At Bartley Financial Advisors we often assist our clients with the decision to retire. None of us at Bartley Financial Advisors have retired, but we feel like we’ve retired a hundred times!

While finances play a major role in the decision to retire, there are many other factors to consider in retirement planning.  Health, social connections, activities, family considerations, etc. all play a part in the decision-making process.   And a process it is.

For some people the retirement decision is easy.   They may peg their retirement to a particular event – a milestone birthday, a work anniversary, a pension or Social Security qualification date.   Others may find that an impending change at work or in their personal life is an impetus to pull the trigger on retirement – a business relocation, restructuring, or change in command; a spouse’s retirement; health concerns; or an outside opportunity.  For many other potential retirees, deciding on a retirement date is a more complicated process.

According to research done by Aperion Care, the average retirement age in the United States is 66.  This means that many of us spend 40+ years of our life in the workforce.   As a society, we consider someone’s career to be a major part of their identity.  Case in point – one of the first questions we are likely to ask upon meeting someone new is “What do you do for a living?”  Retirement means giving up a part of your identity and fundamentally changing your day-to-day life.   In fact, retirement is recognized as one of the Top 10 Most Stressful Life Events on the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale.  It’s no wonder that the decision to retire can be a lengthy process for some.

As part of our initial planning with new clients, we ask them to identify goals and what is most important to them. Not surprisingly, most clients have a goal to retire at a specific age.  As the goal date approaches, however, it is not uncommon for retirement plans to change multiple times.  While lots of factors can affect the final decision, the element of uncertainty plays a major role.  People may be reluctant to leave the known of their career to face the unknown of life after retirement.  Who will I be without my work?  What will happen to the relationships I have built over the years?  What will I do with all my time?  What’s next for me?

How do you prepare yourself to make the retirement decision?  Having a comprehensive financial plan is key to making retirement a reality, but being prepared financially is only part of the equation.  Not only do your finances need to be in order for retirement, but your mindset does as well.  You’ve spent a lifetime saving and building your next egg.  It can be hard to switch gears and start drawing from your savings.  Your advisor may be convinced that you have enough money to retire, but ultimately you need to be comfortable with the numbers yourself before the decision can be made.

You will want to spend time considering the non-financial aspects of retirement as well.  We work with our Bartley Financial clients to help them define/visualize what their day-to-day activities will be in retirement.  As corny as it may sound, it helps to look at retirement as a beginning rather than an end.  As Robert Laura put it in his recent article titled “How to Decide When to Retire”, “instead of leaving something, you are entering something new and exciting.”  So think positive and also have a plan.  According to Financial Advisor Wes Moss’ article “How Happy Retirees Use Hobbies to Get ‘Richer’”,  the happiest retirees have more core pursuits or “hobbies on steroids” than unhappy retirees.   Spend some time mapping out what makes you happy and translate that into activities to pursue in retirement.  If you love reading and like helping people, you may want to work part time at a bookstore.  If being part of a community is important to you, scope out new organizations to join or opportunities to be more involved in your current pursuits.  If you want to use the unique career skills you have developed, work those contacts to identify volunteer activities that will allow you to pass on what you know and keep you sharp.

Don’t be surprised if your decision to retire is a lengthy process.  You are preparing for a major life change.  Many people spend four years or more preparing to enter the workforce.  It makes sense to spend some time preparing to exit it as well.