professional woman in an architect office

Mentally & Financially Preparing for Retirement

by Liz Kitchell

Let’s face it, we all annoyed our parents with the dreaded ARE WE THERE YET on family vacations – and lots of us (including me) hadn’t really given it much thought until we were on the receiving end! 

There’s more to this legendarily annoying question that meets the eye. What the question really asks is what’s the gap between where we are and where we want to be. While it’s about anticipation for kids on vacation, it’s the same for us – people in our 50s, let’s say, planning for retirement – only there’s a longer, more compelling horizon.

The questions we are asking sound like:

  •  “Am I saving enough?” 
  • “Do I have enough?”
  • “Will I be a burden on my kids?”
  • “How will I know when I can retire?”
  • “What’s my number?”

At the end of the day, it’s a variant of “are we there yet?” Only now, you’re the parents driving your own car to your own destination now. Remember when we couldn’t wait to be adults, all the fun and freedom? Yeah, right. Anyway, maybe it’s your advisor driving the car. The question remains: are we there yet?

Well, you have to do your homework. Unlike the childhood vacation, YOU pick where you’re going, how long you’re staying, and what you want to get out of it all. Take some time with this, dust off a special notebook you never used, buy something special for this and start writing questions and answers:

  • What does retirement look like?
  • What the heck am I going to do with your newfound freedom?
  • How will I spend my time?
  • Do you see yourself travelling, tending to grandchildren, or taking classes to learn new things?  

Brainstorming this question helps you emotionally prepare for retirement and gives your advisor the information needed to calculate your retirement income strategy. Plus, brainstorming sounds better than homework anyway.

The better you craft your strategy, the better you give your assets a chance to last as long as you do and to meet your spiffy new goals! Every day could well be a Saturday in the years ahead, and, while you may feel like a kid in a candy store not sure which candy to buy first – it’s important to remember it’s easy to get paralyzed with too many options in front of you, you might fear making the wrong choice,  and do nothing. All of these outcomes can be avoided by answering are we there yet? before that old County Squire leaves the driveway. (Remember those? Paneling on a car, kids … Google it.)

Unfortunately, my father never actually retired – there were lots of reasons (he thought he could do a little more to set us children up for success, he could take his business to a new level, that next car, that new house project, etc.), but ultimately, he never put in the work to get the car packed. I mean, why pack if you haven’t given thought to where you’re going?

This is not a criticism, by the way. I mean, the few times I really challenged him on retiring, it was clear he’d given no thought to what to do with his time. It is normal and it’s common, for people to struggle with a new purpose if their life – after all, the old one worked – but you can cut a new path for yourself when others around you may not.

So how does one mentally prepare for retirement? It’s a complex question, but one we could have answered on that very youthful car ride with our parents – lots of us read Hamlet (except my husband, if there’s a Shakespeare phobia, we need to name it after him) and that pivotal line “know thyself and to thine own self be true.” With apologies to my husband, Shakespeare has it right when it comes to your retirement.

Take a moment and grab a journal. Start brainstorming the answers to the questions above. Build on them with new questions. Answer them too. Prioritize. Invest a little time every day to dream how you will spend your time. And those of you not retired yet, start doing some of these things now. Share your answers with your family and friends. Ask them to hold you accountable. Consider it a dream journal, things you want to accomplish, visit, experience, people you want to meet and things you want to solve in life. 

Before long you’ll know where you’re going, and just exactly if and when you’re there yet, and you know when you yell I’m here, you’ll know it in your heart to be true.