Of course, I am ready to retire,” you say. “Who wouldn’t be?”
I know what you mean, but my question is, “Are you really ready to retire?” Have you planned for your retirement, and prepared yourself for life after retirement? Tricky question, isn’t it?
Many people anxiously wait until they are 62 so they can draw social security benefits and retire from working life. I have seen some people retiring in their mid- or late 50s while others are still working in their 70s. I also know someone who was very excited prior to her retirement, but the same person came back to her fulltime job in few weeks because she could not figure out what to do with the time she had on her hands all of a sudden.
A retired friend of mine often complains of loneliness; her grown children are too busy to care about her. At the same time, of course, there are many people who are very happy in their retired life.
The concept of retiring means different things to different people. Also, each individual has a different set of circumstances and different kind of job to retire from. Your main focus while preparing for retirement could be different than mine. Even when you have planned for retirement, there may be situations beyond your control, such as inflation, a sudden breakdown in health, or things of the sort. However, there are some things you can and must prepare for ahead of time.
Know Your Source of Income
What will replace your regular income? No matter how well off you may be, list your sources, and develop a monthly plan of how much you would require each month. What amount will come from your Social Security check? A general online calculator is available from the Social Security Administration (SSA) website (www.ssa.gov); the postcard you get in the mail every year from the SSA will also give you a ballpark estimate. I suggest you make an individual appointment with a representative in their office and get the exact amount and dates. You should ask other questions at this meeting as well, such as whether or not your social security income will be taxable. Will your income from a pension plan affect the amount from social security? At what age can you draw full social security and a paycheck from work at the same time?
Retirement benefits from employers may differ in government and private sectors, as well as from employer to employer in each sector. What kind of retirement plan does your employer have? How many years are required for vesting in the program? The total number of years you have worked may not be the base for your retirement calculations.
For example if you were on disability leave for three months, you did not pay into the retirement system for those months. Were you working part-time for a while, and not paying into the system? Check with your employer if you can buy back those periods by paying your portion of money into the system. If yes, these periods will be added to your years of service and make a difference in the benefits you will be eligible for. If planned ahead, you may not have to pay all at once. A payment plan can be worked out with your employer.
Also, find out what formula is used in calculating an employee’s pension. In government sectors, the number of years of full-time work, your age, and your income in the last two to three years, is taken into consideration.
However, the benefit of age stops at age 65. With many employers, especially in government settings, you can sell back your vacation time. Do this only during the last two or three years before retiring. If done correctly, and to the maximum permitted, you can raise your retirement income by as much as 10 percent. When is the cost of living allowance (COLA) applied? The COLA is the allowance applied to your account once a year. To make use of this, you want to retire on or a little before the date, or, you will have to wait until that date the next year.
Even if it is only two or three percent, every little bit helps when your regular paycheck has stopped coming in.
Many employers offer group seminars for employees. Take advantage of them by starting the process as early as three years before you want to retire. Ask for the amount of pension you will be eligible for on a certain date, and get it in writing.
Make an individual appointment to go over the details. The retirement department should have a checklist to go over item-by-item and a list of documents you will need to submit. I was surprised to learn that I will need to submit a marriage certificate, or they will not be able to release the full amount of my pension on the given date. If you are like me, and got married 39 years ago in a different country, you may not have a marriage certificate. So, you need to apply at the consulate of your country for a marriage certificate and have it ready when you file the retirement application with your employer.
Think About Your Health
Your health is another very important factor if you really want to enjoy your retired life, or any life for that matter. It is important that you address major health issues such as blood pressure, diabetes, and high cholesterol problems as they come and not wait until you retire.
Find out who will pay for medical insurance after you retire. Is it fully paid by your employer for the rest of your life, or will you have to bear a portion of it? What is the exact proportion, and how much might it cost you? You cannot know the exact estimate, but even a rough idea will save you from the shock later. If you retire after 65, how will Medicare or the state system factor in? All of these are important issues to be addressed while retirement planning.
Plan How to Spend Time
Just imagine—you were used to a routine, a schedule of getting up each morning, getting ready, and going to work for month after month, year after year. Everything else rotated around that schedule. Suddenly, one day, you get up and you do not have to go to work. I have seen people sliding into depression given the lack of things to replace that schedule. Creatively working with your free time can be challenging. The trick is to think ahead and start some activities before you retire. Develop hobbies, keep an active network with current and ex-colleagues, old and new friends, travel, read, write, do volunteer work, pick a part-time job. My sister-in-law, for example, volunteers for Meals on Wheels and delivers food to homebound seniors.
At home, you can engage yourself in activities like gardening, knitting, painting, music, or whatever you like best.
There are many ways of networking with friends and family. At my work, a group of us has been going out for breakfast once a month for the last 15 years. Most retired ones join us just as they did when they were working with us. I have engaged myself in many activities over the years. I belong to a walking group where 10 of us walk together over the weekends, a music group that meets once a month, a weekly card-playing group, a religious group, and a travel group of women only. In addition, I network with my friends from current and previous work places. Some I meet on a regular basis, some on an as-much-as-we-can basis. I also write, and I am not retired yet. I know I have plenty to occupy me after I retire.
Finally, networking and maintaining strong relationships with family definitely plays the most positive part. My daughter gave me a wooden plaque with a quote that reads, “Just when a woman thinks her work is done, she becomes a grandmother.” So true! What could be better than spending time with your children and grandchildren? Picking them up from school, taking them to tennis lessons, playing games, and watching movies with them can be the best reward of retired life.
If all of this is not enough to keep you busy and happy, just let me know and I will send you another list of activities. Happy retirement!
Nirmala Guliani is a reference librarian and a freelance writer who has published articles and short stories.