How to Find Tune Your Retirement Plan

When we begin our retirement journey, we do not always know exactly where we are going. Since this is a new beginning, we have little experience to reference. And although we may have some general ideas about what is ahead, there is a certain mystery enshrouding a lifestyle we have not yet experienced firsthand. As a result, our second act is often a work in progress where we learn as we go.

No longer are the day’s activities laid out as was the case while pursuing our respective careers. Back then, each day had clear objectives, and we kept busy getting it done. But as we shift gears and enter retired life, that familiar guiding hand is no more.

We want to get retirement right and avoid any delay in enjoying what we have worked so hard to realize. Here’s how to do a realistic examination and fine tune your retirement plans:

Take a closer look at how you spend your days. Now that you are retired, you get to choose what you want to be doing. One of the great attractions of retirement is realizing the freedom to decide how to spend your time. Rather than dread what you have to do, this is your chance to focus on what you enjoy. To best take advantage of your newfound liberty, set aside some time to understand how you spend your hours and days. See if what you are engaged in is what you really want. If not, what would you rather be doing? Try to remove any clutter or distraction that stands between you and what you enjoy. Prune away whatever is not enhancing your retired life to make room for new growth and experiences.

Revisit your budget once you are actually living in retirement. You probably ran the numbers a variety of times before making the move to retire. Comparing your expected retirement income to your projected retirement expenses can help you establish a level of comfort before retiring. Once you have spent a few years living as a retiree, you may want to revisit those numbers to do a reality check. Perhaps you underestimated the amount you spend on travel or are not eating as much food as you originally planned. A little fine tuning reflecting how you are actually spending can help keep you within acceptable bounds.

Have fun with it or move on. Coping with the inconveniences of aging is likely to be a big part of your retirement years. As we grow older, simple things that used to require minimal effort can begin to present challenges. But that is no reason to relegate ourselves to the Retirementrole of observer. We can still play the game, albeit maybe at a slower pace. We can still travel, explore, experiment, engage and try new things. Don’t put off until tomorrow the grand plans you could begin on today. Retirees have the free time and flexibility to make the best of the moment. And since we are in control, there is no need to continue with something we no longer enjoy. If you are not having fun with what you are doing, turn the page and move on.

Stay on course to where you want to be. Not everyone has specific goals they hope to achieve in retirement. But most of us would like to avoid wasting the next 20 years of our lives. Maybe we would like to make improvements to the person we are, perhaps chiseling away at bad habits that have dogged us over the years. Or we may desire to add to our knowledge or experience in a particular area. Keeping track of progress toward your targets helps maintain a focus that can improve your chances of getting there. If you know where you stand, you can tell how close you are getting to what you want.

Remember you are the boss. Friends and family may have thoughts about how retirement should play out, which is just fine when it comes to their own retirement. But well-intentioned advice about how you should live your retired days should be taken with a grain of salt. Listen politely and incorporate what makes sense to your situation. Don’t get pressured into doing what you do not want to be doing. Getting to retirement has been a long trip. Now that you are here and control your future, it is time to take advantage of your ability to do as you please.

Written for US News & World

Finding Your Retirement State of Mind

Every once in a while you meet a senior who seems to have retirement figured out. They appear to be genuinely happy with their state of affairs and making the most of each day. When you ask about their retirement experience they shine a genuine smile and are happy to regale you – often at length – about how wonderful it is to be in their shoes. Their happiness is infectious and you may find yourself caught up in their joy. Although it is safe to assume not everything is perfect in their world, their overall outlook is positive.

My wife and I recently spent a weekend in Carmel Valley trying to escape the latest Bay Area heat wave. While dining in a shaded patio beside a burbling fountain decorated with playful water nymphs we found ourselves seated next to a retired couple. This couple had retired to the Carmel area more than 15 years ago. Before we even got our menus they began sharing their years together as a retired couple along with just how happy they were to be retired.

The best part was how excited and animated they became reliving the moments and experiences they enjoyed along the way. Between extensive travels abroad and heavy involvement with the local community they painted a vivid picture of a fulfilling and exciting retired life. Each new arrival to the restaurant bid them hello and everyone in the room seemed to know them. This retired couple seemed to be equal parts proud and happy to be an integral part of their local community.

Finding the right retirement state of mind can help you realize a happy and fulfilling second act. Here are some helpful pointers I gleaned from our recent encounter at the restaurant:

Become involved in something that matters. Carmel Valley is compact, but like any small community you can find a lot going on if you know where to look. Our new friends recommend we identify what most interests us personally. For example, I love spending time at the ocean, so why not see if I might contribute a day or two each week working at Point Lobos National Park or the Aquarium on Cannery Row. It is not about the money but rather staying engaged doing something you like. My wife would like to help out the significant senior population in the area and so might offer to deliver food or drive those who would otherwise remain homebound. Local clubs, societies and organizations are always looking for volunteers to assist during special events. There are a wide variety of options when it comes to possible areas to contribute your time. In fact, we have heard from more than one couple that one of the biggest problems among the newly retired is suddenly finding yourself committed to doing too much.

Don’t limit your possibilities. Just because you have not done something in the past does not mean you cannot give it a whirl now. With time to do what you want, retirement offers a second chance to try new things. A little experimentation might uncover a hidden passion or lead to an exciting new undertaking. Consider your retirement a blank chalkboard you are free to fill with whatever strikes your fancy. Try not to be overly picky on the first pass. You can make adjustments later. And if after your initial investigation you find you don’t like a particular selection, just pull out your handy eraser to make room for something else.

Get to know your neighbors. Living in the frantic Bay Area with everyone enmeshed in all-consuming careers is not the most conducive environment when it comes to getting to know the people on your block. Sure, we recognize one another and say “hi” when we pass on the street. But at least for us it has been difficult to build close relationships. In retirement, you will no longer be time constrained and have the chance to get to know those people next door and across the street. Who knows what common interests you may share. Neighborhoods used to be much more closely knit and supportive. With a little time and effort maybe you can bring a little of that back into your life.

Stay active. There is a time and a place to rest and relax during retirement. But it is also important to have an active life that allows you to stay involved with living. You cannot experience new things tucked into the same day to day existence. Our restaurant friends seemed to be in perpetual motion. And when they did take a break they were planning their next adventure. Just how active you want to be is up to you and your personal tastes. But try not to deprive yourself of that satisfied feeling at the end of the day after you have accomplished something that matters or tried something new.

Written for my blog on US News & World.