As I’ve been thinking about retirement, I’ve realized that getting ready to retire is a “project.” The textbook definition of a “project’ is that it has a beginning and an end, a scope, schedule, and a budget. It also has a clear purpose (usually a mission or vision) and the desired outcome. But the main thing that sets a project apart from our day to day life is that: IT IS SOMETHING YOU’VE NEVER DONE BEFORE!
Treating getting ready for retirement like a project, similar to planning a special event like a party or a wedding, has made sense to me. I love to learn and research so I’ve been spending time listening to archival podcasts. Some of my favorites so far are Episode 27, Go Do Enjoy!, Episode 30, Retirement as a Couple, Episode 33, Non-Financial Aspects of Retirement, and Episode 47, What a Retiring Executive Needs Besides Money. What these podcasts have done is provided me with ideas for areas I need to explore. I love listening to the stories and examples and there are always some resources mentioned, including lists, books by the speaker, or even other podcasts.
Maybe you’ve never planned a project but anyone can do it, especially if you are using best practices from project management. Some practical things I could suggest is to purchase just a few things that aren’t that expensive. Find a whiteboard or something that is laminated that you can write on with dry-erase markers or if you are old school, get a chalkboard and some chalk. Purchase a calendar that shows the entire year and can be written on with dry-erase markers. Find lots of colored sticky notes of various sizes (I like the 3” x 3” size) and add a package of giant White Paper “Post its” (25” x 30”).
Start brainstorming with your spouse and talk about all the things that would make retirement for you amazing. For this exercise, there are no constraints. Don’t let worrying about time and money limit your ideas. Each person can write their dreams on a pile of sticky notes. Be sure that you write only one idea on each sticky note. Go crazy, because it is not real, it is just little pieces of paper.
Then put up a large white post-it and start sharing your dream notes, one at a time. Place your dream notes on one side and your partners on the other. For each idea, listen to your partner and probe deeper with questions like, “Tell me more”, “Why do you like this idea so much?”, Is this something you’ve always wanted to do?”. The point here is to make a safe space in your relationship to dream and listen. Try very hard not to make negative comments or criticize a dream. I always say when we are brainstorming at work, “There are NO bad ideas!”.
Take turns sharing your ideas until they are all up in front of you on the post-it. Take a few moments just to look at your list. Now the best thing you can do is stop here and sleep on it! The next day, you’ll be glad you did because your subconscious mind will be processing all of this new information. They’ll be less emotional and it gives each person the ability to have a deeper understanding of their partner's dreams without the pressure of having to make a real decision.
The next time you take a look at this, start by asking yourselves a few questions. “Where do we overlap?” “Are there any of our dreams that match either closely are almost exactly?” Talk about those for a while. Are there lots of them or just a few? Move those notes to another page that says, “How can we make these dreams a reality?” You can begin the steps toward comparing your dreams to your financial situation. You can decide together with your priorities, how much they’ll cost, and identify options to make the same dream happen but maybe at a lower cost.
Next, look objectively at where you don’t align at all. That should be okay as long as there are at least a few things you want to do together. Knowing what these things are can be the beginning of some wonderful opportunities for compromise and negotiation. Turn off the television and grab a beverage on the patio, take a walk, or go out for dinner, just find a place wherever you can focus on listening to each other. For a couple to be healthy, I think there is always a balance. There are things that my husband loves and it would be unfair of me to ask him to give them up. There are things that I love to do that I don’t want to give up, and fortunately for me, he would never ask.
Retirement seems to be an amazing chance to re-imagine your life, have deep conversations with your partner about what is important, and a chance to create a flexible plan on how to get there. This is just one step in the process of making a plan. I’ll share with you what comes next when I get a chance. Now back to work.
Barbara is the new star of the Rock Your Retirement show! For one year, she'll let Kathe Kline tag along as she goes through her retirement journey.