Finances and lifestyle – the two critical retirement variables

Retirement represents a void. It means eliminating work. Once you are retired, you discontinue the activity that probably consumed most of your waking time and energy during most of your life. Obviously, that leads to thinking about filling the void, as people consider alternative ways to fill, and hopefully, fulfill their lives.

There is more to it than finding alternative activities. For many people, their identity and sense of purpose are tied to their jobs. It helps define who they are. We understand and accept our place in the world, in part, because we are schoolteachers or bricklayers or salesmen or whatever. Retirement removes our professional identity, creating a void which can be difficult and troubling to replace, especially when the only substitute is ‘retiree’.

For many people, work also provides an important context for social interaction, during the working day and often outside of work as well. Work provides community. Good retirement planning should give some thought to identifying ways to replace daily workplace chatter and interpersonal contacts with other kinds of social interaction.

In a more general sense, work provides structure for life. Most people live accordingly to a strong, externally-imposed structure from the day they start school until the first day of retirement. That means that once they retire, people themselves are obliged to structure the way they live for the first time in their adult lives. This often formidable challenge requires planning and a potentially difficult transition period.

Retirement often creates thorny issues for couples, the retirement of one member while the other continues to work can create an uncomfortable imbalance. The retired member may reduce or stop contributing to the couple’s income, for example. While the working member continues to spend much of their time outside the home, the retiree suddenly finds him- or herself in the home alone, further upsetting established lifestyle and roles. When both retire, both members find themselves spending much more time together – for better or worse.

Single retirees – divorced, widowed or never married – face a particular set of issues as they anticipate retirement. For one, the cost of one person living alone is more than half the cost of two people who live together. Health care considerations may be particularly challenging, as people seeks ways to ensure a caretaker during their older years.

Family roles during retirement open an additional set of retirement planning issues. For example, will younger generations continue to support older family members after they retire and, if so, what kind of support will they be able or willing to provide? Will retirees provide financial or material help to younger family members? It is also important to review expectations among all family members regarding care of children or grandchildren as well as care for older generations.