For some people, the transition from work to retirement can be problem-free, but for others, complications can arise. Retirement can be especially problematic for individuals whose primary identity is their occupation. These individuals may be financially ready to stop earning money, but have not thought through who they will be or what they will do when they're no longer practicing medicine.
In the book Comfort Zones: Planning a Fulfilling Retirement, Elwood Chapman and Marion Haynes write, "Many people are so preoccupied with getting out of a career trap that they seem to care little about what happens after they leave their jobs. Too many people retire to nothing and then wonder why they feel disenchanted."
In other words, your plans for retirement need to be bigger than getting away from your call schedule. You need to spend time now thinking about what you will do when you are no longer practicing medicine. Here are five prescriptions to reduce complications as you transition to retirement:
- Practice being retired while you're still working. Some clients I'll call David and Sarah practiced retirement by testing out their dream of traveling across the US in a RV. David started taking more time off from his internal medicine practice so they could rent a RV and travel for two weeks at a time. As they practiced being retired, they learned how much time traveling was not too long, not too short, but just right. As David got closer to retiring, they also spent some of his vacation time at home and learned how much togetherness was too much and what was just right. David and Sarah did not just wake up on day one of retirement and fall into an ideal routine. They tried many things, talked about what was working and what was not working and made adjustments to get to what was right for them. You might do the same by answering these questions with your spouse:
- Do you plan to change your lifestyle when you retire? If so, how? Will you move to the beach or to the mountains or to be closer to family?
- What will an ideal week in retirement look like?
- What will you do on Saturday morning? Or Tuesday morning? Or on Thursday night?
- Have a purpose in retirement. Research shows that the more you think about retirement, the more likely you are to take retirement planning steps. You will begin to visualize a life in retirement that will be fulfilling, which will make it easier for you to take the steps to get there. To help determine your purpose in retirement, think about:
- What are you most looking forward to in retirement?
- What are you most concerned about in retirement?
- What will you miss about practicing medicine? For example, if you enjoy researching and learning about new medical advances, think about how you can continue learning in retirement.
- What are five to ten goals you want to experience in your lifetime?
- Strengthen your relationships. If most of your social interactions are with fellow doctors and nurses, what other friends will you spend time with when you are no longer working? If you are married, think about how retirement may impact your marriage. Divorce after age 50 has doubled since 1990 while declining across all other age groups. It is most often the wife who asks for divorce after age 50. In an October 2017 Forbes magazine article, one woman talked about how her husband was always around. She said, "I married him for life, not for lunch." You and your spouse might find it helpful to have a conversation about:
- Will the division of household chores change in retirement? Will you take over yard work now that you don't have to take call?
- If you have grandchildren, how much are you willing to baby sit?
- Are there classes, clubs or volunteer groups that may be another source of friends?
- Improve your health. As you well know, our greatest wealth is our health. Improving your physical health care can save you money by reducing the number of doctor's visits, prescriptions, and procedures you need. The average 65 year old man will spend $189,687 on healthcare expenses in retirement. The average 65 year-old woman will spend $214,565. These figures do not include long-term care like assisted living, memory care or nursing home care. While there are no guarantees when it comes to our health, we can take action today to improve it. At the risk of preaching to the choir, think about:
- What is one small change you can make now? Set an alarm for your bedtime? Eat a vegetable with each meal?
- What are fun ways you can move more? Walk your dog? Plant a garden? Get a stand up desk?
- How can you work out your brain? Learn a new language? Teach a class?
- Consider working part-time during retirement. In addition to financial benefits, work during retirement may help you stay mentally sharp. According to a study in the International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, retiring later may delay the onset of Alzheimer's. Work in retirement may also help you stay physically active, stay connected socially, and give you a sense of purpose. Consider:
- Is there a job that you have been interested in or a subject you've always wanted to study?
- Could you work as a consultant for an insurance pharmaceutical company?
- Have you wanted to start your own business?
To have a successful transition to retirement, you need to spend time thinking about what life will be like then. You don't want you to focus on your retirement date and ignore what life will be like in the days and weeks that follow. The most important thing you can do now is to commit to turning these tips into action.
Opinions and information expressed herein are subject to change without notice. Bridgeworth, LLC, including your Advisor, may have issued materials that are inconsistent with or may reach different conclusions than those represented in this commentary, and all opinions and information are believed to be reflective of judgments and opinions as of the date that material was originally published. Bridgeworth, LLC is under no obligation to ensure that other materials are brought to the attention of any recipient of this commentary.
Patti Black, CFP is a financial planner with Bridgeworth, LLC. She has over 20 years of experience helping affluent clients align their goals and their money.