Is the Pandemic a Retirement Dress Rehearsal?

Most everyone thinks and worries about money whenever the subject of retirement is discussed. That totally makes sense because having enough money is such an important part of your retirement. With it, you can take care of yourself and enjoy life to the fullest, and when you don’t have enough of it, you are in some danger and high risk. I can write volumes about money and the ways to approach it when it comes to retirement and you will agree or disagree, but right now you may be dealing with another huge piece of the retirement planning puzzle.

We often plan financially for retirement, but what about how you'll spend your time? This pandemic might just be a dress rehearsal for retirement planning.

That piece is a real life experience that over 30 million of us are now getting because of the COVID-19 pandemic and that is this: “How are you spending your time when you do not have to get up and go to work every day?” Is this like a dress rehearsal for your retirement?

No Work? Welcome to a New World

Does today feel like March 73rd? During the past ten weeks, more than half of the workers in the U.S. have experienced major changes in their daily lives either by not working or working at home. Adding up the multi-millions who are now unemployed and the ones who are staying in their homes and telecommuting, it calculates to about 80% of all workers who are now experiencing something they never thought would happen to them until at least the age 60-something. That is not having to get up at the crack of dawn and commuting into work every day.

Chances are you are now on a “more flexible” schedule and that flexibility may even mean setting the alarm clock for 11:00 a.m. or even just letting the alarm ring every morning without ever answering it.

If that is happening, you are catching an early glimpse of what life can be like in retirement. Do you now have too much time on your hands and are you trying to keep yourself busy? Are you doing things, but are always preoccupied having something on your mind that you can’t get an answer to or perhaps you are just not energized enough even to find the answer? COVID-19 has had all of us depressed and when you are worried about your health, your wallet, and your family and your friends, you might be feeling exactly what a “bad retirement” is like.

A Few Questions

During the COVID-19 social isolation, have you found that the days all seem to be blurring together? I wrote previously that in retirement “Every day is Sunday” and I wasn’t kidding. When you actually have to ask if today is Sunday or Monday, then you are either out of a job or retired.

But there are other sure signs that you have “arrived” in retirement land. Things (whether you like it or not) such as:

  1. Do you have two wardrobes that can be best described as your morning sweat pants and your evening sweat pants? Or…
  2. Have you suddenly developed a newfound interest in binge watching episodes of The Beverly Hillbillies or even, gasp, finding yourself competing in a virtual bowling league?

Suddenly, structuring a day at home has become a real chore and is not the freedom from work you have always dreamed about.

Identifying and pursuing activities in the middle of a global pandemic may be a lot to ask for, but the pandemic has now given many of us an experience in a life without the structure of the usual daily grind. You knew that a day like this was coming, but you didn’t think it was going to happen right now. You thought you’d have plenty of time to plan ahead and make proper adjustments. Surprise!

Keeping Busy

Retirement planning is about more than just financial security. Keeping busy is part of your mental health and that plays big time in retirement. Research done says that retirement advisors find that retirees are focused on wealth and health, but the COVID-19 pandemic has made it pretty clear that your feelings about your well-being have a direct impact on mental health. Not having a plan to deal with staying at home every day and an idea of what each day will bring is just plain unhealthy.

The questions you were contemplating for retirement are more obvious to you right now, aren’t they? Without work, what will you do? What will get you up in the morning?

Questions About Health Today Are the Same Ones You Will Ask Yourself as a Senior in Retirement

The pandemic has spotlighted the urgency of health and caring for loved ones. Suddenly, all of us are faced with some of those big questions, like “If I become ill, who will care for me and/or who will care for those that I love?”

It’s just a fact that most of us will need some help and care in old age. Today, approximately one in four adults provides care for an older adult. But the truth is that few people have planned for how they will provide care to others, or how they might receive care in their future lives in retirement. You might look right now at the COVID-19 pandemic as a dress rehearsal or drill or even worse, a real fire for us all.

Retirement Is Usually Something You Anticipate and Even Dream About

Retirement is something most people look forward to. It’s what most of us try to save for, or at least we hear that’s what we should do because it is necessary. But we know that so many just don’t do enough of it or skip it altogether.

If we think about our retirement, we may delude ourselves by thinking that what we see in magazines or brochures—photos of beaches, boats and all kinds of fun activities—are a given. Afternoons spent golfing or sitting by the pool with a tropical drink in hand might seem real, but we have to try to see retirement for what it is. It is a seismic shift in life, an entirely new life stage, and it’s not a stage of life to be simply assumed. Like every other life stage of life before that you have gone though, it must be prepared for.

The Trial That COVID-19 Really Is

The COVID-19 pandemic is a shutdown of work as we used to know it. Think about it for just a second…had you ever heard the words “social distancing” before February of this year? Social distancing, endless hours at home, or at best, short walks around the neighborhood are a picture of what retirement “may” really be like for you. It is a trial run of your possible future life.

Is it a certainty? No, it’s not a certified prediction of the future and yes it is imperfect to try to actually guess what will happen to you. But your current pandemic experience today is closer to what you may find in retirement than any computer program quiz you can find about life in retirement when you compare it to what you expect and what your retirement objectives may be.

“May” Is the Operative Word Here

No one can predict the future or your future. The virus itself is proof of that even as scientists had known that someday it would happen, but not when. Retirement experiences are similar in that you know it will happen, but you just don’t know what the impact will really be until it arrives.

Even if you have financial security, could take several vacations each year, go to restaurants, do a few laps at the mall, you still need to take some time to think about your pandemic experience. Are you really prepared for retirement, for what it really is? Yes, this has been an entirely different stage of life, but yes, so will your retirement be.

Final Thoughts

So often we focus on the financial aspects of retirement planning while forgetting about how we will actually spend all that time. Just like our situation now, it is imperative to our mental health and well being that we find some structure and activities that give our lives meaning. Now is the time to give it some thought and planning so that you are ready for the next stage.

Are you prepared for retirement, if not financially as of yet at least have you mentally prepared? Do you have a bucket list that extends further than two or three weeks out after your last day at the office? Can you picture yourself not just retired for weeks or months, but rather a retirement that lasts for decades? Do you know what you will wind up doing when you get up each day because you will likely be doing it about 8,000 distinct mornings (approximately 20 years) in retirement? It’s a big chunk of real time.

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