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Retirement Preview

Mike Drak

THE PANDEMIC HAS given many folks a taste of what retirement could be like. An abrupt end to work. A loss of social connection. Trying to make ends meet on a much lower income. Many haven’t been happy with the experience.

Worried that your retirement could be similar? Here are eight lessons we can learn from the pandemic, all drawn from my new book, Retirement Heaven or Hell:

1. Retirement can be a shock. In fact, it’s quite similar to what people experienced during the pandemic. Sure, it might have felt good for a little while, not having to set an alarm, not having to deal with a long, brutal commute and not having a demanding work schedule that left you exhausted. But at some point, being forced to shelter in place got a little irritating, and people began to feel antsy and depressed. Indeed, some started eating and drinking too much to mute the anxiety and tedium they were experiencing.

2. Life without work can be boring. The virus showed us how miserable our days can be if we have too much time on our hands. The weeks slowed to a crawl for people who couldn’t work. They had trouble remembering what day it was, because it didn’t matter. Without a plan for how to spend our time, this is how our retirement could be, too.

3. Strong relationships are crucial. During the pandemic, we’ve been forced to spend long periods of time alone, with little social interaction. Being isolated has made us appreciate the value of the relationships we have with family and friends. We all crave social connection—and we need to make sure our retirement plan addresses that need.

4. Quitting work strains marriages. Once the pandemic’s initial restrictions were lifted, divorce applications spiked. Sadly, divorce rates among retirees are also on the rise, with dire emotional and financial consequences. Whether it’s retirement or a pandemic, many couples have trouble adjusting to increased togetherness.

5. Good health can save our life—and our finances. Older people, and people of any age who had serious underlying medical conditions such as hypertension, obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease, have been at greater risk of severe illness during the pandemic. To reduce the risk of ending up in a hospital and being put on a ventilator, it’s been crucial to stay healthy. The good news: Many of the pre-existing conditions that put us at greater risk can be reversed through positive lifestyle changes, such as exercising and eating right.

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These are also key anti-aging strategies. Incorporating an exercise routine into our retirement, along with eating right, will lower the amount of money we’ll have to spend on health care, which is one of retirement’s largest expenses.

6. We need a purpose. During the pandemic’s initial lockdown, if we couldn’t work from home, there often wasn’t much for us to do that felt meaningful. Some of us woke up to the fact that having a job—any job—was far better than puttering around the house, killing time.

Similarly, when we retire, we need to fill the big hole left by the disappearance of our fulltime job—something that replaces the positive aspects of our career, that’s challenging, that requires learning new things, that allows us to contribute and that makes us feel a part of something bigger.

7. Retirement often isn’t planned. It’s estimated that 42% of jobs eliminated during the pandemic aren’t coming back. That’s bad news for those near retirement age. There’s a perception that older workers want salaries that are too high, aren’t up to date on certain skills and won’t mesh well with younger colleagues.

Because of that perception, as the the economy recovers and hiring picks up, workers age 50 and older may find they’re last in line. It will likely take a long time for them to find a job and, in many cases, that job will come with a significant pay cut. Because of the lack of work opportunities, some people who were solidly middle class will be pushed into retirement earlier than they planned. They’ll be forced to draw on their retirement assets earlier than scheduled, with grim consequences for their retirement standard of living.

8. Maybe money can buy happiness. COVID-19 has given many families a taste of what it’s like to live on a limited income—an issue they could also face in retirement. Even those with a lot of money were miserable because there was no place to spend it. They couldn’t go on vacation or go to the mall. They were forced to self-isolate at home, experiencing firsthand how lackluster life can seem when we can’t use money to brighten our days. Our retirement could also be like that if we don’t prepare financially.

Has the pandemic left you frustrated and unhappy? My advice: Learn from that—and make sure your retirement doesn’t turn out to be a repeat.

Mike Drak is a 38-year veteran of the financial services industry. He’s the author of Retirement Heaven or Hell, which was just published, as well as an earlier book, Victory Lap Retirement. Mike works with his wife, an investment advisor, to help clients design a fulfilling retirement. For more on Mike, head to BoomingEncore.com.

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Ben
Ben
8 months ago

Thank you for posting this. You’ve translated very eloquently into words many of the experiences/emotions/anxiety which I think hundreds of thousands if not millions of workers (at least, white-collar ones) have experienced during Covid.

Another commenter made the worthwhile point that not everyone can seek purpose or meaning from their job. I wouldn’t disagree with that. But there is a large cohort of people who do, and for those this advice is very timely and thoughtful.

R Quinn
R Quinn
8 months ago

Great and accurate summary. I’ve been retired eleven years and before that I spent decades coaching employees planning to retire and also working with thousands of retired employees (and still do via Facebook). You have captured the issues which people need to seriously consider when thinking about retirement. The increased divorce rate is a bit discouraging. My wife and I have been married 52 years. Last year we faced the challenge of 30 days quarantined in a ships stateroom followed by two more weeks in our condo when we finally got home. We survived each other.

Catherine
Catherine
8 months ago

Great piece for firing the imaginations of those with chance now to re-evaluate past expenditures of time and money, and what they anticipate in retirement, so they can adjust in the present moment. Limited and generally less pleasant to adjust once you’re retired.

Catherine
Catherine
8 months ago

Regarding point 7, I wasn’t able to glide the extra five working years I’d planned. Adequate financial preparation and now working on purpose just as you state in point 6.

johny
johny
8 months ago

Actually I am finding this COVID period quite acceptable, perhaps even enlightening. The isolation has reduced my life to the bare minimum and to realize contentment under these conditions has been a pleasant surprise. I am now even more confident my retirement will be without some of the issues outlined in this article. I’ve found our marriage to continue to be strong, time to fly and the mind not be in that constant unhappy state looking for things to distract itself with.

This COVID isolation has made me realize the distractions of eating out, traveling, shopping, partying – going to church even – aren’t needed to find contentment.

greglee
greglee
8 months ago

“We all crave social connection …” Speak for yourself. I don’t need a social connection with you to talk to you. I’m fine with that.

CJ
CJ
8 months ago

“we need to fill the big hole left by the disappearance of our fulltime job—something that replaces the positive aspects of our career, that’s challenging, that requires learning new things, that allows us to contribute and that makes us feel a part of something bigger.”

Great tips in the article, but I take exception to the elitist and often misguided assumption that everyone has this fulfilling job where they “learn new things, feel part of something bigger.”

Ummm…no. Let’s introduce a little reality here: there are MANY hard working people whose 40 hour a week job consists of doing the same exact thing every day for 30+ years – whether it’s assembling widgets, mowing lawns, ringing up groceries, tending to patients, etc. There are jobs at all levels from entry to high level that essentially come down to the same or a similar set of tasks every day with very little change.

There’s no “hole” to fill for many of these folks – just read a few retirement blogs and forums like Early Retirement, Bogleheads, and others: many people have been retired for 5-20+ years without searching for meaning, purpose, etc – they’re relaxed and ecstatic with their lives

Mike Drak
Mike Drak
2 months ago
Reply to  CJ

I agree with what you said. Different types of retirees have different needs wants and values. When I write an article I write what works for people like me but I also recognize there are other view points that are just as valid.

Peter Blanchette
Peter Blanchette
8 months ago

Isn’t an important lesson of the pandemic that it is important to have a plan in place to protect the surviving spouse in a situation where one spouse is lost suddenly, like, let’s say, from an illness caused by a pandemic? They only come every century or so, but they do come every so often. Many spouses have been lost without there being any communication possible to express wishes beyond just condolences.

Mike Drak
Mike Drak
2 months ago

Yes you make a very good point. My wife is a financial advisor and some of her clients passed away unexpectedly because of the virus. There was a mad rush to find missing bank passwords, insurance policies etc which put a lot of stress on the surviving spouse.

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