Even if you feel sure you have enough money to retire, don’t skip the number-crunching. A gut sense that you can retire is nice … but it’s an experiment whose result won’t be known for many years. And after the results become apparent, it may be too late to do anything about it.
The numbers side of the retirement decision is complicated. Obviously, an element of the retirement cash flow plan is straightforward: Assume a rate of investment return, consider other income sources, and see if projected expenditures are covered by the result. But this simple method leaves too many crucial questions unconsidered. To illustrate, questions like these can have a profound effect on your retirement:
In my experience, the retirement decision also is highly emotional. Say the numbers have been crunched and you both know what your retirement funding picture is. But what if your spouse still doesn’t want to retire?
It happens all the time. It’s scary to make life changes. Many successful people derive a sense of personal worth from their work. Many get intellectual stimulation and meaning from their work. Many like helping others through their work. Permanently walking away from this is not an easy decision.
The thing is, life is a balance, and for every choice you make, you sacrifice something. Get a feel for what you are sacrificing with continued work by doing a “Regrets” list. Each of you goes into a room alone for 10 minutes to write down the things you would most regret having not done if you died tomorrow. See if your regrets help put things in perspective for you.
Of course, part-time work or charity work can provide meaning and social interaction in retirement. Retirement doesn’t have to represent a cliff. It may be both possible and sensible to gradually retire, moving from those 60-hour work weeks to 40 hours, to part-time, and so on. Together, try discussing specifically what you would both do with increased free time, and what specific ways life will continue to be important and challenging.
Last but not least, be sure your visions of retirement are, if not identical, at least in alignment. Maybe you visualize back-to-back world cruises, but your spouse has in mind sleeping late and reading the entire paper every day. If your goals are further apart than you realized, an objective, third-party counselor may help you identify some middle ground, so that those golden years you’re seeking can finally come into focus.