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Am I Mentally Prepared For Retirement?

Retirement is perhaps the biggest life transition most of us will ever make.  After spending 30+ years in the workforce, suddenly taking your foot off the gas pedal can be something to either look forward to or dread (or both!).  While I clearly haven’t been through it yet myself, I’ve had the privilege of walking many clients through the journey.  I’ve been able to vicariously retire dozens of times and watched folks either struggle or thrive in making the transition.

We spend most of our pre-retirement years preparing financially for retirement, but not nearly enough time preparing mentally and emotionally for it.  This is just as crucial of a step if you want to make the most of this chapter of life.  Here are a few tips I’ve picked up on that can help you make the most of your retired years:

Don’t just retire from something, but to something

This phase of life is better thought of as re-hirement than retirement.  That doesn’t mean you have to get another job, but you should be thinking in terms of staying productive.  Productive goes beyond just being active.  It means having purpose and usefulness.  That can involve serving with a ministry, serving your kids and grandkids, leading a Bible study, taking some classes, or anything else that lines up with your skills or passions that you haven’t had time for previously.

You should also avoid large amounts of wasteful time-suckers like tv and social media.  These are things that we can fall back on when there’s nothing else to do.  They have the appeal of offering satisfaction without ever really satisfying.  Come to think of it, this is a good idea for those of us who aren’t retiring for a while as well 😉 .

Find an identity other than providing for your family

There is a subconscious reality to allowing our identities to get wrapped up in our careers.  When meeting folks, one of the first questions is often “What do you do?”  1 Tim 5:8 tells us that “if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” For many of us, money becomes the driving “why” of our jobs.  When we’re no longer a breadwinner, it can be difficult to figure out who we are anymore.

There’s no easy solution to this step.  But spending time in the truth of Scripture and journaling can force us to wrestle with our false beliefs.  Money and career can shape our identity in ways that we don’t even realize.  So before you get to retirement, slow down and start to process who you really are.  Wrestling through these big life questions now can avoid a lot of the tension down the road.

Spend some money from savings before you retire

One of the hardest mental transitions of retirement is switching from accumulation to decumulation.  Knowing rationally that this is why we saved for decades in our 401(k) doesn’t stop the dread that comes from actually pulling money out of our accounts.  It just doesn’t feel right, especially for “savers”.

That’s why it’s a good idea to take baby steps on this one and withdraw some from savings before you retire.  It’s like a learner’s permit for retirement spending.  Withdrawing smaller amounts and seeing that everything is okay can prepare you for retirement when you don’t have much of a choice.

Don’t wait until you’re sure you won’t outlive your money to enjoy some of it.

The reality is that you’re not going to get any younger.  And you’re likely not going to feel any better physically than you do now.  The years continue to tick by faster and faster and the relatively healthy season won’t last forever.  There is a reality to slowing down, and most of us won’t be able to do as much travel later in life.  Aside from healthcare, almost all of us will decrease our lifestyle and expenses when we get into our 80s.  Yet that is the point that most folks hit the impossibility of running out of money because there are only so many years left.

If we wait until that point, there’s the potential of dying with a lot of money but also a lot of regrets.  History has shown that you can safely withdraw 4% of your nest egg each year and have close to a 0% chance of running out of money.  If you’re withdrawing less than that, you’re highly likely to end up with more money than you need.  Just make sure you avoid the regret part, particularly when driven by fear of running out of money.

Start to think through giving in terms of time.

As we approach retirement, we become conscious of the fact that we won’t live forever.  While some of us will never run out of money, we will all run out of time.  It’s the one finite resource that we all have.

While retirement can bring an awareness of the preciousness of our time, it also brings a new opportunity – free time!  Having 40 hours a week suddenly freed up gives tremendous opportunity to be generous with our time.  Consider your time when you think of being a giver.  That doesn’t mean you can’t find time for that round of golf or even a nap.  But when we give away our time, it is a gift of the most valuable resource we have and we can experience the joy of generosity in new and deeper ways.

Retirement can be a challenge, but if we are intentional we can make the transition with grace and purpose.  It can be a season of our highest productivity, deepest relationships, and fullest satisfaction.