SUGGESTION: If you are married, both you and your spouse should complete the retirement style checklist. Record your answers on separate sheets of paper, then combine them into one longer list. Differences can be resolved as you accumulate more information and explore your options.
There are six major areas you need to explore:
How do you feel about retirement?
Attitude is the key to success or failure. Your perceptions of retirement and aging are vitally important. Retirement is a major life event. How have you handled past major events: a new marriage, marriage of a child, terminating a job, death of a spouse or parent, and key birthdays (40, 50, 60)?
Do you have difficulty letting go?
Some people view change as crisis in their lives. This may be an indicator that you may have difficulty adjusting to your new lifestyle. Start to explore this with your spouse or a close friend. You might even want to get some supportive counseling. If you're not sure where to go, consult with your employee assistance program (EAP) at work, if available.
How do you feel about your present job? Do you want to stop what you're doing at age 62 or 65?
Do you tend to stay beyond the normal working hours by choice? There are 168 hours in a week. How many hours do you spend working? You may really enjoy what you do for a living. If you "love your job," how do you feel at the thought of leaving it?
Just because your friends and co-workers are retiring, you may feel pressured to stop working. You also may not want to give up the income you're presently earning just yet. Consider staying on full- or part-time, if that option is available to you.
Would you like to work somewhere else? What kind of job should you look for? Would you like to work full- or part-time?
What job opportunities are available to senior citizens where you live? Are there better opportunities in other regions of the country? Will you need a part-time job to make ends meet, or because you like to work and stay productive?
Would you make a successful entrepreneur?
Did you lead the pack in sales of Girl Scout cookies? How successful was your lemonade stand? Maybe now is the perfect time to start turning your hobby into an income-producing activity.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Be careful about starting your own business—you don't want to jeopardize your nest egg.
Does it pay to keep working after you retire?
If you're going to work, make sure you understand the Social Security earnings limitations. See the section Social Security—How Much Can You Earn Without Reducing Your Benefits? for more information. You may want to postpone your Social Security retirement benefits until you reach age 65 or 70.
How do you feel about spending time as a volunteer?
A large number of people (age 65+) spend their time in a volunteer program. Studies show that men are just as likely as women to use their life skills in providing service to their community.
Don't wait to get involved. Begin to spend an hour or two with a religious or civic association. Visit your town administration building or local library to get more information on volunteer opportunities. Volunteering is one of life's most rewarding activities.
Will you still have children with special needs living at home? Will you be responsible for them financially? Are they dependent on you for daily care and mobility?
Having children with lifelong special needs can be emotionally and financially difficult. Reduced income, increased expenses, and a new full-time caretaker role can add considerable stress.
Charitable organizations and local hospitals provide community support networks. Make sure you're getting all the help you need while you're still employed. Special services may require extensive waiting periods, depending on availability.
Will you have elderly parents that will be physically and financially dependent on you?
When planning for yourself, don't forget to include your parents. Help them plan for their financial needs, and limit their exposure to financial risk. A medical emergency or long-term care need could pull you out of retirement and put you back in the work force.
Make sure your parents have proper insurance. They may not be able to get it (or afford it) when they need it.
Will your spouse continue to work when you retire? How will this affect your role in the household?
This can throw you straight into an identity crisis and affect your self-worth. More of the household chores may become your responsibility. You don't want to end up resenting your spouse because of a role reversal for household responsibilities.
Is your spouse in poor health? Is he or she physically dependent on you?
If your spouse currently receives help at home because you're not there during the day, don't plan on sending that help away. Even if you're planning on retiring completely, you may not have the time or be able to care for your spouse as well as a trained provider.
Maintaining time for yourself is important. You'll want a certain amount of time enjoying hobbies or personal interests. If you'll need extra financial assistance, check with local social service organizations or your local lodge or church group.
Do you live alone or with a relative or friend?
Did you know that elderly people who live with someone generally tend to live longer than people who live alone? If you're single, weigh the pros and cons of your current living arrangements.
Are most of your friends at work?
It may be difficult for you if your friends are still working. Don't count on meeting them for lunch three times a week. And be aware that, in most cases, relationships that just revolve around the workplace fade out.
Where do you go to meet people?
If you've had little time to socialize because of the demanding nature of your job and your responsibilities at home, don't wait until you retire to find places to meet new people. Feelings of isolation can be overcome if you reach out and try new things. Join something now. Start to find places where there are people who share common interests. For example, night schools, museums and libraries run ongoing programs.
Are you involved in civic associations or religious organizations?
If you've never served on the board of your local church group or Elks Club, consider getting more involved. You'll find the skills you acquired during your working years can make you a valued participant.
Are you an organizer or participant?
It doesn't matter if you're a leader or a follower, get going. Leaders can't exist without followers and vice-versa. You'll find that the contribution you can make while you're still working may open unexpected opportunities during retirement.
Do you have charities to which you regularly give?
Look through your checkbook and check off all the charities to which you regularly contribute. Call your local chapter to see with whom you can meet. Start to explore non-monetary contributions you can make while you are still working. You might even discover unadvertised opportunities for paid part- or full-time work, should you be so inclined.
How do you spend your non-working hours (evenings/weekends)?
If most of your non-working hours are empty or filled with watching TV or reading the newspaper, you can expect to do more of the same during retirement. Start to explore other activities that may appeal to you, such as starting a hobby or playing more of a favorite sport.
Do you regularly engage in physical activity?
Staying healthy is more important than money. Just ask the ten richest dead people you know. If you're not engaged in a regular exercise program, see your doctor and start one today.
Do you vacation regularly?
Start to identify places you'd like to go when you retire. You may be able to put away those extra dollars to make it come true. On the other hand, if you have the time and can afford to take that vacation today, why wait?
Do you pursue educational activities? Do you enjoy learning new things?
Besides physical activity, mental activity is essential to maintaining your independence during retirement. Have you thought about taking a class in night school, but find you just don't have the time? Try fitting one into your schedule while you're still working. Look in your local paper for discussion groups or book clubs that appeal to you. You may develop new friends and even new interests.