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This Is Not Your Father’s Retirement, So Plan Accordingly

Author: Helen Dennis, Specialist on Aging

Question: When I retired a year and a half ago, I looked forward to having time for meaningful volunteer work. I now find my plate is full with fund-raising activities – not my favorite. While working and before the economic downturn, I could financially support organizations where I was a volunteer. Today I cannot. I am on the brink of “failing retirement,” needing to return to work to rebuild my savings. What do you suggest I do to resolve this dilemma?

Answer: There are several parts to your “dilemma:” having meaningful volunteer activities, being able to financially contribute to your volunteer organizations, “failing” at retirement and returning to work.

The complexity of your question is an indication how economic changes are affecting multiple aspects of our lives.

At one time, retirement was relatively simple – you left your job with a pension (hopefully), volunteered, spent time with family and friends, embraced your free time, collected Social Security and smiled through the next few decades. That’s a retrospective view.

Today, retirement is highly dynamic, influenced by the economy, our needs and preferences, and family responsibilities. The notion of freedom and free time is changing. For many, it is now a luxury.

Let’s begin with the volunteer role of fund raising which may not be your favorite. Today, fundraising is front and center for most nonprofit organizations. That mission is a survival one. Note that fundraising does not necessarily mean asking for money. It is introducing your organization and its mission to those who should know about it. Fund raising is sometimes referred to as “friend” raising.

Making a personal financial contribution to one’s volunteer organization can be difficult, given the current economy. A suggestion: Speak to your president or board chairperson and be honest about your situation. My guess is that you are valued for more than your financial donation.

Then there is the issue of what you refer to as “failing at retirement.” It is easy to fail in retirement if we use old definitions of retirement such as non–work. Today, working in retirement is a reality and the subject of research.

An issue brief by Alicia H. Munnell and colleagues, published by The Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, projected how much longer individuals would need to work in 2030 to duplicate their current income, assuming 63 as an average retirement age. The figure was based on certain facts: modest 401(k) contributions, little savings and Social Security providing less relative to pre-retirement income. Add to this a decline in retirement resources, increased life expectancy and longer traditional retirement.

To duplicate replacement rates, one would have to work about 3 1/2 years without 401(k) assets, and slightly more than two years with significant 401(k) accumulations. This paper was published 2006.

Now superimpose the economic conditions of 2008 and the decline in the value of retirement nest eggs and investments. A reasonable conclusion is that working for several years in retirement may become the norm, at least for many.

It’s difficult not to react to an aborted traditional retirement. Feelings of disappointment, anxiety and fear are normal. Such feelings can be diminished by being well informed, having job skills and taking action. And one action may be returning to work.

With an increasing number of people seeking employment and being older, it’s important to be as competitive as possible.

In addition to preparing your resume and keeping your skills current, here are a few tips on physical appearance to prevent possible age bias in an interview.

  • Upgrade your appearance. People make up their mind instantaneously.
  • Exercise and get in good physical condition. It makes you look more fit and energetic and is a great stress reliever.
  • Learn about the dress mode of the company with whom you are interviewing. Dress professionally, yet blend in.
  • You have five minutes or less to make a good impression.

Our ability to adapt is part of being human. It’s just that most of us hadn’t planned to make large adjustments in later life. Do consider keeping some of your volunteer commitments, even if it’s less time. The organizations need you.

One definition of luck is when preparation meets opportunity. With that, I wish you the best of luck in your revised retirement.

© Helen Dennis 2010, all rights reserved.

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