Personal Finance

Michelle Singletary: Plan for money — and meaning — in retirement

With about a decade left before we want to retire, my husband and I have begun some intense retirement planning.

We are looking at our health care options. We’ve met with financial professionals to discuss how to handle our pensions and investment portfolios. We are even talking about buying a second home so that we can escape to a warmer climate in cold months.

We’ve also discussed what we want to do in our leisure time. I want to play golf. I’ve taken a few lessons and know just enough not to completely embarrass myself on a course. My husband, who already has an enviable swing, is encouraging me to sign up for more lessons so that I can join him on the course as his golfing partner.

When he first told me this, I felt just like Sally Field when she won the 1984 Oscar for Best Actress and said, “I can’t deny the fact that you like me. Right now, you like me.”

As it turns out, my husband’s yearning to spend more time with his spouse is typical of many men looking forward to retirement.

Fidelity Investments, in collaboration with the Stanford Center on Longevity, surveyed more than 12,000 retirement savers and recent retirees 55 or older to find out what drives people to retire. The survey was based on responses from people with a Fidelity retirement plan.

One myth-busting discovery was related to the notion that most spouses are motivated to retire because they want to spend more time with each other.

Nearly 60 percent of men want to spend time with their wives. The wives, well, they’re looking forward to spending more time with their grandchildren (nearly 70 percent). Forty-three percent of wives were looking forward to spending more time with their husbands.

Another myth the survey busted was one that scares me. You would think people would wait or at least try to wait to retire until they’ve saved enough money to live comfortably. However, the research found that nearly half of survey respondents just picked a date when they wanted to retire and that was that. Their projected retirement savings was not a decisive factor.

Respondents were asked whether time or money was more important in their decision to retire. Nearly half (49 percent) said they wanted to be sure they had enough years to enjoy retirement.

I get that. My husband and I want to quit our current jobs sooner rather than later so we can travel more before possible health issues slow us down.

But we’re also timing our retirement to a specific level of savings, just like the 51 percent in the survey who said reaching a savings goal is the major factor in deciding when to retire.

As for getting the timing right, the respondents who are retired said they aren’t struggling as some might believe. Rather, 82 percent said they retired right. The overwhelming majority are happy and are adapting financially. They are managing by matching their spending to what they’ve saved.

When we talk about “retirement,” it’s assumed that word means not working at all. But that’s not the case for many people. Lots of workers retire and yet still work in some capacity because they like what they do and feel valued. My husband and I are planning on ministry work teaching financial literacy classes both in the community and in prisons. We have a dream of opening a nonprofit financial wellness center where people can take classes and truly get unbiased help on everything from investing to buying life insurance.

By the way, the Fidelity survey found that 72 percent of folks said their top reason to retire is to just have the freedom to chill. I recently judged a poetry contest and, afterward, as I was walking to my car with a fellow judge – a retired educator – I lamented having to go to work. To which she replied, “You poor dear. I’ve got nothing else planned.”

I was so jealous. I long for the day when I can wake up, decide I don’t want to do anything and just read a book or watch movies all day.

American Public Media just launched “Unretirement,” a new podcast for people looking for “meaning and money well into the traditional retirement years.” Chris Farrell, senior economics contributor for APM’s “Marketplace” radio program, is hosting the podcast.

The first episode follows a woman who lost her job at 56 and rebounded into a second career. New episodes of “Unretirement” are available each Tuesday. You can download them on iTunes or at www.infiniteguest.org/unretirement.

Maybe I'll listen to the podcast while I’m taking those golf lessons.

Hear Michelle Singletary’s personal finance reports on www.npr.org. Readers may write to her c/o The Washington Post, 1150 15th St., NW, Washington DC 20081.

  Comments