When still working, we make so many plans for things to do once we retire. And as we get on to the home stretch in the last few years, the excitement begins to build-up, of course, with a few butterflies in the stomach as well. So many places to see, people to meet, suppressed aspirations to fulfil, all while juggling our hard-earned wealth and believing that there is enough, not only for ourselves but also to bequeath.
But retirement is not always as rosy as you imagine it to be. The transition to retired life is sudden, and there is a vacuum of time that has to be fruitfully filled. You have to be occupied with activities that need to be created, not only to feel gainfully employed, but also to feel good about yourself. The actual retirement, therefore, starts with a whole lot of unexpected dilemmas and mental adjustments.
During all this transition, you look forward to spending some quiet years with your partner, and “ticking off” the co-created bucket list together. So, many times, it is a huge shock and a very difficult adjustment to make, when one of the spouses passes away early into retirement. Losing one’s spouse is unimaginable, but struggling to get a grip on the situation and finally moving on and forging ahead is something all of them eventually did, albeit over different time-frames and in different ways.
While adapting to this change is difficult for both genders, I believe it is even more difficult for woman, early into retirement. I have been interacting with a few of such customers and have seen many different approaches to the same situation. We will look closely at how they managed their transition to being the sole decision-makers for their finances.
My interactions have been predominantly with women who have had a career and were financially independent, but were never completely involved in financial decisions. That is, they were contributing to the finances, but had happily let their spouses handle the nitty-gritties, mainly because the spouse seemed to enjoy doing it, while it was a chore for them to get personally involved. They all had a fair idea of their net worth and the avenues used for investments. Let us look at three different cases and their approach towards money.
High on resources and a mindset of scarcity
The first one lost her husband at age 65. She is a retired government employee and is very organized. Also, she used to maintain records of all assets for years. Most of those were jointly held, there was no will, and she did not even have the password to check emails after her husband’s sudden demise. She was saved a lot of pain, thanks to her meticulous record-keeping. She could consolidate her portfolio in a very short time. It emerged that she had a substantial portfolio that could take care of her comfortably during her life-time and allow her to leave a sizeable estate to her son after her demise. We discussed this at length to make sure she understood the full extent of her wealth. While she registered what was being said, she does have a fear that she would overspend and hence is overcautious about her expenses. She loves classical music, movies and travel. Despite urging her to indulge in these activities and to travel when health permits her to, she is reluctant. She needs to be pushed hard to ensure that she does things that bring her happiness. Money only means caution to her, and so while she is not unduly worried that she is not going to be able to manage her finances, she isn’t actively looking out for opportunities to do meaningful activities that give her contentment and joy.
High on resources and a mindset of abundance
The second case is of a woman who lost her husband in her late 60s. It was most unexpected and sudden. While she was never involved in any financial decisions, she did know where the amounts were invested. When she was forced to take financial decisions, she was a keen learner. She had a substantial portfolio, both self-made and inherited. She understood that she was highly unlikely to run into financial difficulties during her life-time. We looked at things that made her happy and she recognised that she could afford both time and money to travel more frequently since that is something she truly loved doing. She spends her time planning her trips as well as reliving the ones she had been on. She also wants to give back to society and has shortlisted NGOs where she volunteers her time as well as resources. She has a mindset of abundance and hence is full of positivity and is always surrounded by like-minded people and friends.
Low on resources and a mindset of abundance
The third case is that of a woman who lost her husband in her mid-fifties. She was not involved in the personal finances at all, while she was well taken care of and continued to work till age 60. Her net worth though is not enough to tide her through her retirement years. Despite extensive discussions regarding the length of her retirement, she does not see the problem. She likes to gift her children and grandchildren on the smallest of occasions and believes that since her needs are not very high, she would be able to tide through. The biggest task as her financial planner is to dissuade her from handing over all her assets to her children or grandchildren. Thankfully for her, both her son and daughter recognise the danger and refuse to accept her offer to gift them her portfolio. While her needs are not so high, she does run the risk of running short during her lifetime and hence requires regular counselling to keep her financially healthy and on track.
The purpose behind sharing these examples is to highlight what could be the possible scenarios one could face as one looks towards a long retirement and what the role of money should be as one inches forward towards it. Through our lifetime, we work hard and save harder, in order to ensure that we have a good shot at fulfilling our “waiting-list of aspirations” once we retire. In retirement, the role of money is to allow us to fulfil those desires, while ensuring that there is enough to take care of our balance lifetimes, including for exigencies. Nothing more, nothing less.
Hence, as a retiree, use the money to bring you happiness and add meaning to your life, while taking care that it is safely working for you as well. On the other hand, being frivolous with money while not having enough and relinquishing control over whatever little you have during your life time can create unnecessary uncertainty and pain in your retired life, a time when you look forward to peace and security.