Dick has worked as a hospital administrator for 30-plus years. He was planning to retire in a few months. COVID-19 just delayed his plans for many months, or perhaps for years. Reflecting on what the market decline has done to his retirement savings, he conceals his anxiety with humor, remarking, “Now I may never be able to (expletive) retire – I just hope my (expletive) parking spot has not already been reassigned!”
COVID-19 is providing all of us a practice run in retirement.
Dick joins countless worried younger and older working adults wondering how COVID-19’s impact on investments may have derailed their retirement plans. Without warning they joined the many anxious retirees concerned that their life spans might outlast their wealth spans.
George Fraser, Managing Director, is reaching out to employees of the firms where he serves as a retirement plan advisor. Fraser has found that employees, regardless of their age, are looking for reassurance that they will “have enough” to retire. According to Fraser, “the reaction [of employees] is the same across the board, there is great concern over the market but also a resounding thank you for the education we have provided…” to guide them in planning and saving, and to reduce their current anxiety.
The fear of running out of money is only one dimension of retirement. COVID-19 has caused drastic changes to daily routines and contributed to conditions similar to what many experience daily in retirement.
Many of us may be concerned with having saved too little for retirement, but are we prepared for the problem of having too much time? You may believe you have a retirement bucket list all planned. But, has your COVID-19 self-isolation experience taught you about the number, and diversity, of activities you might pursue not for just weeks, or months, but quite likely for decades of life after work? Or, has each COVID-19 day at home become ground hog day?
Answer the following questions. During COVID-19 social isolation have you found days blurring into days…moments where you wondered is it Sunday or Monday? Do you have two wardrobes that can be best described as your morning sweat pants and your evening sweat pants? Have you suddenly developed a newfound interest in video games and competing in a virtual bowling league? Suddenly, structuring the day at home has become a chore, not freedom from work.
Identifying and pursuing activities in the middle of a global contagion may be a lot to ask for, but the pandemic has now given many of us experience with life without the structure of the daily commute and grind. Without work, what will you do? What will get you up in the morning?
Retirement is about more than financial security and keeping busy. Blake Bostwick, CEO of Transamerica’s Workplace Solutions division, noted that “retirement plan sponsors and advisors have found that conversations that focus on the intersection of wealth and health are engaging people – because even before COVID-19, it was clear that a person’s well-being has a direct bearing on their financial future.”
COVID-19 has poignantly spotlighted the urgency of health and caring for loved ones. Suddenly, all of us are faced with the question, if I become ill, who will care for me and who will care for those that I love?
Most of us will need some help and care in older age. Today, nearly one in four families provide care for an older adult. The MIT AgeLab, which I lead, is recruiting thousands of caregivers from around the world to join CareHive, a global study of those who provide care (please join). MIT AgeLab’s findings, thus far? Few people have planned for how they will provide care to others, or how they might receive care in the future.
Toronto-based Darren Coleman, a Senior Vice President describes the impact of COVID-19 as a “retirement fire drill for all of us.”
Retirement is something that we save for – many even look forward to. Distracted by brochure images of beaches, bars, and boats, we rarely see retirement for what it is. It is a seismic shift in life, an entirely new life stage. Not one to simply plan, but like every other life stage before it, one that must be prepared for.
The COVID-19 shutdown of work as we know it, social distancing, endless hours at home, or at best, in the neighborhood, is a trial run of life in retirement. An imperfect test? Yes, but your current COVID experience is closer to what you may confront in retirement than any computer program querying you about your “retirement objectives.”
The operative word, however, is may. Even if you have financial security, could take a vacation or two, go to a restaurant, do a few laps at the mall, take this COVID moment to think. Are you really preparing for retirement, for what it is, an entirely new life stage?
- Do you have a bucket list that doesn’t last only for weeks or months, but one that lasts for decades?
- Do you know what will get you up for what are likely to be 8,000 distinct mornings in retirement?
- How will you provide care to a loved one – and have you put into place your own care plan for older age?
These are just a few COVID-19 trial run questions about life in retirement. Darren Coleman may be correct that COVID-19 is a retirement fire drill. So – how are you doing so far?