There may be some glorious days ahead-the days of your retirement. No longer confined to the rigors of the workaday world, you can spend your time doing what you want to do. Don’t, however, expect everything to fall magically into place. Like most things in life, you’ll get the most from retirement by planning.
Start by thinking about how you will replace your work routine with a retirement routine. Before the last day on your job, have an idea of how that first day of retirement will be filled. You don’t want to start this new phase of your life wondering what you’ll do. Take some time to think about your lifestyle and how you’re going to adapt. If getting up early for work has always been drudgery, plan for a leisurely beginning to your day. If sitting at a desk all day was against your nature, now is the time to let your active self take over. Just remember, you don’t have to rush like you did to catch the train or beat the traffic! The goal is to get the most out of a precious resource-your time.
Ask yourself some important questions: What do you like to do? Were there things you longed to do but didn’t have time for when you were working? These are the activities you should begin building your retirement days around. In a way, these new activities may now be your job and can provide you with the most satisfaction. Here are just a few ideas to get you started:
Education. Early in life, schooling involves acquiring skills, so maybe you’ve never had the opportunity to study something just for the sheer joy of learning. Take classes at the local community college on a topic you want to know more about. Or go to the library and develop a list of books you’ve always wanted to read, then dig in.
Outdoor activities. Cooped up in an office, factory or other building all day, you may have longed to spend more time outdoors. Turn your garden into the showplace you know it can be. Go fishing or take up bird-watching. Whatever your interest in the outdoors, enjoy it.
Hit the road. Now you have the time to indulge your wanderlust. Make a list of the places you want to go, and make vacation planning your hobby when you’re not roaming.
Handwork. Woodworking, needlework and painting are just a few hands-on hobbies. To do them well takes time, something you had little of when you were working. Now you can perfect your craft. Make a place at home where you can work with your hands to your heart’s content.
Speak out. If an interest in politics and government has always played second fiddle to your career, give it first place now. Whether you run for office, work on someone else’s campaign or keep tabs on legislation that affects you, find a way to get involved.
Pet pleasure. Perhaps you’re someone who enjoys pets, and now that you have more time on your hands, you could provide a good home for a dog, cat, bird or fish. If you have the space and the desire, caring for a pet can be a rewarding experience. Pets can be loyal companions and have positive effects on your well-being.
To Work or Not to Work
You may find that you want to go back to work-but this time on your terms. Work has its own rewards-the regular contact with people, the feeling of being needed, the knowledge that you’re contributing-and you may find that there’s still a place in your life for work. You may even be able to continue with your previous employer, perhaps as a consultant or a part-time employee with valuable knowledge gained over the years.
It may seem strange to think about reentering the work force just as you’re leaving it, but many people find that, without the pressure to earn a paycheck, work can actually be enjoyable. Others find that they’re able to take a job they’ve always wanted, even though the pay isn’t so great. And some take jobs that don’t pay at all, deciding volunteer work is the best way to use their retirement hours.
Be aware that holding a paying job can have an effect on your Social Security benefits as well as your taxes. You can still collect Social Security benefits if you work, but if your earnings exceed the allowable amount, your benefits will be reduced. Earnings over the limit also affect the benefits of your family members. Before you take a post-retirement job, call or visit your local Social Security office to find out the latest regulations and their implications for your benefits. Also, check with your accountant or tax advisor to determine the tax implications.
Volunteering allows you to use your life experiences, skills and talents to help others in your community. There are numerous organizations that need help: the Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE), the Coalition for Literacy, the American Red Cross, United Way, the Peace Corps, VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) and more. If you decide to volunteer, choose something you enjoy and are familiar with; that way, you’ll be volunteering some time while dealing with people who have interests similar to yours. Other possibilities include local hospitals, schools, scout troops or religious organizations.
To Your Health
While you’re planning your new lifestyle, be sure to consider your health. Start by thinking about your exercise routine. Don’t have one? Design one that’s right for you! Moderate exercise is necessary to help maintain your health. While you were working, the demands of your job may have helped to keep you physically fit. If you had a regular exercise routine, your work schedule probably helped keep you on track. Now those sources of motivation are gone and you may need to find a way to make sure you don’t become a “couch potato.”
Just as important is your diet. Again, your three square meals a day may have revolved around your work schedule. With relaxed schedule, you may find your eating habits relaxing a little, too. Just being aware this can happen may help you avoid it: Make a point of eating right by taking time to prepare healthful meals that are low in fat and high in nutritious foods such as fruits, vegetables and grains.
Before you retire, get a thorough checkup from your doctor. Have your eyes examined and your teeth cleaned and checked, too. Scheduling these visits while you’re still employed allows you to take advantage of your health insurance. After you retire, you may have less coverage. If you have to get new or supplemental health insurance, your rates and coverage will be affected by your current health situation.
Another important thing to do before you retire (and certainly before you reach age 65) is to check on your Medicare eligibility. Call 1-800/SSA-1213 to get a copy of form SSA7004, which requests information on what Social Security records show about your eligibility. If you don’t sign up for Medicare when you’re first eligible for coverage- at age 65-you have to pay a higher premium for Part B coverage (which covers charges from doctors, surgeons and outpatient providers and also medical supplies). Likewise, if you don’t have enough Social Security credits, you will not get premium-free Part A coverage. There is an enrollment period during the year you turn 65. Check with your local Social Security office for more information and for a copy of the Medicare Handbook.
Think of the long term, too. Your health is likely to change over time, and there are a variety of illnesses you’re more prone to with age. So, don’t forgo regular preventive health visits, particularly for blood pressure and cholesterol level checks. Talk to your doctor about your family’s health history and the likelihood that you’ll develop a problem. Ask about the symptoms you should watch out for, and, of course, get medical help whenever necessary.
Also, take a close look at your insurance situation and decide whether you need extra insurance. Choosing a supplemental health policy can be complicated. Do your homework, shop around and don’t allow yourself to be pressured into a quick decision. Long-term care insurance is sold by insurance companies to help pay for nursing home or home health care expenses. Most states have a counseling program on senior health insurance issues with trained volunteers available to help older adults and their families with questions.
Home Sweet Home
At some point you may want to evaluate housing alternatives for your retirement. Start by asking yourself how well your current home works for you. If you own your home, think about the size of the house and property and the amount of upkeep required. Many folks have paid off their mortgages by the time they retire, but others have not, so think about the expense of maintaining your home. Look ahead and consider how well this home will meet your future needs. If, for example, you’re finding it difficult to climb stairs in your two- story, it may be time for a move.
Now think about how you’re planning to spend your days. If you’re a northerner planning lots of golf and other outdoor activities, a move to a more moderate climate is worth considering. Just a few of the popular retirement spots are North and South Carolina, Alabama, Florida, New Mexico, Arizona and California.
But before heading off for a change of scenery, think about how far you would be from family and friends. Most retirement experts advise staying close to loved ones. Remember, your life is going to change with retirement, so keeping your relationships in place gives you a good support system to help you deal with the change. If you do decide to move, do your research. Check the availability and eligibility requirements for various services you might need in a new state. Consider the cost of living, transportation, availability of good medical care and safety factors before putting down new roots. Make sure you know the area well, in different seasons, and consider renting awhile before buying a home. If you feel uncomfortable in your new surroundings, ask yourself why. Sometimes it’s just the newness, which will pass. But if you continue to feel unsure, start looking at other housing options.
Should you decide it’s time to move-across town or across country-you have plenty of housing options. In addition to apartments and houses, there’s a boom in housing options specifically geared to retirees.
Condominiums. Providing all the comforts of home without all of the upkeep, condos are apartment-style homes you purchase rather than rent. The common areas you share with your neighbors are maintained for a monthly fee. Condos are popular with retirees for their convenience and comfort.
Retirement communities. If you’d like to be surrounded by people your age, retirement community living may be for you. There may be several housing options to choose from, along with a host of services and activities-transportation, security, community dining and social events. Be aware, however, that some retirees find this lifestyle too rigid, while others miss being around people of all ages. Some communities have restrictions on guests and pets.
Assisted-living communities. If health considerations are a big factor in your retirement choices, investigate assisted- living communities. With this style of housing, you can have private living quarters and get assistance as you need it.
Life care centers. These communities offer a full range of services. Usually, you pay an entrance fee and are guaranteed housing for life. You also pay a monthly service fee that covers services such as housekeeping, meals and custodial care.
To find out more about popular retirement spots, assisted- living communities and life care centers, your library and bookstore are good places to start. Look through some of the many guides published on retirement communities. After narrowing your list of possibilities, call for more information. Many communities now offer videotapes to give you a better idea of what they’re like. It’s important to visit several communities, ask lots of questions and get a feel for whether it’s a well-managed place where you would feel comfortable.
Time for Travel
Your travel options are virtually limitless. Whatever your dreams, whatever your budget, you may be able to make them come true. Travel is the most popular leisure activity among retirees, and many airlines, hotels, restaurants, car rentals and tourist attractions offer senior discounts.
One very popular travel/study program is Elderhostel, which offers short-term residential learning programs to people 55+ throughout the United States and in more than 50 foreign countries. For a catalog, write to Elderhostel, 75 Federal St., Boston, MA 02110, or call 617/426-8056.
Get Your Financial House in Order
Without adequate financing, many of your retirement dreams may remain just that-dreams. So before you finalize retirement plans, you may want to consider professional assistance. To get a complete picture of your financial resources, include Social Security, pensions, Individual Retirement Arrangements (IRAs), 401(k) plans, savings and any other investments in your equation. Then talk to a professional about how best to allocate those resources and get an idea of how much income your investments will generate.
Also, if you’re expecting a lump-sum payment from your retirement savings plan, be prepared to make the choice as to how you will handle it. The reality is that you’ll have to share some of this money with Uncle Sam. However, how well you understand your options for managing this money, and how well you’ve planned, will determine how much you actually end up with. Basically, you can: take the money up front and pay tax on the entire lump sum (special tax treatment may be available); or continue deferring by arranging to roll over your entire lump sum directly into an IRA or annuity, in which case you will pay taxes later as you receive distributions.
Evaluate the costs of the retirement lifestyle you envision. Think about added expenses-for example, health insurance if your retirement plan doesn’t provide it. And be sure to figure in taxes-unfortunately, they don’t stop just because you stopped working. Think of this exercise as a reality check. You’re sure to feel more comfortable with the retirement decisions you make after doing all the math.
Article by the MetLife Consumer Education Center