Retirement: Getting Beyond the Numbers  

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The popular image of retirement tends to emphasize numbers: a balance in a 401(k) or IRA; a date on the calendar; a quantity of years with the company; a pension plan vesting schedule. For most of us, the questions we ask ourselves as we approach retirement also tend to focus on concepts of numbers and quantity: Do I have enough saved? How much debt should I pay off? What will my medical costs be? What kind of budget should I set? And on it goes. 

But more and more indications are surfacing that a truly successful, satisfying retirement lifestyle needs to embrace more than quantitative analysis. Sure, the numbers mentioned above are all important, but what we’re learning is that it’s just as important to ask ourselves—and answer—questions that have more to do with quality than quantity: moving beyond “How much?” toward “Why?” “When?” and even “So what?” 

What we’re talking about, of course, is careful thinking that integrates our finances with our passions, purposes, and priorities. Too often, we tend to think of retirement as something we do or something we pay for; it’s vital to remember that retirement is also something we are

A friend recently related the story of his dad, who retired from a successful accounting career at age 65, sold his practice to his younger partners, and used part of the proceeds to open up a used bookstore. Parlaying his boundless curiosity and a lifelong passion for reading into a post-retirement career seemed like the most natural thing in the world to this “graying entrepreneur,” and the business is still going strong, eight years later. You’ve probably read similar stories about persons who grasped retirement as an opportunity to indulge a similar purpose: launching a new enterprise, travel, volunteerism, or philanthropic efforts—the opportunities are limited only by one’s ability to recognize one’s inner priorities and begin making plans to put them into practice. 

Retired CEO John Anderson has made it the goal of his “second act” to help others recognize and recapture their passion, purpose, and priorities. Rejecting the common feeling of having no more value to offer after retirement, he coaches retired CEOs and others in crafting “lifestyle strategies for the next stage.” Like Anderson, we should all recognize that the current trend for retirees includes more and more years in retirement. In the not-too-distant future, it will be common for persons to live forty years or more past their full retirement age. This fact makes it more imperative than ever for those approaching or in retirement to think proactively and productively about what is most important to them and how that impacts the way they want to organize their lives in retirement. 

It’s also important to pay attention to not just the data surrounding retirement, but the emotional aspects, as well. After all, our brains are wired to do more than computation; we have feelings. Furthermore, there’s no reason why our decision-making around retirement shouldn’t encompass both “sides” of our brains. As Cheryl Strauss Einhorn notes in the Harvard Business Review, good decision-making should embrace and incorporate our emotions, not ignore them. By noticing and “naming” the emotions around an important decision, we can move forward with greater confidence. In other words, when looking toward retirement, it’s important to take the time you need to consider the entire landscape: financial needs and resources; cherished goals and priorities; one’s feelings about this next, very different phase of life; the possibilities offered by current conditions; and one’s talents, interests, and passions.  

A careful review of all these areas, along with solid financial analysis and planning, offers greater opportunities for a retirement lifestyle that is filled with potential, challenge, interest, and enjoyment. But the key is taking a holistic approach that accounts for more than just the numbers. 

At Griffin Black, we know that your financial strategy must take into account your unique aims and requirements. That’s why the most important investment we make with our clients is the time we spend getting to know them. If we can provide clarity around your financial planning, please let us know

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