15 Ways to Tell if You Are Ready to Retire

Get your finances in order and decide how you will spend your time.

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Prepare for long-term care. Retirees need to consider the possibility that they might need long-term care. Medicare pays for up to 100 days of nursing home care, but a prolonged illness or chronic condition could require care for a longer period of time. Purchasing a long-term care insurance policy is one way to shield yourself from high chronic care costs, but these often expensive policies are not appropriate for all retirees. The health reform bill created a voluntary government long-term care insurance program, Community Living Assistance Services and Supports (CLASS), which will begin in January 2011.

Consider new activities. Plan to embrace a new activity in retirement. "You have to be mentally ready to not go into the office anymore," says Duncan. "You need to have something to replace the time that you spent working such as a hobby or travel." Consider volunteer work, taking a class at a local college, or a part-time job.

Join a social circle. When you leave your job, work-related social functions and lunches with coworkers often stop. "If your whole social life is tied up in your work life, it is a difficult transition," says Warren Ward, a certified financial planner for Warren Ward Associates in Columbus, Ind. Try to make friends or join a social circle outside of your company before you retire. "Very often, people will find a hobby or two, volunteer at the library, or become a boy scout leader because it introduces you to a new social circle," says Ward.

Coordinate with your spouse. Retirement may change your relationship with your spouse. Perhaps one spouse is ready to retire and the other wants to continue working. Even if you retire together, you may have to renegotiate responsibilities and boundaries. "The act of retirement itself can put a strain on a marriage because they were both working or one was working and one was home and now they are both home at the same time all day, " says John Migliaccio, director of research for MetLife's Mature Market Institute. "Negotiating retirement with your spouse is very important." Sure, you'll be able to take lingering walks on the beach in retirement, but you also need to decide who mows the lawn and who unloads the dishwasher now that neither of you is working.

Pick out a place. Once you're no longer tied to your job, you're free to move anywhere you wish. Frugal retirees can downsize into a smaller home or condo or relocate to a low cost area of the country (college towns often offer a low cost of living and plenty of amenities.) Many seniors move to sunnier climates and never shovel snow again, and some choose to move closer to their grandchildren.

[Find Your Best Place to Retire.]

Keep your emergency fund. Although the fear of losing your job disappears when you retire, the need for an emergency fund doesn't. Retirees still get leaky roofs, broken-down cars, and other large and sudden expenses. "It makes sense for retirees to have a fund of cash of some kind, one to three years' worth of money that they will need in addition to Social Security, and keep that in something really safe," says Aiken. "It's your short-term spending money." Keeping your emergency fund in an FDIC-insured account will allow you to delay withdrawals from investment accounts in years when the stock market performs poorly.

[See The 100 Best Mutual Funds for the Long Term.]

Pay off all debts. Pay off as much debt as you can before you retire. "In general, people should have all their debts paid off when they retire," says Aiken. "If you have no mortgage you have more flexibility when things happen."

Take a practice retirement. One way to tell if you will enjoy retirement is to test it out by taking an extended vacation or leave of absence from your job. "Very often, people who are used to working really hard are just lost when they don't have some place to go," says Ward. "Their value in their own mind is being part of the workforce and going in and solving problems for people every day." Find out if you will enjoy hours of free time and lingering lunches or if you'll crave work to structure your days. "We encourage people to take a leave as an alternative to retirement as a chance to sample it," says Ward. "Consider what you want to do next and what you are going to give up."