As you near retirement, two questions are likely to occupy your thoughts: “What to do with my retirement fund savings?”, and “What to do with my free time?”
For a smooth transition into retirement, you must apply your mind to both. Here are some positive and constructive approaches to retirement.
Try to stagger the transition from full-time work to retirement
Don’t underestimate the psychological difficulties of stepping into a new life that does not include formal work. It is all the harder if it is an abrupt change, rather than a transition.
Work is not just a source of income, but also of identity, visibility, status, self-esteem, power, belonging, networks and structure. It is only once most people leave employment that they fully appreciate how much importance they attached to their role or office, rather than to themselves.
You will find it easier to adjust if your move into retirement is a gradual process of declining work commitments, reduced work hours and increased leisure time, as opposed to a sudden drop off of a cliff.
There is a tendency to celebrate retirement as the end of work, as though ‘work’ was some kind of four-letter word. Yes, sometimes the demands are excessive, and it can be mindless, but it also gives our life purpose, structure and satisfaction (as in a job well done).
It’s up to you how you define “work” from now on, and how you make productive use of your time. You will need to identify the goals you want to accomplish. Housework, gardening, home repairs, DIY projects, physical and intellectual routines, spiritual growth, hobbies, reading, learning, travel, volunteering – the list of possibilities is long.
Retirement should not be your ticket to morph from active participant to passive spectator, but rather your opportunity to do all the things you wanted to do previously but didn’t have time for.
Structure your day
Although routines are often hailed as passion and creativity killers, they give life structure. For most of our days, we have structure imposed on us: education, work, family life. But it also grounds us, rewards us with long-term benefits and helps us to use our time effectively. To live a happy retirement requires some discipline. You need to develop new routines that give structure to your day. It’s about purposefully allocating time to accomplish tasks, such as housework, exercise, social activities and intellectual pursuits.
Having structure helps you appreciate unstructured time during holidays, or on weekends. Otherwise there is nothing that sets these times apart from the rest of your life. You will quickly realise how soul-destroying that can be. Free time is precious only because it is a limited resource. Unlimited down time loses its value, at the risk that you then no longer value the time you have left.
Stay physically active
There is a mountain of empirical studies and meta-analysis that confirm the benefits of exercise.
At a physical level, it helps control weight, blood pressure and blood sugar. It improves heart function, balance, flexibility and endurance, and it lowers the risk of disease, including many types of cancer. Aerobic exercise aids skin health and healing of wounds by delivering increased oxygen and nutrients. It may also slow the ageing process, by delaying cell ageing.
It has also been shown to prevent or slow cognitive decline – it’s the best way to prevent or delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease, and can improve memory and sleep, as well as relieving symptoms of depression.
Your exercise session need not be particularly long or intensive – just a half hour’s walk every day may be enough, or even simply staying active around the house, with cleaning and gardening.
There is also plenty of research in support of staying socially engaged as we grow older, with similar health benefits to exercise. Studies show that it can lower the risk of heart problems, osteoporosis, some forms of cancer and rheumatoid arthritis. It helps reduce blood pressure and incidents of mental health problems, including depression and developing Alzheimer’s disease.
People who engage in close relationships and social activities tend to live longer and have a stronger immune system. Staying socially engaged has also been shown to have a positive impact on our lifestyle choices, including our diet and levels of physical activity.
Drink from the fountain of use
It is important to keep your mind active, and to challenge yourself mentally in retirement. Our muscles deteriorate faster if we do not train them, and this likely also applies to our mind.
So, exercise your faculties, to keep your mind sharp. You now have the time to learn a new skill, a new language, an instrument, a new hobby, or to go back into education.
Stay up-to-date on technology
One way to become alienated and isolated from the world is to be left behind on matters of technology. The use of online alternatives may at first seem like a choice, a different way of doing things, until at some point it becomes the norm. Then, the old way becomes expensive and impracticable, and simply disappears. Most millennials have never signed a cheque. Will you cope if your local travel agent closes down and you have to book your own holiday? What if your grandchildren share their news on a social media platform? Or your banking requires you to use a smartphone?
Individually, none of these changes may seem significant but, collectively, not keeping up will impair your ability to function well in the modern world.
One of the most refreshing aspects of retirement is that your employer no longer owns your time. It is now yours to use and abuse, and waste and donate as you see fit.
Your time may no longer have a monetary value, but you can give it a social value by offering it up for a good cause.
How you do this is up to your imagination: share your expertise, or teach, or volunteer for a charity. Shine Literacy is an example of a charity where a lot of retirees are really making a difference and getting a lot back in return.
Moving into the dissaving phase in life – spending more than you earn – is also a big change. There is an instinctive fear of consuming capital and the prospect of a diminishing lifestyle in later years. The good news is that these fears can be allayed by making well-informed decisions and preparing ahead of time. Download the free e-book for more information: The SA guide to making your savings last in retirement.
Mica Townsend is a Business Development Manager at 10X Investments.