Slowing to a Stop

Dan McDermott

THERE’S AN OLD JEST that goes, “How can you tell if someone is a runner?” The answer: “Don’t worry, they’ll tell you.”

I’m a runner and have enjoyed running for more than 20 years. For me, it’s not about aspiring to go farther and be faster. It’s more about being outdoors, getting my heart rate up, clearing my head and just moving my body.

This spring finds me training for a half marathon that I’ll run with my son. We’ll peak in our weekly training distance in a month and then, a few weeks before the race, we’ll begin to taper. We’ll start reducing the distances we run to rest our muscles, lessen the possibility of injury and be ready to perform our best. We want to go the distance—and claim the race T-shirt, of course.

Like our peak training distances, the years before retirement often coincide with our highest-earning years. They can also be the most complex and involved both at work and at home. Rather than abruptly stopping your income and your daily work, I advocate a tapered approach to retirement.

Even among the financially well-set, the dissatisfaction with a sudden, total retirement seems to come after the initial honeymoon period. There’s a lack of engagement. No more problems to solve, people to interact with, or advice to give and take. The disengagement drives many to return to work fulltime after only a year or two.

How best to begin to taper from your peak? More employers are sponsoring programs of gradual work reduction before retirement, according to The Wall Street Journal and other sources. If your employer doesn’t, you might encourage management to develop one. You could even craft your own tapered retirement plan with the cooperation of your manager, once you are sure you’re ready.

Readers have offered some of their own creative approaches in the comments section of HumbleDollar and my own blog posts. One person was a partner in a business. He used the freedom that allowed to gradually cut back his hours during the years before full retirement. He accepted fewer new clients, avoided certain unpleasant projects and took Fridays off.

Another commenter said that, while she doesn’t have a formal phased retirement option, she’s essentially designing her own. She’ll continue teaching but shed some administrative duties. She’s completing a writing commitment this summer and it will be her last. She’s finishing a term on a board and won’t renew. Her husband is scaling back his hours, too. They’ll use some of their freed-up time to explore other interests in preparation for full retirement.

You can use examples like these to craft your own tapered retirement plan. After all, you don’t have to sprint to the finish to earn the race T-shirt.

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