How are you going to make the most of retirement? Do you have a bucket list of things that you’ve always dreamed of doing? Are you working out how to fit it all in and finance your plans? Do you have tricky decisions to make about thing like where to live or how to manage your health?
Rachael Palmer recently spoke to Australian Unity about the findings the Ageing Workforce Ready Project has uncovered about retirement and how to make the most of it. Regardless of what you imagine your dream retirement to be, you need to plan for this important transition. Retirement is more than ‘not working’, and thinking ahead can help make this life phase a whole lot better:
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“The strategy should be to have some open communication about what your shared retirement looks like – on a daily, weekly, monthly and yearly basis.” – Lauren Ffrost.
What springs to mind when you think of retirement? Do you have a golden-hued fantasy of travelling the world, renovating your home or playing with the grandkids? Or are you carefully working through a timeline of pre-retirement tasks, making sure your finances are up to scratch and your admin is all under control?
Whether you’re focused on your bucket list or the practicalities of retirement, there are some considerations that will help you to live your best retired life. From caring for your health to creating a daily routine, these changes will help to ensure your “dream” retirement becomes a reality, and that you continue to maintain your wellbeing in the years to come.
When it comes to retirement, there’s one obvious question: “Do I have enough money to retire?” For Rachael Palmer, an organisational psychologist working with Transitioning Well on the Ageing Workforce Ready Project, a focus on finances is warranted. “The earlier you start to have a real relationship with your superannuation rather than just a hypothetical one, the better,” she says.
The other big question for retirees? “Where am I going to live?” Lauren Ffrost, General Manager of The Grace Albert Park Lake, one of Australian Unity’s retirement communities, agrees that living arrangements are a key consideration. She suggests that retirees work through a series of questions to decide what’s right for them: “Can I age happily in my current dwelling? What does the ‘right size’ dwelling mean for me? Am I in the right location? Am I close to family, community, amenities? Do I feel safe and secure where I am?”
But while your finances and your home are crucial considerations, there’s a whole range of other factors that also affect whether your retirement is a happy and fulfilling one.
“As retirement comes closer, you should think about your physical and mental wellbeing,” says Rachael. “What are you going to do to look after yourself physically? Think about everything from routine check-ups to daily habits around exercise and eating well.”
The late Bob Hawke, former Australian Prime Minister, famously did sudoku puzzles to keep himself mentally sharp later in life, and continued to add his voice to causes he felt passionate about. Rachael suggests thinking about your “legacy” to retain a sense of purpose: “What is it that’s going to carry you ahead – to act as a tether to your career or your passion into retirement?” she asks.
And indeed, remaining connected to the workforce in some capacity can be beneficial. Lauren suggests that many retirees “don’t want to be perceived as unproductive, and want to continue to contribute to society”.
Routine sounds boring, but having a certain structure to your retirement is important. Walking groups, yoga classes, dancing, cycling groups – a regular social commitment can be critical in maintaining your wellbeing.
Lauren backs this up: “A lot of retirees really miss the social aspects of work, such as chatting with colleagues or going for coffee. It’s how they feel connected with people. So having a new routine is critical after retirement. This is where a retirement village is a great proposition – a community of like-minded individuals that you can connect with as much or as little as you like.”
Rachael agrees that being part of a number of different groups will likely increase your resilience as you journey through the various stages of retirement – from the first days of enjoying this new experience to settling into everyday retired life.
It’s important to make sure you’re on the same post-retirement page as your loved ones. For example, what would you do if you’re ready to retire, but your partner isn’t?
“I think it’s only problematic when the other partner doesn’t have their own interests or passions,” says Lauren. “Or when there’s a conflict in values about what ‘our life’ looks like. The strategy should be to have some open communication about what your shared retirement looks like – on a daily, weekly, monthly and yearly basis. What do you both value, and how can you continue to do the things that give you a sense of purpose and connection? If these conversations start early and there’s an alignment, then things usually work out.”
The same goes for managing expectations with your adult children. With childcare costs increasing and many families experiencing mortgage stress, grandparents are playing an increasingly large role in their grandkids’ day-to-day lives. For some, this is a joy; for others, it comes as something of a shock. To avoid friction, Lauren says some honest talk is helpful.
“Communicating your expectations and retirement plans with your family – and the boundaries around that – is critical,” she says. “Adult children may need to reflect on the fact that their parents have done a lot of work with their own child-raising already, and probably have other goals and aspirations. Being tied down to unpaid informal childcare is possibly not how they pictured their retirement.”
Rachael agrees that open communication is a key strategy to avoiding conflict: “Talk about it – don’t make assumptions.”
A lot of people are surprised at how busy they become in retirement, but others struggle to fill their days and wrestle with feelings of redundancy and irrelevance.
“It’s often a delayed response,” says Rachael, “After that first three to 12 months when you’ve been on holiday, done your DIY projects, caught up with friends… That’s when depression sometimes kicks in and you find yourself questioning your identity, or feeling that you don’t have the necessary supports to enjoy retirement. People work through this in various ways: some return to work or look for a new purpose. For example, do I raise money for a charity? Do I find a part-time job? Do I learn a new language? All sorts of things!”
As always, planning is key here. If these feelings start to surface, it’s going to be easier to navigate them if you’ve already been asking yourself what you really want from your retirement.
Regardless of what you imagine your dream retirement to be, it needn’t be just a dream – with some planning and consideration, it can be a reality too.