience before retirement.
These are the five big fears I’ve seen people have to deal with as they move towards retirement. Sometimes, they’ve held them back and kept them working far longer than necessary. Often, they inject an unfortunate level of worry and trepidation into what can, if planned properly, be a wonderful time in their lives.
If any of these fears resonate for you, then I strongly encourage you to sit down and work through them. Get advice if necessary – not just financial, but any form of advice that will help – and work out a way around them. Then you, too, can stride into retirement without worries – and enjoy those years you’ve worked so hard for!