Art work of the words Happy Retirement?

Retirement is Liberating – and Hard Work

Most baby boomers find the first weeks of retirement liberating. But it takes some work to ensure the feeling lasts.

“Almost everyone is just thrilled with the first days of retirement, and the big thing is: ‘I do not have to set my alarm,’ ” said Harvard Business School professor Teresa Amabile. Eventually, another thought dawns on a new retiree: “I don’t want to turn into one of those people who sits around in their jammies half the day. I need more of a routine.”

That’s when they start investigating what they’ll do with their time, said Amabile, who, with a team of researchers, interviewed 83 older professionals during their pre- or post-retirement years (or both) to understand the transformation from worker to retiree.

For a smooth transition, the planning should start well before leaving your job, as you process the question of how and when to retire. A critical part of the retirement decision is making sure you can afford it. But the psychological preparation is just as important.

This work, which boils down to four essential tasks, can take several years before and after the retirement date to complete. The first task – the decision to retire – was covered in last Thursday’s blog. Here are the remaining three:

Detach from work. Some people already have one foot in retirement while they’re still working. This can happen organically as an older worker starts to feel marginalized, or it can be a self-directed detachment as he or she becomes psychologically more distant in preparation for leaving. Amabile said completing the process of detaching from work can take weeks or years after retirement day. …Learn More

Art work of the words Happy Retirement?

Mapping Out a Fulfilling Retirement

One might say that baby boomers on the cusp of retiring come in two varieties. Some cannot wait to retire and already have a plan. For others, the unknowns fill them with dread.

How will I occupy my days? Should I do something meaningful, or is the goal just to have fun? And how do I figure this out? At 62, this writer really has no idea.

For the other boomers who are feeling this way, take some comfort in knowing you are in good company.

“I can’t say this strongly enough. There are some people who seem to literally not think about what their retirement might look like before they retire,” says Harvard Business School professor Teresa Amabile, whose research team interviewed 83 professionals in their pre- or post-retirement years (or both) to study how they navigate the transition years.

A big part of retiring is letting go of what can be a strong identification with work, and people are reluctant to give that up, she said. This identity might be attached to one’s profession – doctor, professor, carpenter – or to an employer, a specific experiment, or the team on your current project. For others, identity is tied to being the family breadwinner. For many people entering retirement, the basis of that identity is “profoundly shaken,” Amabile said.

Of course, not everyone confronts an identity crisis. Older people who are eager to start a new chapter of their life or are simply burned out by work may find that it’s liberating to shed that old identity and move on.

But, according to Amabile, a more arduous process is common. Many older workers begin to realize, “My identity as a person and my work are really bound up together, so I need to work through that.” A crucial part of planning for retirement is determining “what life is going to be like without work, because work structures your life,” she said.

Amabile described the problems one couple in the study encountered because they didn’t have a solid plan. After retiring, they moved out of the community they’d lived in for 25 years and relocated near some family members. But two years later, they still hadn’t settled comfortably into their new life and “felt at loose ends all the time,” she said.

To prevent this from happening to you, consider that boomers typically must go through four tasks as they transition to a satisfying retirement; Amabile and her team members – Lotte Bailyn, Douglas Hall, Kathy Kram, Marcy Crary, and Jeff Steiner – saw these four tasks in many of their interviews with baby boomers.

The tasks – described below and in a follow-up blog – don’t have to happen in any particular order, though the most common sequence is: Decide to retire. Detach from work. Explore a new life structure. Consolidate a new life structure. …Learn More

Art of a light bulb

Electric Bills and Financial Survival

Timing is everything for low-income people who rely on federal benefits to survive.

For example, retirees who receive their Social Security checks early in the month and spend the money before the bills come in are more prone to fill the gap with high-cost payday loans than people who get their checks a few weeks later, a 2018 study found. New research in a similar vein shows that timing also matters for individuals who receive food aid under the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.

SNAP program logoWhen the electricity bill arrives on or within a day of the monthly SNAP benefit, the lowest-income customers in this study were much less likely to have a past due bill or to have their power cut off than customers whose bills arrive well after their benefits.

The timing is crucial, because SNAP supplies between 10 percent and 25 percent of household incomes up to 35 percent above the federal poverty level. When the government loads each month’s food benefit onto the card, it frees up money for high-priority bills coming due at the same time, including utilities.

This study took place in an unidentified New England state where recipients’ SNAP debit cards are refilled on the first day of every month.

After following the SNAP recipients for a full year, the researchers also found that the unpaid balances they had accumulated after 12 months were smaller if the bills coincided with the SNAP-card deposits. The advantages of a well-timed electricity bill were greatest in the poorest neighborhoods, the researchers said. …
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Photo of a suburban house

Most Older Americans Age in their Homes

Retirees are apparently unpersuaded that it’s a good idea to convert their substantial home equity into some retirement income.

One way to tap this home equity is through state programs that defer older homeowners’ property taxes. The programs are offered in many states, but very few people take advantage of them. Retirees are also skeptical about the benefits of converting their equity into income using a federally insured reverse mortgage: only about 50,000 older homeowners, on average, get them every year.

A big concern is that if they ever sell the house, the back taxes or the reverse mortgage must be paid back – with interest.

But a new study by the Center for Retirement Research finds that this is an unlikely scenario for the majority of retirees, because they rarely move or don’t move at all.

The researchers constructed a picture of how Americans’ living situations change between their 50s and the end of their lives by combining the data for two separate age groups. They matched the households in one group, who were between age 50 and 78, with similar but much older households in the second group and then followed the second group through most of their 90s.

The researchers found that 53 percent of this constructed sample of homeowners never moved out of the house they owned when they were in their early 50s.

Another 17 percent relocated around the time they were retiring and then generally stayed put. Although the households in this group tended to be more educated and better off financially than the people who never moved, both groups ended up with substantially more housing wealth than the people who moved frequently. …Learn More

A drawing of a hand holding a heart

States Give Financial Help to Caregivers

On Jan. 1, Arizona residents caring for elderly or disabled family members became eligible for up to a $1,000 reimbursement from the state for expenses incurred in their caregiving responsibilities.

This is a trial program and the legislature allocated very little money – $1 million over two years – in a state with an estimated 800,000 residents caring for a disabled adult over 18.

But it’s a start.

Caregivers “aren’t asking for everything. They’re asking for a little bit to make their lives better,” said Elaine Ryan, vice president of government affairs for AARP, which has been on the forefront of advocating for such policies at the state level. “That’s the least we can do.”

Arizona’s program would defray a portion of caregivers’ spending. For older family members, this would cover technologies to aid older family members, such as hearing aids or computer programs, or shower grab bars and wheelchair ramps.

Graphic of caregiver expenses

Like Arizona, state governments around the country, as laboratories for policy experimentation, have passed a hodgepodge of programs to support caregivers. Other bills approved in recent years range from New Jersey’s tax credit for military families caring for wounded veterans to Oregon’s paid family leave program for workers taking care of aging spouses, parents and grandparents.

The programs are a tacit acknowledgment of the enormous financial strain caregivers face – a strain that is only expected to grow and, increasingly, to affect Millennials as their baby boomer parents age.

However, it’s not easy to pass bills that require states to approve financial assistance or tax credits, because the work done quietly by family caregivers is often invisible and under-appreciated by the general public and federal and state legislators. …Learn More

Caregiving Disrupts Work, Finances

What do groceries, GPS trackers, and prescription drug copayments have in common?

They are some of the myriad items caregivers may end up paying for to help out an ailing parent or other family member. And these are just the incidentals.

Graph of what caregivers gave upThree out of four caregivers have made changes to their jobs as a result of their caregiving responsibilities, whether going to flex time, working part-time, quitting altogether, or retiring early, according to a Transamerica Institute survey. To ease the financial toll, some caregivers dip into retirement savings or stop their 401(k) contributions. Not surprisingly, caregiving places the most strain on low-income families.

People choose to be caregivers because they feel it’s critically important to help a loved one, said Catherine Collinson, chief executive of the Transamerica Institute.

But, “There’s a cost associated with that and often people don’t think about it,” she said. “Caregiving is not only a huge commitment of time. It can also be a financial risk to the caregiver.”

The big message from Collinson and the other speakers at an MIT symposium last month was: employers and politicians need to acknowledge caregivers’ challenges and start finding effective ways to address them.

Liz O’Donnell

Liz O’Donnell was the poster child for disrupted work. As her family’s sole breadwinner, she cobbled together vacation days to care for her mother and father after they were diagnosed with terminal illnesses – ovarian cancer and Alzheimer’s disease – on the same day, July 1, 2014.

Her high-level job gave her the flexibility to work outside the office. But work suffered as she ran from place to place dealing with one urgent medical issue after another. She made business calls from the garden at a hospice, worked while she was at the hospital, and learned to tilt the camera for video conferences so coworkers wouldn’t know she was in her car.

“I felt so alone that summer,” said O’Donnell, who wrote a book about her experience. “We’ve got to do better, and I know we can do better.” …Learn More

Photo of writing on a chalkboard

College Graduates Cope with Money

College upperclassmen and recent graduates have a lot on their minds. One thing they don’t always like to think too hard about is money.

Maggie Germano

But Maggie Germano, a financial coach, encourages them to get things out in the open and talk about it. At a recent personal finance session here at Boston College, she answered students’ questions about their credit ratings, student loans, and how to avoid spending money they do not have.

Here are the five best tips from Germano, a 2009 graduate of the State University of New York in Fredonia. She now lives in Washington D.C.

Pay attention. The first step to getting control of one’s finances is to pay attention to them, she said. Not dealing with credit card bills and student loan statements doesn’t make the problems go away. “The opposite is true: the more you pay attention, the more in control you’ll be,” she said.

Get a credit rating – or fix it. The key is to have a credit card but use it judiciously. Germano advises young adults to get what’s known as a secured credit card with a low spending limit – say $500. Secured credit cards typically require users to put up a cash deposit. To slowly establish a sound credit history, spend no more than 30 percent of the card’s limit and pay it off at the end of each month.

Student loans are hard work. Germano said that, after she graduated, her rent and student loan payments equaled all of her income. She signed up for the federal government’s income-based repayment program. In this program, the government reduces the payments to reflect the low incomes many recent graduates are earning at the start of their careers. Germano said she paid off her $26,000 loan balance off about four years ago.

Quote by Maggie Germano

The secret to not overspending. She learned this trick from a client. Set up two separate checking accounts. One account is for paying monthly bills – rent, Netflix, electricity – and the payments are deducted automatically. For all other spending, use a second account with a debit card and “don’t touch” the money in the first account. Using a debit card for discretionary expenses makes it easy to keep track of how much is left to spend each month – maybe it’s better to walk than take another Uber.

“It’s very human to want new things, be social, and spend money you’ve never had before,” she said. So put “systems into place that will prevent [that] from getting out of control.” …Learn More