Your Investments: Finding meaning in your retirement

Elderly Israelis wait for their turn to vote  (photo credit: REUTERS)
Elderly Israelis wait for their turn to vote
(photo credit: REUTERS)
My retirement date, every time you ask me that, I’m going to say five years. I don’t want to retire. – Jamie Dimon

In preparing this column I decided to do a Google search on the phrase “secure financial future.” 
I figured there would be a high number of results on the search but when I saw that number 286,000,000 (yes 286 million!) I was surprised. There are millions of articles, and I have certainly written my fair share, about how to have a financially secure future. The need to save and invest are paramount to achieving this goal. There is clearly no shortage of information on how to fund and pay for your retirement. What is lacking in the whole retirement dialogue is how to retire. How can people retire and find meaning or purpose in their retirement.
A friend of mine who sits a row in front of me in synagogue, just told me that he is retiring in a couple of weeks. “50 years of work is enough, don’t you agree” is what he told me. Then I explained that I have always been interested in the “philosophy of retirement” or how people can fill up their time in a purposeful way. He told me that he plans to take some university courses – without the pressure of being a student (i.e. no papers, tests etc.) –, travel, volunteer and enjoy lots of time with his grandchildren. I complimented him that he had thought it out and mentioned that all too often I meet people who plan on retiring in a matter of days and haven’t given more than five minutes of thought on what they plan to do.
No more punching a clock
Most people look forward to the day they no longer have to show up for work. After working hard for decades, retirement has been well earned. While as a financial adviser it’s often my job to help individuals fund their retirement, I have found that more and more the job entails getting them to start planning and thinking about how they want to spend their time when they no longer need to punch a clock. You better think long and hard before you retire, on how you plan to fill up 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, for what could easily be 20-30 years!
Darrow Kirkpatrick, who operates the very popular website talks about finding purpose in retirement and writes, “There has been relief at having a more relaxed schedule. But some anxiety too. Am I ‘wasting’ my life? The answer has been to reconsider my purpose.”
Mom, I’m bored!
More than once I have quoted Joanne Kaufman who wrote in The New York Times about those taking early retirement. She describes a man who retired at 42: “For the first few months after Jon Helmuth retired three years ago, he slept late, acquired a tan and showered at odd times. Actually, some days he didn’t bother to shower at all. After that pleasantly aimless interval, Mr. Helmuth, a divorced father of four who is now 45, began organizing his five-bedroom house in the woods of Vandalia, Michigan, a village near the Indiana border. But once he alphabetized the spice rack and finished making an easy chair out of castoff designer jeans, ‘I started running out of things to do,’ he said.”
That’s classic. It so accurately demonstrates what happens when you retire without a plan. You end up bouncing off the walls after a few months. Ever notice how kids get so excited in the run-up to summer vacation but after just a few days of being on vacation, when they have no plan, they get bored and the vacation isn’t all that it was cracked up to be? It’s the same with retirement.
A note for those who love to travel. If you don’t plan on living abroad for years at a time, travel isn’t a retirement plan. It can be part of a larger plan, but it’s not the plan itself. Keep in mind that even if you were to travel two months a year that still leaves 300+ days to fill up.
Get a head start. Start planning for retirement a few years in advance. How to fill up the day in a meaningful way is very important. Speak to other retirees to understand how they transitioned from decades of going to work to this new chapter in their life. As I have written previously, I use the phrase “new chapter in life” on purpose. I have found that those who have succeeded in this transition looked at retirement not as the beginning of the end, but rather as a new chapter in their life. I have found that this attitudinal approach is crucial in creating an optimism which helps give a meaning a purpose to this stage of life.

The information contained in this article reflects the opinion of the author and not necessarily the opinion of Portfolio Resources Group, Inc. or its affiliates.
Aaron Katsman is the author of Retirement GPS: How to Navigate Your Way to A Secure Financial Future with Global Investing.;