Make a Retirement Plan BEFORE You Retire

By Mary E. Ghilani

According to the Pew Research Center, roughly 10,000 baby boomers will turn 65 each day. Unlike the traditional stereotype, today’s retirees are healthy, and active, and have their mental faculties firmly intact. Given our advances in health care, it is not unrealistic to expect today’s retirees to live well into their nineties and beyond. The question facing this segment of our population is not when to retire, but what to do after they retire.


As I begin to approach retirement age myself, I’ve begun to hear all kinds of advice from people who have already retired. Some say, “You’ll know when it’s time to leave.” While others warn, “Don’t leave too soon or you’ll regret it like I did!” In the midst of all this advice, I have noticed one common thread: Retirees that have a plan BEFORE they retire fare much better than those who don’t.


Retirement has a wonderful allure of freedom, but, as a retiree recently told me, “How much golf can you play and how many times can you clean the house?” Because so much of our life has revolved around working, the loss of structure (routine), social contacts, and identity can make the transition difficult for many new retirees. New activities may need to be added to fill the void left by not working.


Here are some pre-retirement questions designed to help your clients start thinking about how they would like to create the next phase of their lives:


Can you afford to quit working?” Depending on your client’s age, working until 66 can make a big difference in monthly social security benefits. Because career counselors not financial advisors, it’s prudent to suggest that clients thoroughly discuss their retirement options with an accountant or a qualified financial planner before making any final decisions.


How do you typically handle vacations, time off during holidays, or other extended absences from work? And a related question, “What do you do to occupy your time during absences from work?” Their answers will give them some insight into what to expect when they retire.


Do you have any hobbies or leisure activities that you regularly engage in?” These non-work activities can take the place of previous work related activities.


What would you like to do when you retire?” (Travel, take classes, volunteer, play golf, etc.). This question provides clues to how much retirement planning (or lack of planning) has taken place.


Why do you want to retire? Dislike for a job doesn’t mean you’re ready to quit working, but it can signify that you would enjoy a different work environment, a new company, a career change, fewer hours, or the chance to start your own business.


How much social contact, physical activity, structure, or activity do you need on a daily basis?” Does your client thrive on social contact? If so, then they will need to plan social activities into their daily routine. If your client is someone who prefers less social interaction, or prefers to work on tasks or projects alone, then retirement may not be as big of a challenge. However, they will still need something to do to occupy their time.


What are your spouse or partner’s expectations when you retire?” Are they retired or still working? Are there any extended family members living in the household? A friend of mine relayed a story about a married couple who both recently retired. The wife loved the freedom of being able to get up and go whenever the occasion arose. Her husband, on the other hand, still expected her to make lunch and dinner (I think we can all guess how that situation turned out). The point is that having a “retirement” conversation with family members BEFORE retirement could avoid some serious friction later on.


What challenges, if any, do you anticipate having when you retire?” In other words, is your client able to recognize or identify what he or she is going to need (or miss) when they retire. Answers to these questions will provide insight into what your client should expect when they retire and ultimately, as discussed in the second article, what activities to add during retirement. I know people who engaged in a “practice retirement” by taking a leave of absence or sabbatical to see if they’re really ready to retire. Your client may want to investigate if their place of employment provides this option or if their employer will take them back (within a specified period of time) if retirement doesn’t work out.


An early retirement package may seem attractive at the time, but if your client isn’t ready to retire, it can be one of the biggest mistakes of their life. Asking your client to make a simple “gains versus losses” list can be very helpful in objectifying the process. Remember that retirement is a very personal decision and one that only your client can make. Our job is to assist them with that process.


Remember: This article is the first in a two-part series focusing on retirement career counseling. Visit Career Convergence next month for “Finding Meaning and Purpose in Retirement: Work and Non-Work Options”.



Osborne, J. E. (2012). Psychological Effects of the Transition to Retirement. Canadian Journal of Counselling and Psychotherapy, 46(1), 45-58.



Mary GhilaniMary E. Ghilani, M.S., NCC, is the director of career services at Luzerne County Community College in Pennsylvania where she provides career counseling and job search services to college students and community adults, including retirees. She is the author of Working in Your Major, Second Chance, and 10 Strategies for Reentering the Workforce. She can be reached at mghilani@luzerne.edu.


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