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How to make peace with life after work Add to ...

Think retirement and what comes to mind? For most, dollar figures.

But equally as important as a retirement financial plan, experts say, is the emotional aspect of discontinuing work.

Addressing the emotional side starts with accepting the sense of loss that comes with retirement, says Washington, D.C.-based Olivia Mellan, a money coach, psychotherapist and the author of five books, including Money Harmony.

"We're not encouraged to think about the emotional part," she says. "There's a certain kind of surrender and letting go that has to happen. You have to be at peace with it."

If you want a dream to come true, you need a plan. Patrice Delisle, National Bank of Canada

A first step down this road is making sure life after work is just as meaningful as it was before retirement.

"People don't think enough about how to keep themselves active and excited in retirement," says Rick Robertson, an associate finance professor at the Richard Ivey School of Business at the University of Western Ontario. "You ask them, 'What are you going to do?' And they say, 'Well, I'd love to take a trip to Europe.' Okay, now we've dealt with one month of your retirement. How are you going to fill up all the days after that?"

Patrice Delisle, retirement strategy director with the National Bank of Canada in Montreal, agrees that considering what life will look life after work is crucial. "If you want a dream to come true, you need a plan," he says.

"A retirement can last as long as 30 years," he says. "That may be almost as long as a person's years at work. So you need to have dreams and goals you want to achieve. You don't want to be left spending your days just sitting around in the basement."

A National Bank survey found that only 17 per cent of Canadians have a comprehensive retirement plan. "We have to ask, why will people take hours to plan a yearly trip down south, but then not even half an hour to plan for a retirement that will take 30 years?" he says. "Retirement planning is not sexy and that's why we've tried to put a human touch on it."

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Mr. Delisle suggests writing down goals as step one, an exercise the bank's advisers go through with retirees.

Actually taking a few weekends while you're still working and trying some of the activities you're considering post-retirement - whether it be learning a new sport, writing a novel or volunteering - is a good gauge for what to expect when the paycheques stop coming.

"Try some of these behaviours in little pieces and see how it feels," Ms. Mellan says. Like Mr. Delisle, she subscribes to the strategy of putting it in writing but suggests goal setting as a three-time exercise. "The first list of goals is not one you can trust," she says. "You need to see which items come up again and again."

A roadblock many retirees face is agreeing with their partner on how to spend their retirement days. "One wants to sell the house and the other feels rooted to the house, one wants to travel and the other wants to stay home and be with the grandkids," Ms. Mellan says. Prof. Robertson encourages early and ongoing discussion, and for couples who just can't meet halfway, Ms. Mellan suggests couples' therapy.

Both a financial plan and a road map of what you want to do with those funds is essential, experts agree. But so is flexibility. "Nothing happens the way you think it will," Ms. Mellan says. For example, debilitating health conditions or the death of a spouse can derail the most carefully thought-out plans. "You have to allow yourself to go through a mourning process, and then look for new attainable goals," she says.

Another emotional struggle related to retirement is the fear of outliving funds. And with people living longer than ever before, it's a valid concern. "You'll often hear older people say they can't do things like travel because they don't want to spend their money," he says. "They'll say, 'I have to keep it until later in case I live a long time.' "

Starting to save early is the best way to ensure your money grows sufficiently. And be sure to take government support into account, such as the Old Age Pension and the Canada Pension Plan. "They are indexed at the rate of inflation and are paid as long as you live," Prof. Robertson says.

While financial security in retirement is indisputably the priority, underspending can be just as damaging as overspending when it means the difference between a fulfilling retirement and a meaningless one.

"The most important thing anyone can think about when retiring is how important it is to have a reason to get up every day and be excited," Prof. Robertson says.



Ivey finance professor Rick Robertson on three key steps:

Make a balance sheet

Retirees need to have a realistic picture of what the life they want is going to cost. "I know it sounds boring, but developing a balance sheet is key," Prof. Robertson says. Assessing what you have and what you owe is a first step toward figuring out how much you're going to need.

Find an adviser

"But remember, you're still in charge," says Prof. Robertson, adding that we all need to be financially literate enough to understand what is happening to our money. "You want their help framing your plan, but you're responsible for implementing the plan." .

Have cash resources

If you're worried about a market crash like that of 2008, plan to have a year's worth of cash in reserve. "You run into problems if you have to access capital when the market is down," he says. A cash cushion can help you ride out a downturn.

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