ARBOR OUTLOOK: One retirement size doesn't fit all

Margaret R. McDowell
Margaret R. McDowell

“And it gets hard … as you get older; farther away, as you get closer.” — from “See The Changes” as performed by Crosby, Stills and Nash

Retirement advice is easy to come by. With 10,000 of us boomers turning 65 daily, it's a topic on the minds of a lot of Americans.

The average retirement age for those currently employed is 66. And the average retirement lasts about 18 years. So the typical American fills nearly two decades with activities of his or her own choosing.

Here are a couple of facts about retirement. Currently, about 15 percent of the total population is retired. A little more than half of this group retired before age 65. About a third of retirees still carry mortgage debt into retirement, and three-fourths are dissatisfied with what they’ve saved heading into retirement.

Besides the obvious concerns we all have about providing for ourselves financially, there's another dynamic to retiring that has nothing to do with money. It has, more than anything else, to do with our vision of who we want to be after we stop working full-time.

We've all heard the stories. This gal was a big deal business person, a wheeler-dealer. Saw dozens of people every day. Retired early and within three years was a shell of her former self. Nobody to see, no decisions to make. And we’ve also all heard stories about the man who postponed his retirement, worked well past when he had to, then shortly after retiring suffered a fatal accident. And thus missed out on the years of relaxation he could have enjoyed.

We seldom hear the stories of people whose retirement years are satisfying and restful. In fact, over 90 percent of Americans polled say they are relatively happy in retirement. That’s comforting news for those of us who are uneasy about quitting work or even cutting back. Retirement is uncharted water for the vast majority of us. Some folks have retired early or never worked, but the majority of us work continually until we simply don’t anymore.

The truth is, retirement is not a one-size-fits-all proposition. Everybody's situation is unique and personal. If you've been teaching for almost 40 years, you may well need a complete work stoppage before age 65. But if you're an entrepreneur whose ship has just come in after many years of modest results, you may be making up for lost time and desire to work past 70.

Obviously, personalities and lifestyles are involved in retirement decisions. Some need social interaction with lots of different people frequently, while others are more at ease being alone. Some can travel monthly and revel in that experience; others need long stretches of solitude. Some can golf or garden every day and rarely tire of it; others prefer a variety of experiences. It’s all about what works for you.

Margaret R. McDowell, ChFC, AIF, author of the syndicated economic column "Arbor Outlook," is the founder of Arbor Wealth Management, LLC, (850-608-6121 —, a “fee-only” registered investment advisory firm located near Sandestin. This column should not be considered personalized investment advice and provides no assurance that any specific strategy or investment will be suitable or profitable for an investor.