Retirement plans involve more than money matters

PERSONAL FINANCE

July 07, 2002|By EILEEN AMBROSE

WORKERS plan for retirement by saving money for decades. Too often, retirement experts say, they don't give enough thought to how they will spend the last years of their lives.

"We tend to view retirement as a no-brainer. We look forward to it. We'll get there and love it," said Clare Hushbeck, an economist with AARP. "We know from anecdotes where it isn't always so easy to structure your time, arrange for social contact, all the things that you got used to in the work day."

Often people discover a year or so into retirement that hitting the links daily is boring and traveling is tiring. Executives miss the deference once shown by underlings now that they are merely among other retirees.

"I don't think people realize that retirement is not really a day or an event; it can be as much as a third of your life. To know what's in store for you for that huge piece of your life is really important," said Amy Noel, a financial planner in Boulder, Colo.

That's why the Financial Planning Association, a membership group for financial advisers, recommends rehearsing retirement about five years before you stop working.

For instance, if golfing daily is your ideal retirement, play golf nonstop on a two-week vacation to see if it's fulfilling, the group suggests. Or take as much time off work as you can and go on a trip via recreational vehicle and find out if living on the road lives up to expectations. Rehearse, too, living on a reduced income and spending time around the clock with your spouse at home.

Leonard and Verbraunia Rhodes didn't rehearse their retirement but agree doing so could be helpful because leaving the work force is a jolt.

"Something you have gone to day after day after day is over with," said Verbraunia Rhodes, 62, who, after working 43 years, retired in January from her job as an editor of medical books.

Leonard Rhodes, a former regional file clerk for Amtrak, was forced to retire 18 years ago at age 49 because of his failing eyesight, just as the couple's second daughter was about to enter college.

"I wasn't ready to retire financially, or emotionally, or anything else," the 67-year-old said.

"For years, I couldn't find anything to do. It was hard. Because my wife had to work, the kids were in school, I was by myself all the time. I just sat around. And I was too young to go to a senior center. They wouldn't take me.

"You feel like you're dead a little bit," he added. Co-workers "gave me a wonderful party and said, `Please come back.' When you go back, they're kind, but they're not kind. They have something to do, and you don't. I did miss work. I truly did."

He is happily retired now, thanks largely to the discovery of the Renaissance Institute at the College of Notre Dame, where he and his wife take classes. "It really has changed my life," he said. "It got me interested in things. Like poetry. I never thought I would like it."

It's impossible to simulate retirement exactly, but rehearsing some aspects might produce better decisions, experts said. Among the situations to practice:

Togetherness. Maybe each spouse works or one stays home, but in retirement both will be puttering around the house, and that requires a big adjustment. See how you adapt by taking a week's vacation at home together without making plans, suggested the financial planning group.

Noel said her aunt, a stay-at-home mother, got a job as a store greeter to get some time on her own after her husband retired.

The Rhodeses, too, see the need for time apart. Both attend the same school but usually take different classes. Verbraunia Rhodes also joined a women's club, and her husband visits a senior center twice a week.

"It gives us air space. You need it no matter how much you care about someone," Leonard Rhodes said. "It gives you time to think things over by yourself and gives you time to do what you want to do. It's not that there is something wrong."

Location. Steven Landis, a financial planner in Worthington, Ohio, recalls a couple who, upon retirement, sold their home and bought a condo in Florida, where they had spent winter vacations. They soon discovered that along with pleasant winters came hot, humid summers, and wound up returning to Ohio about a year later and buying another home, he said.

Landis said new retirees looking to move should rent out their current homes for a year while they lease a residence where they think they want to live. "It's a temporary inconvenience. You're a long-distance landlord for a year, but you didn't cut the strings," he said.

Workers should also check the cost of living, including taxes, in the place they plan to move to. Learn about new locations, too, by subscribing to the local newspaper, Noel said.

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