3 Retirement Fears to Conquer

How to overcome your biggest retirement challenges.

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A few years ago I was having a filling replaced, and my dentist asked me how I was feeling. I told him I was a little scared. “You know what that means,” he paused, leaned toward me, and whispered. “It means you’re normal.” Even if you know you are ready to retire and are looking forward to it with glee, you may still be a bit apprehensive. Retirement fears are normal. Here are some tips for conquering the worst of those fears.

Fear of running out of money. Most of the focus of retirement planning revolves around money, so it’s understandable that this is a major concern. But the majority of retirees surveyed by Ameriprise Financial report that after a few years of retirement, money worries fade into the background. Other concerns, such as staying healthy and spending time with family, move to the front burner. As long as you have enough to continue your current lifestyle, you’ll do just fine, according to an analysis by Towers Watson.

[See How Much Money Will You Need to Retire?]

I was surprised to find after the first year of retirement that I had actually overestimated what our living expenses would be. Even more surprising, our expenses have gone down, not up, each of the three years I’ve been retired. I have a theory for this. With all the non-financial benefits of retirement including increased control over your time, freedom to pursue your passions, and the near-absence of hurrying, happiness is actually cheaper in retirement. You have time to accomplish things you may have paid someone else to do for you when you were busy working. You have the flexibility to enjoy travel when it might be cheaper. And you’ll find that time spent with friends and family is much more valuable than time spent shopping for stuff.

Fear of boredom. The question I am asked most frequently is not how I saved enough money to retire, but how I keep from getting bored in retirement. While I may have been very busy while I was working full-time, I wasn’t busy doing anything I really wanted to be doing. I was busy doing what my employer was paying me to be doing. And frankly, much of the time I was bored doing it. So the idea that a job is the only thing standing between a person and boredom is a little hard for me to understand.

[See Filling Up 8 Extra Hours in Retirement.]

If only I could actually be plagued by boredom. My problem is that it still seems as if there are not enough hours in a day to do everything I want to do. I have too many choices, not too few. In fact, when I first retired, I was so overwhelmed by the choices available to me that I did nothing. It took me several months to realize that I couldn’t do everything I wanted to do all at once. I would have to use a technique from the working world and prioritize.

Fear of losing your identity. The hardest part of adjusting to retirement for me was the cocktail party part. I loved being retired, I just hated talking about it at cocktail parties. When you are introduced to a new acquaintance, the topic of what you do for a living is never more than 30 seconds away. And when your answer is “I’m retired,” the conversation halts as your new companion tries to process what that says about you. When you work, you are somebody. When you are retired, it’s hard to figure out who that somebody is.

[See Why the Retirement Age Is Increasing.]

But as one of my wise readers shared with me a few months into my own retirement, “What I do to earn a living is just a small part of who I am. I can’t wait to let the other parts take over when I retire.” So now I follow the advice of another reader. When I am asked what I do at those cocktail parties, now I say, “Anything I want.”

Sydney Lagier is a former certified public accountant. Since retiring in 2008 at the age of 44, she has been writing about the transition from productive member of society to gal of leisure at her blog, Retirement: A Full-Time Job.