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When should I start planning my retirement lifestyle?

Whenever you are ready! It’s almost like clockwork - people start to think about retirement in their mid-50s.  Most of us are unable to retire anytime short of that, and many of us will need to work into our 70s, thanks to the recession and the decline in the value of our investments.  The good news is that a very large percentage of the baby boom generation is physically capable of working into their 70s.

As with most planning, the earlier you start the better.  If you wait until you are 75, you may pass up a chance to make some earlier changes, have some new experiences, or (worse) make some erroneous assumptions.  The most common mistake I see people making is not talking to their spouse about what retirement should look like.

Jeff and Judith (not their real names) are a couple that fell into the ‘erroneous assumption’ trap:

When she was 64, Judith asked me to coach her on her retirement plans.  She told me she and her husband had agreed to retire from their jobs when they were 65 and 66 in order to spend more time together, scale down their lifestyle, and do some traveling.  I was happy to work with her and asked her to invite her husband to come along as well.  He declined, telling her he didn’t think they needed any coaching.  As I look back on our ensuing discussions, I believe she had a feeling they had left too much unsaid as they approached that retirement year, and getting the coaching was her way to open those discussions. 

As part of the coaching homework, I asked Judith to talk to her husband about where they would live after retiring.  She discovered that they each had very different opinions on that and on what kind of house they would live in.  She also discovered they had very different opinions about how much travelling they would do and whether or not she would do some solo travelling in connection with the volunteer work she planned to do.  Judith discovered that they had a lot of work to do before they could reach agreement on these things. Fortunately, these differences came to light in the pre-retirement coaching sessions rather than after they had retired.  Thanks to these early discussions, Judith and Jeff are now making several trips a year to evaluate possible retirement locations.  They are also looking at how much time they will commit to spending together versus pursuing their separate interests.  They are a very committed couple and I have no doubt they will work it out.