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What They Don't Tell You About Retirement


Much is written about preparing financially for retirement, but no one ever talks about how to prepare for the massive lifestyle shift of retirement.


Oh boy, where to start. First of all, we spend our working lives in savings mode, at least in part. The attitude becomes ingrained and the socking away automatic. Then one day, seemingly suddenly, you have to stop saving and start spending your seed corn. Now what?

Those who study such things tell us that only about half of retirements are planned. The other half occur after layoffs, disability, and death, so we should think and plan ahead.

And almost all of what you read and hear about retirement focuses on the financial side, primarily savings and investment strategies, less so on the surprisingly complicated disbursement side.

There is an industry rule of thumb that says if you spend 4% of your diversified nest egg annually, adjusted for inflation, then you statistically stand a 90% chance of making your money last for 35 years. That used to be more than enough time, but the trend toward longer, more active lives in retirement warrants a careful re-think. Everyone in retirement fears outliving their money.

The non-financial side of retirement gets almost no play in the media. And it should. Stats tell us that in the six months following retirement, all-cause mortality spikes before returning to the long-term trend line. The reasons probably include the aforementioned unplanned disability and its consequences. But we should also consider other factors.

One of these is the sometimes sudden loss of identity, especially for docs. Most of us have led dedicated careers with less outside focus than might be considered healthy, or wise, or even just interesting. For those who get to have the luxury of a planned retirement, getting involved in non-professional pursuits ahead of time, that can be expanded as we morph out of career mode, can be life-enhancing, if not life-saving.

Another emotional jolt that goes along with severing work ties is the loss of colleague and staff friendship and camaraderie. Again, this is made worse if alternative, outside connections have not been previously established for a soft landing.

The other surprise may be that a doc may find him/herself missing at least some of their regular patients. All of these meaningful relationships may be severed relatively suddenly and, try as you might, it is never the same afterward with staff, colleagues or even patients. So you lose identity and friends, unless you have segued into new activities and friends.

Every human needs meaningful activity, retired included. And the common litany of “I have a million things to do; fix (the whatever), golf, hunt, fish, travel, read, etc.” Six months later, when these vague goals have been met, all too often the individual can sink into a depression. We know professionally just how common that affliction is among the retired.

As the Baby Boomers in their millions proceed along into this Second Act, unprecedented in scope in human history, we will study and learn more about how to better make these transitions and maximize our wonderful opportunities. But even when not optimized, and with new issues to be dealt with, let’s not forget that retirement can still be a pretty good gig.


A follow up to my article “Re-Fi Blues.” The final tally: 60 days, 9 hours of work, 160 pages to review (hah!) and sign, $6,000 in fees, and 30 people who reviewed at least some part of the paper pile. Oh, and I had to sign a document that said that my CPA, who is coincidentally named Brown, is not a relation. Amazing, non-consumer oriented, all of it.

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