Most people hitting retirement age do not want the retirement of their parents' generation, yet the financial industry keeps promoting retirement like it was 1999.
Let's start with the facts. People are living longer than ever. The average 65-year-old is expected to live another 19.3 years, according to a report from the National Center for Health Statistics. That means someone who reaches age 65 will likely live to age 84. That's 6½ years longer than it was in 1940.
Today, many people want to continue with some type of employment. A recent study by Sun America illustrated that seven out of 10 people now want to have some sort of work during retirement, and they don't view this as a negative.
Many Americans simply don't have a great life in retirement. This chapter of life could be the best and most meaningful, yet far too many experience isolation and a lack of purpose. One symptom of this is that the typical retiree aged 65 to 74 spends four hours per day watching television, according to U.S. News & World Report. And these are relatively young retirees.
For the past 25 years, I've been a financial adviser helping people navigate from work into retirement, and the view pre-retirees have today is very different from what it was when I started.
Society is changing; so why doesn't the financial services industry change? In the world of finance, why is retirement still all about saving enough money so you can quit working? I see ads where retirement is all about your number or reaching a goal line—like retirement is the end.
Just about all of the financial planning programs out there still view retirement the way it was 30 or 40 years ago. They calculate how much savings you will need to provide some fixed income for the duration of your life.
From my experience, the income needs of retirees' change from year to year and season to season. For example, you may spend a period of your retirement devoting much of your time to an aging parent who requires care. There could be another period when you spend the majority of your time taking care of your grandkids. And, as is becoming more and more common, people continue to stay engaged in the workplace.
Just this past week, I was talking with a retired couple, who are both in their mid-70s. They had taken several years off of work and spent that time working on their ranch, but found they missed the social interaction of the workplace and so they both decided to go back to work full-time.
It's not just about money.
Obviously, not everyone wants to work for a paycheck in retirement, and clearly a financial goal should be to get in a position where work is an option and not an obligation. But just because someone has enough money to quit working doesn't mean it's always best to stop.
Most investment companies keep telling us that the key to life is saving up enough money so one can quit working. But is that what life is really all about? Think about how different our world would be if Bill Gates or Steve Jobs decided to retire once each of them had enough money saved up to provide a comfortable lifestyle? Can you imagine talking to a new college graduate and asking their goals and dreams for life, and then having them reply, "My goal is to max out my 401(k), pay off my house and retire as soon as possible?" Not exactly a visionary approach to the future.
My hope is that people see this season of their lives not as one of retirement, but more of a refocus or reimagine or retool. With all of the wisdom and experience one has at this stage of life, it should be one of the most exciting and rewarding eras of your existence.
It's time for the financial services industry to wake up and realize that most people don't want to sit back and slowly decline once they quit working. Many Americans today want to continue to learn and to grow and to share meaningful experiences and interactions with others. They've watched the generation of their parents live out their retirement, and they want something else—something richer and more complex.
If you're still working, what is your vision of retirement? Is it one in which your world gets smaller each year as the number of your relationships shrinks? Or is it one in which you utilize your unique gifts and skills in new and exciting ways, enriching yourself, your community and the lives of those around you?
Don't buy into the lie that retirement is all about money. It's about so much more than that.
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