Baby Boomers are often referred to as “the lump in the snake” when describing their effect on the economy. And right now, that lump is nearing retirement, taking with it an enormous amount of experience, wisdom and time-tested street smarts. “Companies could lose everyone who remembers how they handled the last economic downturn,” said Alison Sander, in a recent New York Times feature on retirement.
On the other side of the issue, boomers approaching retirement age may not be prepared, mentally or physically, to simply walk off the job and into retirement. Between the declining value of the dollar and unstable economy, the expense of individual health insurance and lengthening life spans, many potential retirees find themselves at retirement age unready, unwilling or unable to quit.
If you’re facing this dilemma, what are your options? What things do you need to consider?
1. For starters, you should ask yourself if you even want to retire. While some people may look forward to retirement, others find the idea of spending the final years in enforced leisure repellent. If the idea of not working fills you with dread, now may be the time to start planning for your second (or third, or fourth) career.
One option is internships. As the Times points out, (http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/21/business/retirement/21intern.html?ref=retirement) adult internships have seen a major upswing over the past years as more and more mature applicants began looking for ways to extend their working years and use their hard-won knowledge. On the other hand, this can be a new concept to many organizations, so keep that in mind when you apply – you may have to sell yourself more than a younger applicant simply because you’re unexpected.
Another option is going into business for yourself. This is an increasingly popular option for retirement-age folks with a lifetime of experience and a desire to continue working in the same (or related) fields. It can be a risky and sometimes complicated route to take, but many professionals are finding that the rewards far outweigh the risks.
Finally, you can find a way to stay at your previous job. Perhaps you could go on flextime or part-time, if full time is no longer practical or desirable. Other options involve moving into a mentoring-based position, using your experience to create training curriculum or finding other ways to provide insight and guidance to the company. You might even be able to find or create a completely different position within the company that’s a better fit for your skills and desires – maybe moving from production to sales, or transferring to another branch.
2. Another question you should ask yourself is whether or not you can afford to retire. The answer, of course, depends on many variables, including how much you’ve managed to save, what types of investments you have, how well the dollar does over the next few decades, and how long you’re going to live. This last factor can be a big one. People are living much longer than they used to, and in some cases those extra years become extra expensive when health issues come into play. Your investment figures have to allow for these possibilities in order to be accurate.
Another issue is health insurance. Can you afford to buy your own? Can you even get accepted? Many retirees are discovering that insurance companies are reluctant to insure seniors, even if they’re in excellent health and have had few or no previous claims. And if you do get accepted, the premiums and deductibles may be far higher than anticipated. Since health care will become increasingly important the older you get, you have to make sure this base is firmly covered before making any retirement decisions.
3. Finally, you need to think about what you want to do with the rest of your life, and how you want to do it. Are you more interested in spending time with family than traveling? Is full retirement the only option, or could you simply slow down to part-time or seasonal employment. If your goal is to see the world, there may be many more options besides retirement – does your company have international offices? Could starting your own consulting firm play into those dreams? Do you want to fill your days with volunteering, or go back to school? Could you take better advantage of paid time off for volunteers or tuition assistance, or is it time to cut those ties and go off in a new direction?
There are many different pathways to reach the same place, and the world isn’t as black and white as it was in previous generations. Just because you’ve reached retirement age doesn’t mean retirement is the inevitable choice. Flexible work schedules, portfolio careers, alternative career paths, volunteering, internships, entrepreneurship – there are so many different ways you could spend your golden years. It pays to take the time to research your options and do a little creative thinking about what you want and why – before you make any knee-jerk decisions.