Retirement Surprises: Most Good, Others Not So Much! Part II

Last week’s blog post was about Good Surprises Wall Street Journal readers recently reported having in retirement. In this week’s post I planned to list some of the Bad Surprises which have been experienced. But actually the good outweighed the bad by a wide margin, so I want to stay positive and list some more Good Surprises.

GOOD SURPRISES

  • Several readers commented on the luxury of time and the lack of pressure. After forty years in the workplace, they believe that it’s okay to be bored occasionally. It is okay “to chill”. “Active” isn’t mandatory at all times. “Unhurried” is fine. And from time to time it is perfectly okay to waste an entire morning.
  • A couple of readers reported their surprise at how quickly and easily they left their careers behind and transitioned into retirement. “While I liked work, I love retirement!” They expected to experience an adjustment period, but several mentioned the seamless transition, which they experienced. Many listed everything that keeps them busy. I liked this list from one reader, it resembles mine. “I sleep better and longer, exercise more, read more, spend more time with my wife (she agrees that’s a good thing), and actually think more now that I have fewer distractions.
  • One couple indicated that they surprised themselves by opting to retire at the age of 51. And it turned out to be a wonderful gift. In their words, they elected to live on less income for the bonus of more time together. Their admonishment; don’t wait until it’s too late.
  • A woman reported that her best, and most unexpected surprise was the control she gained over her time and her life. She was no longer controlled by her boss, her clients or her children. For the first time, her life was no longer a blur. She enjoys managing her schedule, including her volunteering, her projects, and even her housekeeping.
  • A single woman from Rhode Island lives alone with no relatives nearby. As a result she delayed her retirement beyond her 73rd birthday because she feared becoming isolated and forgotten. Two years later she is happy to report her surprise. She loves being alone, owning the day, and having no required daily contact with other people. She claims to be a gregarious woman who had a career in sales and loved to cook and entertain!
  • A retired doctor from South Carolina says after taking a year off to decompress and contemplate his future, he found his new direction. He enrolled in a two year executive M.B.A. program at a nearby university. Upon graduating he joined the faculty and taught for ten years in the Healthcare Management Program.
  • Surprisingly only one reader wrote of their relocation. A southern California couple relocated to rural Oregon and indicated it was their best decision ever. Imagine the cost savings. In addition, they are working hard on the grapes they grow and sell to the local wine industry. And ‘yes’, they also make enough wine for themselves!
  • An Illinois reader simply reported his good surprises as: 1. stress level dropped more than expected, 2. can easily fill each day; and 3.  significantly improved physical conditioning. In fact, he trained for and completed a cross country bicycle ride, camping on the way.
  • Another reader received retirement advice that “nothing is ever what you think it is going to be going into it.” That’s true for a new job, a marriage, a divorce, almost every significant life event. His adviser said you must feel your way through it at first. And so it is with retirement. The reader spoke of his surprise to find this to be true. In his words, “retirement ain’t nothing like I thought it would be. But it’s pretty great!”
  • A reader from Arizona commented on her “attitude” change. She says she is thrilled with retirement, and all of the things she is able to do that she couldn’t while she was working full-time. She lets small things slide acknowledging that they aren’t very important, and probably never were.

And from a WSJ reader in San Francisco, don’t look back once you have made the decision to retire. Take full advantage of the time retirement provides and the many new opportunities awaiting you in retirement. It will be important to approach each day in this phase of your life with enthusiasm, energy and openness.

And finally, if you think you have the financial resources and are debating whether to retire, go for it in spite of what others might say. The tools are there for anyone needing help creating his/her own Lemonade Retirement. But lost time can never be recaptured!

Retirement Surprises: Most Good, Others Not So Much! Part I

The Wall Street Journal recently polled their readers about their retirements. More specifically, they asked what their biggest retirement surprises had been? The answers varied widely, and of course, there were good surprises and bad ones as well.

This week’s Lemonade Retirement post will list highlights of the “good surprises” which the readers reported. Then next week we will list some of the “bad surprises” which I found interesting.

GOOD SURPRISES

  • Happiness in retirement is directly related to the people you spend your time with. This was a common theme as one reported their surprise at the number of new and renewed friendships they had made in retirement. Another expressed that their social life was better than expected and and far better than it had ever been during their pre-retirement years. (Remember from last week’s post that good health also follows friendships and socialization).
  • Speaking of good health, the single most often mentioned good surprise was the gym, and the results it yields. One after another talked about being in the best shape of their lives. It is encouraging that finally given the time, so many do not hesitate to join a gym an focus on their physical well being. For those on a budget, this can also be accomplished at home. It just takes more discipline.
  • In regard to travel in retirement, one couple was told to expect the following. First there are the go-go years, then the slow-go years, and finally the no-go years. In their go-go years they took many trips-stateside and beyond, long and short in duration. They reported, however, reaching their slow-go years more quickly than expected due to the husband’s physical ills. But they continue to enjoy their travels only at a slower pace.
  • Travel is such an important, wonderful benefit of retirement for so many. One reported the great surprise of traveling off-season. The lack of crowds and heat, as well as added time makes traveling much easier. They plan extra days for traveling, plus add more days at their destinations. If there are issues with flights or bad weather at their destination, no problem! They account for those possibilities in their planning. Also when travel dates are flexible airfares may be hundreds of dollars cheaper. These changes, afforded by time, can totally remove the stress of traveling, which does seem to grow as we age.
  • “Getting my two dogs is the best thing I have ever done.” I am sure dog lovers all understand this. This gentlemen always loved dogs, but this job never permitted him to own and properly care for one. So this was first on the list of what he wanted to do in retirement. Besides companionship, he reports meeting many wonderful people when walking the dogs. He also lost thirty pounds, his blood pressure dropped, and he is off his medication.
  • Several readers commented on the importance of discipline in regard to time management. Time to pursue interests, to exercise, and to invest in our friendships takes discipline, otherwise like vapor time slips away. It all starts with getting up and getting going in the morning.
  • Another reader reported being surprised that he found two things more important than money in retirement  – time and health. I like his insight regarding time. Finding a rewarding use for now plentiful time is a big concern. Otherwise boredom will ensue. He suggests finding a cheap all-consuming hobby that will bring new people into your life. Surprisingly, his is beekeeping. If hobbies are not your thing, he suggests charity work. On health, he wisely says that getting or staying healthy should be job number one in retirement. Clearly without health nothing else matters.
  • An Atlanta reader had a good surprise about “stuff”. He and his wife noticed that family and friends begin to experience illness, accidents, and unexpected events in their mid-’70’s. These changes caused significant burdens to fall on their spouse and/or children. He and his wife chose not to leave their family with a large home filled with stuff. They gave their children whatever stuff they wanted and disposed of most of the rest. Then they moved into a senior living arrangement. Their entire family is happy and relieved.

And as a final bit of wisdom, a reader was happily surprised to learn that retirement is great, as long as you take charge of it, and stay active and engaged in learning and socializing. Retirement life is mostly all about family and friends. And the hard thing to learn is that “stuff” is just “stuff”.

“Friendships”- The Secret Sauce to a Happy, Healthy Retirement!

Here is some attention grabbing news……emerging research indicates that social engagement plays a significant role in overall well being, self-esteem, and even longevity!

More specifically, research further shows that active engagement with other people actually improves your health. It also lowers the risk of high blood pressure, depression, cardiovascular disease and dementia.

And finally, the conclusion of all of this research is that people who are socially active are 50% less likely to die prematurely! Interesting though, researchers are nor sure why this is true. Why are having friends associated with better health?

It may be because social activity often begets physical activity. And physical activity has many positive effects on your health. In addition, socialization is a mood lifter, and happiness is thought to be linked to good health.

Thus, socialization is a requirement for a Lemonade Retirement, not an option. And this is because, sadly, the opposite is also true. Isolation contributes to poor health in the same way as smoking, high blood pressure, and obesity. Also a lack of socialization is connected to decreasing cognitive function, declining physical function and decreased immune function.

I don’t doubt that ALL of this is true, after all it is backed up by a substantial amount of recent research. But isn’t it very surprising that friendships and socialization can have such an effect on the physical functioning of our bodies and our longevity?

So what’s the problem? This should be easy. Countless millions of us are already there. We can just “check this box” and move on. But unfortunately there are also millions of Baby Boomers who live isolated or somewhat isolated lives.

For these seniors, their friendships and socialization have decreased significantly in their later years. This happens for many reasons. It can be due to drifting apart, relocation, health issues, death, or simply an inability to get out of the house.

For this group, making the lifestyle changes necessary to add socialization back into their lives may be difficult. Social skills have gotten rusty. And introverts may find it particularly difficult to make these changes. Some introverts find it easier to use social media and connect online. And this is acceptable, I read. However, combining socializing with a physical or mental activity has far more health benefits, particularly when done person to person.

For those interested in taking action to increase their friendships and socialization, following are ideas for consideration:

  1. Volunteering.
  2. Faith-based activities.
  3. A part-time job for 8-16 hours per week.
  4. Investigate the local senior center.
  5. Join a fitness center and commit to using it two to three times a week.
  6. Take senior oriented continuing education courses at a nearby high school or college.
  7. Reconnect with former classmates and other former friends.
  8. Accept all invitations.
  9. Invite a neighbor for lunch or just coffee.
  10. Start or join a book club in your neighborhood.
Author Mike Duvall reconnecting with one of his best high school friends, Steve Earle.

 

Since this is so important to our health and longevity, hopefully those needing to add socialization to their lives will find at least one appealing option on the list above. If this applies to you, get serious and get started. And remember, if you have your health, you have everything!

 

Baby Boomers Indebted With Student Loans? Please Say It Isn’t So!

Over the last year we have highlighted just about every reason why millions of Baby Boomers will experience some difficulty achieving the retirement they have envisioned. In fact the problem is bleak enough to be called a ‘retirement crisis’ by social scientists.

There are many contributing factors. These factors are evenly divided between those that are within the control of the Baby Boomers and those that are beyond their control.

However, there is one roadblock to a Lemonade Retirement that we have yet to mention, and that
would be student loans. Student loans, of course, are fully within the control of Baby Boomers. The Federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau reported recently that people 60 years of age and older owe an estimated $66.7 billion in student loans! By 2015 the number of seniors with student loan debt had grown to 6.4% of the total in this age group. And in the ten years from 2005 to 2015 the average indebtedness grew from $12,000 to $23,500.

Of course mortgage debt is the most common type of debt that Baby Boomers have in their retirement years, but sadly student loans are becoming more and more common. And it should be no surprise that seniors with student loan debt have less retirement savings than those with no student loan debt.

So whose educations are these Baby Boomers paying for? 73% of these loans were for the education of a child or grandchild. And only 27% were for their own education or their spouse’s.

The significant increase in the number of grandparents and parents agreeing to help pay the cost of their grandchildren’s or children’s education coincides with the skyrocketing cost of a college education. But if seniors are living on a fixed income and/or are struggling to save the funds they will need for retirement, they should think long and hard before agreeing to provide such help.

Besides higher education is often not such a great investment…..

Interestingly I am aware of many examples among affluent people who I know whose children’s education has turned out to be a very bad investment. Here’s just one example. The Blacks (not their real name) educate their one and only son in the finest, and priciest, private schools in Baltimore. He then goes on to an exclusive college in upstate New York to major in International Business and Chinese. Everything seems to be on track at what will be a total education cost of about $750,000! But midway through his college career he decides this is not the track for him. So ‘yes’ he will graduate, but probably not in four years. His degree will be in Music. And we will see, but from what I understand, a graduate degree will be necessary to get a job!

Hopefully the point is obvious. Going into debt to finance the education of children or grandchildren in today’s economy may not be the wisest thing for the majority of Baby Boomers to do. Hopefully some will rethink doing this.

On a related note, it appears that many seniors co-sign the loans for a child or grandchild without a clear understanding of the responsibilities of a co-signer on a student loan. The co-signer is every bit as responsible to repay the loan as the borrower. So if the child or grandchild is unable to make the payments because he does not get a job or for any other reason, the co-signer becomes a “co-borrower” and he must make the payments. The moral of this story then, is that parents and grandparents should never co-sign a student loan unless they are willing and able to make all loan payments.

One other warning. When there is a default or delinquency on a loan from a bank or private lender, social security income benefits are protected. However, on government backed student loans, social security income is not protected and can and will be levied by the lender should note payments be in default.

Note from Blogger:

When I came across the content in this post, I found it to be depressing. And I was reluctant to pass it along to my readers.   Does it make sense to go into debt late in life paying for your children or grandchildren’s education, if your retirement is not 100% secured? I had no idea it was happening to this extent ($66.7 billion). So I put forth this information to inform all, but hopefully to cause a few to reconsider taking on student loans in their retirement preparation years or later.

‘Phased Retirement’ Works For Employers Too

“It takes two, Baby!”

Last week we wrote about the growth of ‘phased retirements’. For many Baby Boomers they are becoming the “fourth leg” of their “retirement stools”. However, if  ‘phased retirements’ are to be embraced on a wide scale basis they must meet a significant need for employers as well.

As it turns out, employers are increasingly understanding that ‘phased retirements’ can be an effective tool to help them survive and/or grow. This is because these programs promote the retention and transfer of knowledge from experienced workers to younger workers. Depending on the demographics of their work forces, there are many companies which may soon be in dire straights without ‘phased retirement’ programs. This is because of the significant numbers of small and medium sized companies who will experience 50% or more of their workforce reaching retirement age in the next five to seven years.

In addition, industries and companies vary with regard to how many hard to replace employees they have. Some industries and companies are unique in that they have an acute need for employees with very industry-specific or even company-specific skills.

Employers are seeing many reasons for countering the ‘brain drain’ from Baby Boomers leaving the workforce in mass with ‘phased retirement’ programs.

  1. This is the most practical approach to retain experienced workers, especially those in critical and/or hard to replace positions.
  2. Such an approach will reduce the costs associated with hiring and training replacement employees.
  3. Increased organization flexibility occurs by tapping potential retirees as mentors or consultants.
  4. Allows organizations to experience smooth transitions rather than disruptive, costly ones.
  5. Enhances productivity by addressing the need for work/life balance for those approaching retirement age.

These programs may be formal or informal, although at this point they are much more likely to be informal. In many small to medium-sized companies the programs are often employee initiated and on a one to one basis. Informal arrangements today are often individually negotiated between the employee, their boss and the HR department.

As far as formal programs, currently only about 5% of mid- to large-size companies have such plans. But 60% say they expect to develop a formal plan, per WorldAtWork. 30% of medium to large companies do say they have some type of  ‘phased retirement’ program in place, although mostly on an informal basis.

Companies designing formal ‘phased retirement’ plans are considering the following issues in the design of their programs:

  1. At what age will the selected employees become eligible to participate in the plan?
  2. How will critical knowledge be transferred to other employees?
  3. Legal and compensation issues must be comprehensively identified, dealt with, and clearly communicated to employees.

These arrangements, particularly if developed on a one to one basis, will vary in design. But typically they might be for a period of one to three years with the employee working 20 to 24 hours per week. Compensation is likely to be proportional to hours worked, but he/she typically keeps full healthcare and retirement benefits.

As an example, Rice University recently formalized their ‘phased retirement’ program, primarily for their teaching faculty. The professor signs a contract for one, two or three years duration. They are given 50% of a full time work load. Compensation is at the rate of 80% in year one, 70% in year two, and 50% in year three. Once in the plan participants may retire sooner than the contract term. They cannot, however, extend the phase out period or enter into a new contract.

Often ‘phased retirement’ programs require the participants to take on new responsibilities. These responsibilities are usually focused on transferring skills to the next generation of workers.

Some ‘phased retirement’ programs are including interesting features such as ‘job sharing’ and/or a work at home option. Both of these ideas may become increasingly more popular going forward.

But there is a flip side to these ‘phased retirement’ programs. Of necessity, these programs can only be extended to employees who are hard to replace and/or are highly experienced. Having too many older workers hanging around is a huge negative from a cost standpoint and because it causes a bottleneck in the advancement pipeline. Companies need a mix of both experienced workers and young blood to sustain their growth into the future. But increasingly workers are reaching retirement age and are attempting to stay on the job and not move aside.

Nonetheless, well managed employers are instituting innovative policies and practices as a significant strategy to retain skilled workers for their work forces. It is a win-win, for sure!