Still Learning

Richard Quinn

FOR THE BETTER PART of 40 years, I spent a great deal of time helping thousands of workers prepare for retirement. We ran seminars for workers and spouses on topics like retirement income, insurance, lifestyle, relocation and more. I think it’s fair to say that, if someone took advantage of the programs offered, they would have been well prepared financially and emotionally for retirement.

Sadly, relatively few workers utilized all that was available to them—this despite the support and urging of the unions that represented them. I retired in 2010, suffering in part from banging-your-head-against-the-wall syndrome.

Since then, I’ve learned a great deal more about retirement, both from my own experience and from others. Here are my top 10 lessons:

  1. No matter how well you’ve prepared and how generous your sources of retirement income, money is always on your mind. For some reason, I’ve found the financial “what ifs” still stare us in the face. Perhaps it’s because we know there are no do-overs and hence our financial resources are finite.
  2. I am convinced that, once retired, the ability to rebuild savings remains essential. You cannot handle a significant, unexpected expense from your main retirement savings without jeopardizing your financial future. That means you need emergency money, outside of your regular retirement plan, and you need to replenish that fund if it’s used.
  3. In the old days, we used to tell employees about the three-legged stool of retirement income: company pension, Social Security and personal savings. Today, the stool has different legs. For most Americans in the private sector, there’s no company pension and instead only a 401(k) plan. The new legs are now employer plan savings, Social Security and other savings. Since retiring, I better appreciate the value of having substantial savings, beyond what you accumulate in your employer’s plan.
  4. Maintaining your lifestyle isn’t as easy as it looks. After nine years, I’ve maintained mine. But that’s only been possible because of a measure of frugality, coupled with my goal of retiring with enough income to replicate 100% of my base salary, rather than the standard advice to aim for 80%.
  5. Inflation is real. For many people, health care spending, property taxes and rent will be the big inflation concerns. There’s no escaping inflation, so you need to plan. I would suggest having a pool of money that you leave untouched and allow to grow, until you need it later in retirement to offset increasing expenses.
  6. The transition to retirement isn’t easy. I found it very hard to let go of my professional life. For instance, I used to be invited to speak at conferences around the country, staying in top resorts. In a blink of an eye, that was gone.
  7. Busy or bored? It’s your choice. When I asked folks—who were about to retire—what they planned to do, typical answers included “play golf,” “fish” and “tinker around the house.” Those aren’t enough. But take heart: You’ll soon be busy. The question is, will you be busy doing what you want to do?
  8. Where did all the “friends” go? When you work with people for many years, your relationship with them may seem like it’s about more than just business. But when you retire, and you lose your authority and influence, it can feel like you dropped off the planet. Your true friends will remain. But your value to others will be gone—and so will they. Don’t be surprised.
  9. There is an old saying, “I married you for better or worse, but not for lunch.” When I announced I was planning to retire, my wife said, “Fine, but I’m not changing my activities.” She hasn’t and nor should she. When you add eight to 12 hours a day to the time you spend with a person, there’s an adjustment. Talk about it.
  10. There is an end to retirement. I don’t want to be maudlin. But before graduating school or college, we look forward to a career. During our career, we look forward to retirement. Once retired, we look forward to waking up.

Okay, it isn’t that bad and it isn’t like the end of the movie is a big secret. Still, when you receive notices of former coworkers passing, it’s a little depressing. Keep calm and carry on.

Richard Quinn blogs at Before retiring in 2010, Dick was a compensation and benefits executive. His previous articles include Healthy ChangeSaving Ourselves and Required Irritation. Follow Dick on Twitter @QuinnsComments.

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4 years ago

Well, one suggestion for keeping busy when retired is to take water exercises at the YMCA! (: Water exercise is good for the entire body, and my classes have a good amount of socializing. Also, I’m so tired after a few hours at the pool, that I don’t have to find other things to do during the day!

Langston Holland
Langston Holland
4 years ago

Great points, thank you Richard. It is so helpful to have those who have gone before me report from the other side. I’m about 3 years out from the retirement threshold and I’m starting to think monetary preparation was the easy part.

4 years ago

I must have listened to you because I retired early. I too used to vacation on the upscale end mostly because of the lack of time off. Now, my wife and I want to stretch our vacation dollar for as long as we can for each vacation. The things I found that were so important and I cannot stress enough to people who want to retire is 1) NO DEBT, 2) downsize, you do not need a 4 bedroom house, better yet, avoid buying that house if you can, 3) money management is your retirement job, chase those interest rates and manage that budget, 4) Do something everyday, go to a high school play if you have to, 5) start saving early and often in your career, 6) stop trying to finance your kids and grandkids dreams, you worked hard and so can they.

The only wild card I have found, is medical and that has been anybody’s guess for my whole retirement plan process. I must admit Medicare is stable once you get to be 65.

Bob Kyle
Bob Kyle
4 years ago

These should be part of any discussion between husband and wife and retiree and advisor. Looking back, I would add two supporting suggestions to the 10 points: 1) validate (via a second opinion) your retirement financial plan with an independent advisor – so there is no ‘after the event’ second guessing and worry and 2) at least a year in advance, identify and develop 3-5 joint and individual interests and activities you will pursue as passionately as your job that obligates some time each week. These can be anything – golf, exercise, managing your retirement plan, pursuit of new hobby or hobbies, family, travel, volunteer work, whatever. The purpose being you’ll have something to look forward to each week plus an obligation to yourself or others to make a difference.

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