Turning Off the Alarm Clock
By Ray Lewis
Several years ago, I received a “retirement countdown clock” that shows the time left until I retire. As I began writing this article, my clock displayed 437 days, 3 hours, 29 minutes, and 25 seconds. As you read this, that number has counted down to less than a year.
The number one question I have been asked since announcing my retirement is, “What are you going to do when you retire?” A few days ago, I responded to a friend who asked me that question with, “I’m going to turn off the alarm clock.”
Wouldn’t it be nice if that were all there was to making sure we’re ready for that big day? As that day rapidly approaches for me, I am more aware than ever that there is much to do before I actually “turn off the alarm clock.”
As I enter my final year of employment, I realize I am facing the same questions I have been asking others across the country at local, state, and national meetings for more than 32 years. Questions such as: have I adequately prepared financially so that I have enough money to do the things I’ve always talked and dreamed about doing in retirement? How am I going to spend my time once I do turn off the alarm clock? Should I sell my home and downsize or even relocate to a different city or state? All are important questions that need answers.
As I head down the home stretch, I realize that if I have not adequately prepared, retirement may turn out to be one of the most financially, emotionally, and spiritually challenging times of life.
I realize now the importance of starting to prepare early for this new chapter in my life. It comes much sooner than we realize. I’m very thankful for people like Herman and Vernie Hersey, who challenged and encouraged me years ago to get started and be consistent, and to Bill Evans who continued to encourage and challenge me in my preparation.
What are the things I need to do during the last year before retirement? First, it is important for me to remember to pray about every decision I make. I must earnestly pray and seek God’s plan for this period of my life. You see, I don’t believe God is through with me yet. I believe that even in retirement He can use me. So, it is important to include Him in my plans and decision making during the countdown to retirement, because no matter how much planning I do, if my plans are not His, I will be “of all men most miserable.”
Another thing I must do is take a realistic look at my finances. I must determine my anticipated retirement income from all revenue sources. It is important to know how much money will come in when I retire. For most retirees, income usually comes from one or more of these sources: Social Security, pension funds, personal savings, and in many cases, income from continued employment.
Once I determine my expected income, I need to ask myself, “Can I live on that?” The only way to answer that question is to look at expenses. Many financial planners suggest taking a trial run, living on projected retirement income the last 12 months before actually retiring. This means tracking my spending. Some expenses aren’t likely to change in retirement, such as food, upkeep, maintenance of the home and utilities, auto expenses, and, of course, tithes and offerings. It is important to keep other expenses in mind such as increased healthcare costs, travel, hobbies, etc. Tracking spending will help determine areas of overspending so needed adjustments can be made before actually “turning off the alarm clock.”
The last year of employment is also a good time to consider insurance needs. With children grown and on their own, the mortgage (hopefully) paid off, and either debt-free or headed in that direction, the need for large amounts of life insurance usually decreases. At the same time, however, it may be necessary to look at long-term care insurance. Medicare needs to be in place before employer-provided health insurance ceases. Shopping for the best Medicare supplement that meets both needs and budget is essential. It is also good to shop around to see what auto insurance discounts are available and make sure I am getting the best deal when it comes to insurance needs.
It is crucial to review my legal documents during the countdown to retirement. Has anything changed since I had them drawn up? It is extremely important to update or prepare legal documents for estate planning, to make sure my will is up-to-date, my power of attorney is still the way I want it, and I have a living will that clearly spells out my advance directives. I must also remember to keep these documents in a secure place, and be sure my heirs know their location in case something happens to me. I need to make sure the beneficiaries of my life insurance policies and retirement accounts are up-to-date.
Finally, it is important to know what I am going to do with myself when I “turn off the alarm clock.” One of the first years I was employed by the Board of Retirement, I attended an AARP conference in Washington, D.C. One of the speakers made a statement I’ve never forgotten. He said, “Most retirees can complete everything they have planned for retirement within the first six months. Then what are they going to do?”
I recently read a statement that sums it up perfectly. “Make sure you always have something scheduled that you can look forward to doing. If you don’t have a reason to get up each day, one day you won’t.”
So, the countdown has begun for me. Even though I started preparing for this day more than 30 years ago, much remains to be done before I step aside. I encourage everyone who reads this article to make adequate preparation for this exciting period of life because it’s coming…whether you’re ready for it or not!
The Board of Retirement is here to help you with your preparation. Give us a call, stop by to see us, or visit us on the web at www.boardofretirement.com. Let us know how we can help you prepare to turn off the alarm clock.
About the Writer: Ray Lewis is outgoing director of the Board of Retirement. He and his wife Ida live in Antioch, Tennessee. For more information about retirement and financial planning, contact the Board of Retirement at (877) 767-7738 or online: www.boardofretirement.com.