Research has found that retirement is not very different from retrenchment for many people when it comes to their mental state subsequent to the event.
In Personal Finance, we focus a lot on the number-crunching aspect of retirement planning - are you putting aside enough to be able to retire comfortably? How much is enough?
Financial planners focus on this side of things - it is their area of expertise. But there is a shift in the financial planning profession - which I highlighted a few weeks ago - towards the “softer”, human side of planning. Machines can crunch numbers; financial planners, if their profession is to thrive in the age of artificial intelligence, need to develop closer relationships with their clients and their families, sharing in the family’s fortunes, misfortunes, ambitions and achievements.
If you are in the latter years of your career and approaching retirement, your conversation with your financial planner needs to be about more than just the money.
I recently attended two workshops on the non-financial aspects of retirement - one for people nearing or entering retirement, by the Bridge Foundation, and one for financial planners, by the South African Independent Financial Advisers Association - and came away with the following lessons, among others, for prospective retirees:
1. Retirement is not a holiday
I have stated in this column that the word “retirement” should be retired, not because we don’t stop working at some stage, but because of its outmoded connotations. A common one is of a laughing, grey-haired couple strolling hand-in-hand along the beach as the sun sets.
You should build wealth to achieve financial freedom, and once you reach the point in your life when you don’t have to work, whether that comes at 55 or 70, you may enjoy full-time leisure time for a while, but are unlikely to enjoy it indefinitely. As Dr Anne Blacklaws from The Bridge says, you’ll soon tire of golf if you’re playing more than a couple of days a week.
Holidays are enjoyable because they are a break from work - there is no such thing as a permanent holiday. You need to be involved in activities that keep you mindfully occupied and give you a reason for getting up off that couch and away from the TV screen. Many successful retirees find fulfilment in giving back to society by doing volunteer work at charities and NGOs. Others are able to remain active in their careers and slowly scale back, perhaps being kept on by their employer as a freelancer or consultant.
2. Relationships are important
Relationships change on retirement: you no longer have the daily social interaction with work colleagues and are suddenly spending a great deal more time with your partner. You and your partner’s plans for this new era in your lives should be aligned. Furthermore, you actively need to work on and nurture your relationships with family and friends, and reach out and make new friends. Loneliness can be the bane of old age, leading to depression and ill health.
3. Carefully consider where you will live
Retiring to a remote seaside village fits in well with the happy-couples-on-beaches concept of retirement, but would it really lead to a happier, more fulfilled, healthier life? You might find yourself out in the sticks, vulnerable to crime, with family and friends too far away to see regularly, and minimal infrastructure in the way of healthcare facilities.
Retirement villages are a popular option because they offer the healthcare facilities and security that older people need. A drawback is that you will be living among people of your generation and older. Research on so-called “blue zones” (see box), suggests that older people thrive best in a supportive multigenerational community that includes younger adults and children.
4. Eat healthily and exercise
The healthier you are in retirement, the more you will get out of it and the lower your medical costs will be. A healthy diet and physical activity are good not only for your body, but for your brain.
5. Have a positive attitude and think young
The saying “you are as old as you think you are” is apt. Medical advances are allowing us to live healthier for longer, but any benefits they bring can quickly be offset by a negative old-age mindset.
According to The Bridge, depression affects one in five retired people. Training yourself to think positively can do wonders for your physical well-being.
I have only touched on what you need to consider. For further information, I recommend Rewire, Don’t Retire - Your Guide to a Fulfilling Retirement by Paul Britton and Marianne Heron of The Bridge, and Over the Moon: A Guide to Positive Ageing by Hannetjie van Zyl-Edeling. The Bridge’s website (see below) is a mine of useful articles and information.
The Bridge, a foundation headed by Paul Britton, Marianne Heron, Dr Anne Blacklaws and Dr Hannetjie van Zyl-Edeling, aims to prepare people for retirement.
“Our interactive workshops help you create the retirement you deserve, offering insight, practical information and a stimulating environment in which to explore options.
“We help you anticipate the challenges and the pitfalls involved in the transition to a new stage, which amounts to a third of your life. We provide a framework for your personal strategy not just for retirement, but a fulfilling ‘rewirement’,” its website says.
The Bridge is also active in coaching financial advisers on dealing with clients at this stage of their lives.
Visit www.fulfillingretirement.co.za for more information.
There are several places in the world where people live longer, healthier and happier lives than anywhere else. More than a decade ago, explorer and National Geographic researcher Dan Buettner identified five such regions, which he called “blue zones”: Ikaria, an island in Greece; Okinawa, an island in Japan; the Barbagia region of Sardinia (Italy); Loma Linda, a small city in California, in the US; and the Nicoya peninsula in Costa Rica.
He found the elders in these areas had a number of factors in common: an embracing, supportive community; close family connections; a sense of purpose, typically linked to religious belief; daily physical activity such as walking, doing household chores and gardening; low stress levels and effective ways of relieving stress, such as praying, meditation or an afternoon nap; and a healthy diet, which was relatively high in vegetables and wholegrains, and relatively low in meat.
Buettner found that people in these areas stop eating when they are 80% full, and have their smallest meal in the early evening.