Retirement May Be Hazardous to Your Health

I was with a retired physician friend not long ago and inquired, “How’s retirement life going?”  His response was, “Stewart, never quit a high-paying job you love!”  he was bored and having trouble filling the void left by a forty-plus year fulfilling career.

For the past thirty-plus years, I’ve worked with hundreds of people helping them calculate how much they’ll need for retirement and then helping them invest for that goal.  It’s a fun and rewarding process and approaching one’s ‘retirement date’ is typically exciting and sometimes filled with angst.  Most of the concern revolves around, “Will I truly have enough money…so that I never run out.”  Much fewer people are concerned with the psychological side of retirement.  This is what I often worry about.  How does a person who has spent 40-60 hours per week for the past forty years suddenly fill that time in a satisfying way?  Many times the ‘at-home’ spouse is saying, “Don’t plan on hanging around the house expecting me to make lunch for you every day!”

What I have observed:

  1. Usually, the first 6-12 months goes well. It’s all new with many unfulfilled projects to catch up on and perhaps several bucket-list trips to take.
  2. Some folks do exceptionally well. These people usually fall into one of two categories:
  • People who were burned out at work…did not like their job. They’re just happy to be out of the rat race.
  • People who have one or more significant hobbies. Typically, being an avid golfer is not enough.   There’s only so much golf you can play week-in and week-out. A recent physician-client retiree is thriving.  He and his wife love to exercise; love to collect fine wines; love to travel; love to socialize.  They are having the time of their life, …and he was a bit fed up with medicine.
  1. A significant number of people find themselves bored. These tend to be what I call ‘Workers’…people who spent their last forty years primarily focused on their work and didn’t develop many ‘distractions’ outside of work.  I think I may fall into this category.  I focused so much energy on building a successful company…to the exclusion of almost anything else.  I am an avid tennis player and do exercise regularly but don’t have many other activities outside of work (and being mayor of my city).  For me, ‘retirement’ is a bit scary.  What would I do with all that free time?

We’ve all heard the saying “bored to death.”  It became a saying because excess boredom actually can shorten your life span.  As you approach retirement, consider these options:

  • Work part-time. This must happen on your terms for it to be successful.  I recently had lunch with a ‘retired’ attorney.  He cut a deal to be ‘of counsel’ at a prestigious law firm.  “Stewart, they give me an office and secretary.  I’m never there before nine or after four, and if you ask me to play golf or go fishing, I’m your guy!”  He’s doing only work he enjoys and through his many connections, continues to bring new cases to the firm for other lawyers to handle.  Perfect!
  • Do a trial run. If your job allows, take a few weeks off.  Don’t take that bucket-list trip but stay in town and do the things you would likely do if you were fully retired.  See what it feels like then decide if full retirement is right for you.
  • Develop your ‘fourth-quarter’ plan. Do some planning and ‘imagining’ how you’ll fill those forty hours per week for the next twenty to thirty years. Be realistic and include your spouse in this exercise.

Caution for early retirees

Early retirement can be especially hazardous to your health.  A 2005 Shell Oil study found that people who retired at age 55 were 89% more likely to die within ten years than those who continued to work until age 65.  Furthermore, those who continued to work at age 65 were 89% more likely to live ten more years after retirement even though they were ten years older than the early retirees.

The key takeaway is ‘engagement’…remaining actively engaged in meaningful, purposeful activities, whether it’s work-related or not.

Follow The Welch Group every Tuesday morning on WBRC Fox 6 for the Money Tuesday segment.

FOX6 Talking Points

“Is Retirement Hazardous to Your Health?”

  • “Die of boredom” is not just a phrase…
  • Consider working part-time…on your terms.
  • Consider doing a ‘trial run’ retirement.
  • Fully develop a ‘fourth-quarter’ plan.

Takeaway: The key to success is remaining fully engaged in a meaningful/purposeful way.

Stewart H. Welch, III, CFP®, AEP, is the founder of THE WELCH GROUP, LLC, which specialize in providing fee-only investment management and financial advice to families throughout the United States.  He is the author or co-author of six books including  J.K. Lasser’s New Rules for Estate, Retirement and Tax Planning- 6th Edition (John Wiley & Sons, Inc.); THINK Like a Self-Made Millionaire; and 100 Tips for Creating a Champagne Retirement on a Shoestring Budget. For more information, visit The Welch Group. Consult your financial advisor before acting on comments in this article.