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Redefining your golden years

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When the subject of retirement comes up, the conversation tends to revolve around finances: How much have you saved? Can you afford to retire? How will you manage your funds so that you don’t run out of cash before you die? These are the questions that we hire financial planners and bankers to help answer. But there are other, crucial questions pertaining to retirement that don’t get asked or answered, and that desperately need to be raised.

“No one ever talks about you – what are you going to do in your retirement?” said Susan Latremoille, founder of SuccessDNA in Toronto. Previously a specialist in wealth management, she now helps boomers “rewire, not retire,” offering consulting services to aid them in a successful day-to-day transition to this next phase of life. People have illusions when they fantasize about retirement Latremoille said, “I hear things like, ‘I can’t wait to travel,’ ‘I’m going to Florida for the winter,’ ‘I’m going to improve my golf game and babysit my grandkids.’” But six months into retirement they report frustration.

“The men say, ‘my wife doesn’t want me around – she’s telling me to get a life.’ They miss the connections and the prestige they had through their work,” she said. “One person told me: ‘you go from being who’s who, to who’s he? There can be a loss of purpose and a realization that days are long when they’re not filled.” Latremoille realized that successful people are highly wired to be active, to be engaged and to have a sense of fulfillment, and that doesn’t change when they retire. The key to a successful transition is to find out who you really are, and based on those answers, what you should be prioritizing in your life.

At SuccessDNA she uses an assessment tool to help clients better understand the essence of who they are as individuals, and then helps them come up with a plan to fill their time in a way that will engage, fulfill and stimulate them. This generation of retirees is different than the one that came before, she said.

“In the ‘Gold Watch Era’ people worked for one company all their life, retired with a pension and a life expectancy for five to 10 years,” she said. “In many cases they were chained to a job all their life that they didn’t like. But today we’re living longer and in much better health. Baby boomers have set the stage for higher expectations in life, and with the affluence that many people have today, there are many more options in retirement.”

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What are the keys to an emotionally and psychologically sound transition  to retirement? The experts say they centre around good planning, starting with thoughtful conversations early on.

“Start talking about your retirement five years before you retire,” Latremoille said. “Have a life game plan. People think of 65 or 70 as their end date but they need to think in terms of a whole life plan. Think of your life as a 100 year life span and consider what you will do over the next several years.”

The baby boomer generation has redefined retirement, says Marissa Lennox, chief policy officer for CARP (formerly known as the Canadian Association of Retired Persons). “We’re seeing the dissolution of absoluteness in retirement. No longer are people turning 65, collecting the gold watch and spending their days on the golf course,” she said. “They’re working into their 70s and 80s, volunteering or transitioning to new opportunities. There’s no ‘one size fits all’ any more. For some, work is an economic necessity, for others, it’s a way to get out, be social and have a sense of purpose.”

Many retirees fantasize about extensive travel in their golden years, but it’s not always realistic financially or family-wise, Lennox says. “Private pensions are on a steep decline in Canada and people aren’t saving for their retirement to begin with,” she said. “I’d guess that nine out of 10 Canadians don’t have enough money to travel extensively in retirement and they also have familial responsibilities that keep pulling them back home. So while the boomer generation is certainly looking for adventure in retirement, they’re not always willing or financially prepared to leave for six months and say goodbye to those family responsibilities.”

You should also engage in long, thoughtful and realistic conversations with your spouse about each of your retirement ideas, Latremoille said. “Once you have your financial plan in place, work on your life plan. Think of your week as 21 time slots and consider how you will fill them for the next 35 years. Decide what each of you wants and where your meeting points will be. If there are no meeting points, maybe it’s the time to go separate ways.” 

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