The initial step of a retirement journey is scary and exciting.
Securing a foot hold in tenured habits of a working past is a strong psychological comfort factor for the present. New retirees who passionately re-define the worth of their human capital and find methods to share their wisdom, are more confident to move forward on unfamiliar ground.
As a recent retiree lamented – “What’s the experience of life but what you do at the dawn of difference between last night and today?”
Retirement is a chance to begin again.
It’s like hitting reset, not snooze. Go to bed an employee, a boss, a business owner and awaken with a fresh, new mission ahead.
If one chooses to take on the challenge.
I have had the honor of engaging retirees about their first hours (literally; I call early). I am relentlessly curious. As a financial planner, I am interested in understanding how a written retirement strategy takes on three-dimensions.
How a plan comes alive.
There’s nothing eventful about the rituals of a fresh post-work life. And there lies the beauty. Retirees crave simplicity, peace and enrichment. Their rewards stem from taking successful actions and consistently refining them to fit a current retirement lifestyle.
I’ve learned that the habits were seeds planted long in the past, in several cases all the way back to childhood. The robust harvest springs eternal. Retirees return to the field, the familiar, for years after that first day (I document that, too).
Interestingly, there is no complicated math involved in the process. No formal retirement strategy review. Retirement rolls in quiet and with minimal fanfare. After all, the heavy lifting of working a formal retirement plan began at least two years earlier. Looking back, I perceive the plan as a seed, the genesis of a well-adjusted emotional leap from an accumulation to a distribution state of mind. Oh, we review the plan every quarter that first year.
But not today.
Over the decade, I documented hundreds of first days. Scribbled lines, faded sentences I keep close by.
Eight themes consistently rise to the top. My goal is to share experiences with future retirees and get them started on the right foot from the get go.
So, what does the first day in a retirement life look like?
What did I learn?
What can you?
The alarm is important. And will remain. Every day.
“I’m keeping the buzz alive,” shared a retiree.
The alarm is no longer a drag. Just like that it becomes an awakening in greater than a literal sense. The clarion call to days filled with activities that will grow in richness and variety. Unlike the previous weekday, when the alarm meant the same old grind. The recent retiree was long ready for this next adventure. An internal alarm that ticked its last tock.
The alarm is ally, not enemy. It now represents a schedule under a retiree’s control.
Precious hours no longer taken up by an employer or a business. Time takes on renewed significance, especially in the morning. Research on cooking or painting classes, plans for upcoming trips, visits to family, friends. All accomplished in the calm, in the early. Along with fresh, hot coffee.
“When the alarm goes off, it reminds me I still count.”
I’m cash-flow sensitive.
Right out of the gate. Spending awareness takes on great significance especially through the first year. Getting real with the numbers is raw and basic. Retirees feel secure in their past planning if they prep for monthly or quarterly spending without the assistance of electronics.
“I used to keep a simple budget like this when I worked my first job.”
A heightened sensitivity to spending is a powerful technique used to reduce the emotional vulnerability of shifting from an accumulation mindset to a distribution way of thinking. Boundaries are formed and monitored using pen and paper.
I recommend recent retirees begin to the budget books available at www.domeproductsonline.com
for six months prior to their official retirement date. The company has been marketing the same simple budgeting product since 1940 for under 10 dollars.
“I go through my budget weekly. On a Sunday. It only takes 10 minutes. It keeps me on track. I feel better doing it.”
Goal setting is just as important today.
“My goals aren’t driven by a job or career anymore. They’re for me and my family.”
You would think goal setting is happily left behind along with the company break room’s rancid coffee, but it isn’t. A surprising number of people new to the retirement game continue to establish benchmarks. The difference is goals center around self-improvement (maintain mental acuity), family gatherings (grandchildren-focused), and creative efforts (cooking, painting). Several are looking to establish businesses, invest in new ventures. Goal setting ranks number one on the list of prominent actions.
Following a theme of returning to pen and paper for planning, I suggest retirees go big, splurge on a diary designed by Best Self Co. to specifically tackle the day-to-day actions required to meet life goals. As a self-journal it warrants personal reflection in the lined morning and evening gratitude sections. It’s a bit pricey at $31.99 but I’ve found it worth the investment, especially with daily flexible space available to sketch ideas, an area to document daily targets and lessons learned. The journal is designed for 13-weeks from whenever you begin however I’ve seen retirees use it for longer periods.
“It’s rewarding to wrap up the day with positive notes I create.”
I cringe at my grandparents’ stories and experiences.
“He sat in that chair in front of the TV. All day.”
It’s true. I’ve personally witnessed the scowls. Heck, I grimace myself as I recall my grandfather’s retirement years. He didn’t live long after he left his job as a janitor for a public junior-high school.
The first day of retirement is replete with promise and promises.
The strongest personal vow is to never allow the days roll in to each other. A weekend will ‘feel’ like a weekend. The rest of the week, a schedule shall exist. Retirees will actively forge boundaries around hours to ensure they’re not cascading into a dark hole where time gets lost. Days bleed together, become indistinguishable. The thought of it happening scares every new retiree I engage.
A schedule, usually in the format of a simple pocket calendar, is referred to often during early hours, reviewed and fervently revised as a jump start to the day.
“Now that I’m retired I’ll never say that I don’t know what day it is or that Saturday & Sunday feel like any other day.”
The wish list is reality. Light and heavy.
“My wish list is simple & rich. I don’t want to stress over it.”
On average, wishes are light and revolve around strengthening connections. Simple efforts outweigh complicated projects by at least 3 to 1. The first wishes are intimate and designed to bring together friends or family for food, conversation and memories. Most of the time, gatherings are planned at venues close to or at home.
The big wishes which tend to be expensive or require formal planning, are sketched out for future deliberation. Just one or two broad sentences to describe each heavy item on the wish list. That’s it. However, nothing big on this day. The first day.
“I prefer to sit on the big items on my bucket list until I get a better handle on my real expenses in retirement.”
It’s clean up and clean out time.
“See that garage? I’m going in! If I don’t come out in 4 hours, call 911!”
There’s an immediate fervor to reduce clutter and get organized. This first-day delight fascinates me the most. There is a semblance of calm and control with every outdated document shredded and old item discarded or put aside for charity. It’s like organization is a way to catch a breath, settle comfortably into a new schedule.
Four out of ten of retirees I interviewed continued this organization exercise for a couple of years and then took it to the next level by downsizing their primary residences. There was no regret, only relief.
“First, I realized I didn’t need all this stuff, then I realized I didn’t need a big roof to keep the stuff under.”
The first communication out of bed is with…
“I hear this voice inside. I think it’s mine. Maybe younger. I’m reviewing like a movie in my head, my entire career and how quick the time goes.”
Flashes of self-reflection and rhetorical questions bounce around in a retiree’s head all the first day and in some cases, the initial six months. Thoughts of the past are tucked in-between current minutes. They pop up out of nowhere. I can’t pin down the triggers for these intermittent thoughts. Some describe the brief, memorable periods as “being in a daze,” but in a good, settled way (with a slight of melancholy.) A playback of the actions, the mentors that got them to this spot, on the first day of a retirement life.
I encourage new retirees to explore these feelings by writing about them in a journal. The exercise has turned out to be impactful for the majority.
Several retirees have turned their journals into an ongoing project, a legacy to family. They chronicle handwritten thoughts, lessons, hardships, victories and memories created in retirement.
“I have lessons to share that I think my grandkids or maybe their kids will find interesting. Who knows? I may influence someone generations from now.”
Don’t push me.
“I keep a schedule but I’m not in a hurry.”
The day-one retiree is extremely sensitive to feeling rushed. Pressure to act blossoms anger and animosity.
The passion for a schedule exists from day one. However, strict deadlines are abhorred or avoided early on. Occasionally, those who are still in the workforce including family members, will comment to me how retired parents are “on their own timeclock,” and it’s a challenge to deal with the attitudes.
The reaction warrants patience and understanding as eventually these strong feelings dissipate. Seasoned retirees admit to stubbornness and overreaction to deadlines as they recall unpleasant or stressful, similar episodes with a former boss or manager.
“As the years went by, I didn’t mind having deadlines again. Maybe because they were mostly my choice or for causes I believed in.”
The first day in retirement is unlike any other yet similar to days gone by.
As one cycle ends and another begins, the bridge that connects a life remains relevant through healthy habits and rituals forged long ago.
is a chief portfolio strategist and economist for Clarity Financial. To read more of his commentary, CLICK HERE NOW.
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