Tool Examiner: My Ideal Week in Retirement

This “Tool Examiner” article looks at the My Ideal Week in Retirement tool.

In retirement, most of your clients will have more freedom than ever before regarding how they choose to spend their time.  For some people that is an exciting prospect, and for others it is a frightening one.  But for most, it is both exciting and frightening to anticipate the challenges and opportunities of “free” time.

Many people think the secret to a happy retirement is “keeping busy.”  In fact, many retirees proudly report, “I’m so busy now, I don’t know how I ever had time to work.”  In Comfort Zones: Planning Your Future, the authors warn that “keeping busy is a fine idea for retirement—provided that the individual is doing what he/she wants to do and the activities are personally meaningful and fulfilling.”  They encourage each person not to trade a life of challenge and opportunity “for a passive existence composed of busy work.”

Learning, “work” (paid or unpaid), and leisure can be thought of as the three “doing” components of a retirement lifestyle.  That is because they reflect the main activities that will frame, design, and define an individual’s day to day activities during that stage of life.  These pursuits are the ones that shape a retiree’s sense of self and can make life in retirement enjoyable and fulfilling.  Therefore, it is very important for your clients to think ahead and to identify post-retirement learning, “work” (paid or unpaid), and leisure activities that will be meaningful to them, and to explore ways to invest their time and energy among these activities.

This type of visualization is a very powerful tool.  It is a key factor in helping your clients to plan and prepare for a retirement lifestyle that will be rewarding and satisfying to them.  In addition, visualization will allow them to mentally rehearse many retirement lifestyle options and decide which version they like the best.

Many individuals are unhappy in their work lives, and so focus more on what they are “retiring from” rather than what they are “retiring to.”  They see retirement as the goal, a finish line, and give little thought to what life will really be like once they quite working.  The My Ideal Week in Retirement tool asks your clients to think about how they plan to fill their time in a representative week of retirement. The process will allow them to begin visualizing a retirement lifestyle that will be satisfying to them.  When asked what they plan to do in retirement, many people respond by naming one activity such as “spend time with my grandchildren,” “travel,” or “play golf.”  My Ideal Week in Retirement will help your clients to face the reality that a single interest cannot fill all 112 waking hours of a week, and will encourage them to choose a broad range of activities that will provide structure, meaning, and purpose to their daily lives.

It is important to use this tool with younger clients as well as those nearing retirement.  It is never too early to encourage individuals to start thinking about their feelings and attitudes about retirement and to start visualizing what they want that stage of life to mean and to be for them.  Emotional and financial preparation is critical to a successful retirement experience, and the earlier one starts, the better!

After your client has completed the My Ideal Week in Retirement exercise, ask him or her questions such as:  “What did you learn from completing this exercise?”  “Did any of the activities you listed on the weekly calendar surprise you?”  “Was it easy or difficult to fill in all spaces of the retirement calendar?”  As your clients begin to describe their “ideal week in retirement,” simple comments such as, “That sounds great” or “Tell me more about that” will encourage them to reveal more to you.  As they articulate the details, they themselves will develop a clearer picture of what they do and do not want to experience during that stage of their lives.

Make notes of key points that surface in your conversation about My Ideal Week in Retirement.  These notes should be used to guide meeting agendas, goal setting strategies, and actions steps.  If you are meeting with a couple, give each individual a copy of My Ideal Week in Retirement and ask them to complete their worksheets independently.  Discuss similarities and differences in their responses to increase awareness, understanding, and communication between the spouses/partners.

After completing this exercise, give your client another blank My Ideal Week in Retirement worksheet.  This time cross out the word “retirement” in the title and write the word “NOW.”  Rather than put off until retirement what he or she really wants to do, this revised title will help your client think about how they can experience sooner rather than later what is personally fulfilling and satisfying.

Note: The My Ideal Week in Retirement tool is included in Money Quotient Licensing Levels 3 & 4.  For information about becoming an M.Q. Licensee, please e-mail info@moneyquotient.org.  “Tool Examiner” articles take an in-depth look at a specific tool from within the Money Quotient suite of Financial Life Planning® materials, and provide tips and techniques for successfully using the tool with clients.

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