Retire at Your Own Risk

There’s no guarantee that your retirement finances or lifestyle will fulfill your expectations.

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For many hard-working individuals, the promise of retirement is the carrot that keeps them going through the good and bad life throws their way. No matter how hard times are right now, we optimistically hope to make it to the point where we can leave the job behind and begin to enjoy our second act. All the saving and scrimping will finally pay off when we enter the ranks of the retired. We are ready to breathe a big sigh of relief as we prepare to make the big move.

But the retirement reality can sometimes fall a bit short of expectations. Taking the leap into retirement is not without risk.

Choosing to leave your job voluntarily to begin retired life can be unnerving as well as bittersweet. You have made the difficult decision to leave behind the co-workers who have been an integral part of your life for years. There will be no more Monday morning life updates or gossip around the coffee machine. It may not have always been smooth sailing, but generally the relationships we build on the job are a positive part of our lives and will be missed.

Even more importantly you have made the conscious decision to step away from the regular paycheck that has made even the most difficult job at least somewhat tolerable. To some extent you are rolling the dice because you hope you have set aside sufficient savings and investments to pay all your expenses for the rest of your life. Even the best laid plans that take into consideration the ups and downs of the economy cannot foresee exactly what is to come. The top financial minds in the world are repeatedly blindsided by unexpected events that rock the economy. What are the chances those of us less informed can hope to better predict the next bubble or political upheaval that looms in retirement?

Once you retire from the job, you also assume responsibility for additional expenses that your employer previously handled. It is easy to overlook the significance of the bills being paid until you are the one writing the checks. Prepare to add to your regular expenses health care premiums, vision insurance, dental insurance and any business reimbursements that you have grown accustomed to. You will even have to pay for those miscellaneous office supplies that found their way into your backpack over the years.

Retirement offers you the time and freedom to do what you choose to do. It is a wonderful thing to wake up with a calendar free of anything you must do. You will be able to live the day at your own pace. It is up to you to decide what you will pursue. However, for someone accustomed to having a calendar laid out for them, as is the case with many jobs, this new freedom might prove tricky. If you retire at 65 you can look forward to twenty or more years as a retiree. Do you have enough hobbies, interests and projects to keep you busy for that long? Are you creative enough to keep engaged and avoid becoming bored? After surviving the long road to get here, it would be a shame to feel you are wasting the hours.

When you retire you will finally have quality time to spend with your partner as the two of you explore this new chapter in your life. Get ready to share the moments and experience the togetherness you have only known on weekends and infrequent vacations. Of course, this new 24/7 togetherness may not be all sunshine. If one of you has been working from home or is already retired, those intended-to-be-helpful suggestions to improve what has worked just fine for the past ten years may ruffle a few feathers. And if your spouse is not yet sure how to live this new retired life, don’t be surprised to find him tagging along as you go through your daily routine. Being with someone 24/7 can require a bit of flexibility and tolerance, especially in the early days.

Retirement holds the promise of freedom to explore our interests and pursue our dreams. But it is not without risk. The trick is to know when the time is right, because you are not likely to get a second chance to do it over.

Dave Bernard is the author of "I Want To Retire! Essential Considerations for the Retiree to Be". Although not yet retired, he focuses on identifying and understanding the essential components of a fulfilling and meaningful retirement. He shares his discoveries and insights on his blog Retirement-Only The Beginning.