Retirement used to be viewed as a sort of honorable discharge from the workforce. On the long-awaited day, the boss would extend thanks from a grateful company, co-workers would salute, and the new retiree would step out of the ranks into a new life of greater leisure.
With the leading edge of the baby boomer generation now nearing 60, concerns about when you should retire, how much you should retire, and even if you should retire at all are changing this simple vision into a much more complicated picture. Your clients typically have more control over the retirement process–which can lead to challenges that no one anticipated. Here are some examples, with my suggestions on how to handle them.
When I was discussing retirement plans with a client couple in their 50s, the husband confessed that his dream was to sell their home and sail around the world. The wife said that as long as she had a home to come back to, she would be willing to spend some time traveling. When he prodded her to be more adventuresome and detach herself from places and possessions, she retorted that she would rather keep working than drift around homeless. How can I help them resolve this dispute? Women are often the voice of home and hearth, gathering relationships as a source of strength and comfort. By contrast, men are apt to seek new challenges. Risk-takers, adventurers, hunters, they tend not to value staying in one place as much as women do.
I see your role as a therapeutic mediator, helping each partner to recognize the validity of the other’s feelings. Practice empathetic listening techniques with each client, playing back what he or she says and validating what makes sense to you from that particular perspective.
Try to empathize with what else they may be feeling, and encourage each to put himself or herself in the other’s place. If the wife feels that her husband has heard and understood her need for stability and comfort, she may be willing to travel a little more. He, in turn, may agree to compromise on the home issue. When both partners’ needs are respected, new solutions often present themselves. For example, they might look into renting a place near one of their children as a semi-permanent home to return to.
Your client couple should also consider that it may be time for them to “individuate” further. If his need to see the world is much greater than hers, why shouldn’t he take some trips on his own? In later life, long-married couples often begin to exercise more autonomy where their individual interests are concerned. If they work hard to stay connected, these times apart can actually work to enhance their relationship.
My client, a corporate executive, expects to continue his fairly lavish lifestyle after he retires in two years. But when I crunch the numbers, the odds are that he will either have to drastically reduce his expenses or hope for an early demise. How can I make this message palatable to him? “Odds” are probabilities, not certainties. But if you calmly explore a variety of scenarios with this client, he may come to see for himself that the long-term chances of sustaining his current spending level are slim. By living more modestly now, he can increase his options in the future.
You might mention early in this discussion that most people need to make changes in their spending when they stop work, and that being creative about this can actually be part of the adventure. Suggest a few examples tailored to his interests, such as joining a hiking group instead of paying health club fees, or learning the art of fine cooking instead of dining at expensive restaurants. You might also ask what activities he plans to pursue when he retires, and discuss ways to do them more economically.
Try to meet with him every few months as he goes through this radical change. Keep encouraging him to adjust his lifestyle to his new financial situation. If he doesn’t get the message, at least you will know you’ve tried your best.
This dilemma is bound to confront many soon-to-retire people whose lifestyle expectations exceed their resources. An enterprising planner might consider starting a group where these clients can discuss the challenge of living within their means with others who have successfully made the transition. If you have the energy and commitment, you may want to lead or coach the group. You could even admit non-clients for a small fee.
My 69-year-old client hoped one of his children would run the business he built, but they all chose other careers. His oldest grandson, who is just starting college, has promised to join the company after graduation. My client would dearly love to keep running the business until his grandson is ready to take charge. However, his wife wants him to start phasing out his role in the company now, so they can enjoy retirement while their health is good. How should I advise them? If you decide to take on this high-stakes challenge, be prepared to dedicate some time to it. What the husband and wife want sounds almost mutually exclusive.