Phil and Sharon stopped going to work a couple of months ago. This 50-something North Atlanta couple now spend most of the day enjoying each other’s company as they pursue such hobbies as reading, hiking, yoga and gardening.
Early retirees? Nope. Phil and Sharon are among the millions of professionals who’ve spent the past few months sheltering and working at home as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. They handle their work duties from the sofa as tasks arise, and otherwise, well, “just chill.
While the couple are now transitioning into the world’s new “normal,” their lockdown experience has them thinking and talking about retiring early. After all, wouldn’t retirement be like lockdown — only better?
Phil and Sharon aren’t alone in thinking that way. The internet is filled with posts and chats on this very subject.
“I sleep in and wake up on my own every day,” wrote one Reddit.com user. “I watch some news/TV, take my dog to the park, work on a household chore or project, make dinner, watch some TV, go to bed. Rinse repeat. This is the life I want. This is what retiring early will be for me.”
A hefty 25% of those surveyed said they would adjust their post-lockdown life permanently after the pandemic, keeping it much the same as it was in lockdown. If we pan out, those 55 and older in the U.S. represent 100 million people. So, 25% of this group would mean 25 million folks’ daily lives and routines will forever be changed by this pandemic.
Here are some thought experiments for you that are worth conducting during this unprecedented time:
1. What does retirement look like for you? It’s really not enough to save money for retirement; you need to know how you will use that money. Do you want to travel? Buy a lake house? Spoil the grandkids? How has the lockdown experience affected your vision of retirement? Maybe you always anticipated a staycation retirement. Has the reality of weeks of being homebound changed that? Simply put, are you bored? Would you be bored in a retirement spent mainly at home?
2. How important is routine? Out-of-home employment imposes a daily structure that most of us need. We get up at the same time, make the same commute, and follow a regular schedule dictated by our jobs. The lockdown has removed most of that framework from our daily lives, as will retirement. How have you reacted to your current free-range life? Has it made you uncomfortable? Many new retirees, faced with the loss of a decades-old structure, find themselves at a loss before creating a new set of daily routines and rituals.
3. Who are you? Many people, especially men, define themselves by their jobs. This sometimes makes them hesitant to retire as they fear losing their identity when they turn in their office key. The lockdown, with its reduced work requirements, has allowed even the hardest chargers to explore other sides of themselves. In the process, they’ve considered the non-career rewards that can be pursued in retirement.
4. How will you spend your days in retirement? The happiest retirees have several “core pursuits,” hobbies or activities that they are passionate about and pursue regularly. In my interviews with happy retirees, I’ve learned that these core pursuits are absolutely vital to a successful retirement. They bring joy, provide a sense of purpose, and often offer opportunities to socialize. What are your core pursuits? What activities have filled your lockdown hours? If you began the lockdown worried about boredom, but have stayed happy and busy, that’s a good sign for your retirement. If the lockdown has driven you stir-crazy, now is an excellent time to start pursuing longtime interests and exploring possible new hobbies.
5. How will you get your human fix? Perhaps the most challenging and unhealthy side effect of the lockdown has been the social isolation imposed on us. Our in-person connections with friends, extended family and colleagues have withered under strict social distancing rules. Such a lack of human contact is scientifically proven to harm both our physical and mental health. Sadly, too many retirees find themselves disconnected from family and friends, especially as they grow older. How will you stay socially connected in retirement?
6. What about the money piece? The lockdown has taught many of us that we can live on less money than we thought necessary. That lesson may help you feel more comfortable in retirement — a period of life often marked by both reduced income and lower spending. Perhaps a reduction in your lockdown income has prompted you to (finally) create and stick to a budget. That’s an essential skill for retirees to master. Taking a long, hard look at your income and spending might also show you that you’re closer to retirement than you thought.
7. Will you keep working in retirement? I’m a big proponent of working part time in retirement. A part-time gig can provide structure as you transition into retirement and take the stress off your retirement nest egg. Ideally, your retirement hustle should be something you enjoy. The work-at-home dictates of the lockdown have shown many of us that, contrary to our pre-pandemic conceptions, we can indeed do our jobs remotely. This opens up the possibility of staying in your career job on a part-time basis — or taking on similar work as a freelancer or contract worker.
How will you come out on the other side of lockdown? Do you already have plans to meet with your financial adviser on how you can retire early? If so, you won’t be alone. Ease, flexibility, and fun and relaxation with those you love aren’t a hard sell. I’ll bet we’ll see a lot of people bumping up their retirement dates in the coming months or year. Will you be one?
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