Retiring seems more tiring than working

April 29, 2007

IT LOOKS TO ME LIKE RETIRING is a lot of hard work.

That life transition is still a long way off for me -- I can't give up a job until my youngest finds one -- but I have been daydreaming about what it will be like to retire:

Books, gardening, museums and galleries, travel, cooking, movies, friends.

And, apparently, an MBA.

The idea that employers will provide us with an income and health care for the rest of our lives is one that died out with our parents' generation.

Corporate America wants out of the long-term care business, so more and more businesses are handing their employees a gold watch and a pillowcase full of money as they leave and saying, "Make it last."

Companies don't want to pay us until we die because we are living too long, so it is up to us to invest that money wisely and to spend it down cautiously.

I don't know about you, but I am not up to this task now, and I don't think I will be any better at it in my dotage.

According to health statistics, I will probably live until I am 77, but if I actually make it to retirement at 65, that number goes up to 85.

My grandmother lived a robust life until her heart stopped at 98, so I am genetically predisposed to break a few records here.

And it looks like I will be spending that time looking over spreadsheets and watching the market.

I could purchase a couple of annuities -- which will provide me with a guaranteed income for the rest of my life, no matter how long that lasts. It is sort of like buying a pension.

But have you looked at those things? They are difficult to understand and impossible to comparison shop.

Bonds, T-bills, mutual funds, stocks, certificates of deposit? Those are just a few of the other investment choices. It is enough to make you want to keep your money in a shoebox under the bed.

There are brokers and insurance agents who can give advice on the money part of retirement -- God help us all. But there is also a new generation of companies which can help with the rest of the transition.

Apparently, I am going to feel at loose ends, bored and unfulfilled. I understand that without the framework of a job, my life will collapse in upon itself. That's hard for me to believe, but I am willing to heed the warnings of the experts.

The answer is some kind of life coach, whom I will pay to help me find a meaningful way to spend my retirement: some combination of work, play and volunteering.

I am willing to accept the fact that I will need professional advice to make my money last until I am dead. But I am not sure that I will need help not working. I guess we will see.

Frankly, I think I will be too busy exercising -- staving off the kind of catastrophic health problems that will wipe out my retirement nest egg.

I will be snow-boarding, horseback riding and, I don't know, surfing with fellow members of the most active generation of retirees ever.

We will be doing that not only to stay healthy, but to prevent the kind of social isolation that results in depression and alcoholism -- as common among retirees as morning joint pain.

Even at rest, we will be doing puzzles and learning bridge -- things I call mind games -- that will keep dementia at bay.

Maybe that's where the complexity of investing comes in -- it keeps us sharp.

All in all, it appears that retirement is not something to be wished for. It is something to be survived.

If we don't live too long, if the market doesn't crash or inflation doesn't spike and if we don't spend our money too fast; if health problems don't overwhelm us and our savings and if we don't succumb to the mental lethargy of not working, we should do all right in retirement.

Seems too hard to me. Might as well keep working.

susan.reimer@baltsun.com

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