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Planning, review and revision all are part of retirement

April 19, 2013
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About a year ago, I wrote an article about planning your retirement. It centered around the use of a “bucket list” or “painting a picture of your retirement” — tools designed to help organize your thinking about what your retirement will involve. 

I’m still amazed how many people think only in terms of “How much money do I need?” I will state it once more: If you don’t know what the target looks like or the other influencing factors, how can you really answer that question?

So let’s get back to the basic issue of clarifying the target. Let me repeat the critical components:

1. What are you going to do with your time?

2. What are the priorities of the critical components of your plans?

3. Write them down and re-evaluate them periodically.

The re-assessment process is what I want to focus on at this point. Maybe right after your annual tax filing is a good time to do this, as you have probably taken a look at a lot of your personal information while preparing taxes.

There is a dimension to retirement planning that I failed to mention in my last article and hope to correct with this new article. Previously, I stressed the importance of pre-retirement planning — and still do. However, that sort of implies that, once you retire, everything is said and done. If you take that approach you may be in trouble. So, again, I want to emphasize the re-assessment process.

In approaching this process, I believe we should add one more element to our written retirement plan. We should add a section that covers “intangibles” — those feelings that may or may not be rational that actually frequently play an important role in your decision making. 

You can label these intangibles “concerns and hopes.” You don’t have to justify them, just document them. They will likely provide a good backdrop to your decision-making, and when you do your reassessment, it may be very beneficial to see how they have and how they should impact your decision-making. The next time around you can give them more or less emphasis, as appropriate.

The influencing factors

When you started your retirement “bucket list” or your “picture,” it was generally based on goals and desires that grew over a period of time. Along the way, hopefully, you have considered all the critical components that impact retirement decisions: psychological and physical health, home, climate, family, interests, finances, estate planning, technology, religion, etc. However, you must clearly recognize that none of these things are constant and they change more rapidly than you might expect.

For example, I have an older sister whose family has a small business in Texas and whose retirement picture involved spending time at their cabin on Lake Superior in Canada while the sons ran the business. This past year, her husband and two sons have all died in separate, health-related events. Her retirement picture has now changed dramatically.

A couple of important points to the story: An annual review is not too frequent; don’t put off doing things that are important to your objectives.

Society plays a key role. Many people are very much involved with the world around them while they are working and evolving in their first 50 to 60 years of life. But frequently they have a mental shift when they “retire.” They have the thought process that they are just going to do their thing and let the world do its thing. They’ve done their part; now others can take over.

However, things don’t really work that way. Society keeps moving, with critical court rulings that affect health matters, marriage issues and the legal implications that stem from the rulings.

Then there are the tax and benefit decisions that affect pensions, income levels and decisions about inheritance practices. Just consider the amount of change in the financial markets in the last 12 to 24 months. Regulations on nursing homes may play a role in your life or in the lives of those whom you are expected to care for.

Now consider the impact of technology — phones, computer tablets, Skype and other communication tools that are changing so rapidly you can easily get left in the dust. It has an impact on you and your family. You need to review such changes or you will wake up one day and say, “I haven’t talked to my grandkids in three months. I wonder what is going on with them?”

Planning, review and revision are part of retirement. You must take the effort to make it what you want — not let it be something that just happens to you.

Ardon Schambers is principal and president of P3HR Consulting & Services LLC in Grand Rapids.

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