Family And Friends: An Often Overlooked But Vital Part Of Your Retirement Plan

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Planning for retirement should be more than just accumulating money and allocating it within your portfolio. In fact, considering your entire situation is so important when planning your retirement, I tell my clients that I’m here to help them retire with more than just money!

Many people don’t think beyond the financial when planning for retirement, or incorrectly assume that once they retire, life will be great, almost idyllic. They fail to consider the major life transition that takes place when you suddenly stop spending eight hours of your day working as you have for the past 40 years. For many people, their occupation is a large part of their identity. This is why I teach about the six F’s of retirement planning: faith, family and friends, fitness, finances, fun and finality. Today, I’m talking about how to plan for strong relationships with your family and friends now and into your golden years.

Psychiatrist Robert Waldinger, the director of the Harvard Study of Adult Development, one of the longest and most complete studies of adult life ever conducted, has discovered the secret to happiness. This study followed more than 700 men for 75 years to find out what makes someone happy. There were two cohorts of men: One cohort was made up of Harvard sophomores, and the other was composed of 12- to 16-year-old boys who grew up in inner-city Boston. The overwhelming results are that good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Now is a good time to ask yourself: How are your family relationships and friendships? Is there a relationship that could use some extra attention?

If you answered “yes” to that last question, decide today to focus on strengthening (and if necessary, repairing) relationships with your family and friends. This is one of the most important aspects of your retirement life and it costs nothing, except time and effort, to cultivate and maintain them.

Relationships will take an extra concerted effort on your part while you’re still working to make sure that you are not too busy to spend time with the people who matter most. If you are consistently turning down invitations to do things outside of work, people will stop asking and you may find yourself at retirement without many meaningful friendships. Most people find that their work friends are just that — acquaintances they work with — and their friendships fade with time and do not survive a coworker’s retirement.

To best prepare for this aspect of retirement, look around and identify the relationships that matter most to you. You may also want to consider what new relationships you’d like to develop to fill any gaps you find.

Making family relationships a priority can be as simple as making sure your family members feel important and supported. You can do this by having regular dinners together, which encourages daily conversations and gives you an opportunity to share in each other’s successes and commiserate together during the hard times. When thinking about your family relationships, don’t forget about your adult children and grandkids!

An article on the AARP website shares a story about William Chopik, an assistant professor of psychology at Michigan State University, who led an interesting research study on older adults and their friendships. He said, "As we age, we prune away at some of the friendships that are more superficial and acquaintance-like" and are left "with the ones that are deeper and make us happy."

It goes on to say that Chopik said that the power of friendship on physical and mental health often is ignored when researching older people, because familial relationships are frequently deemed more important for this age group. But family members typically become caregivers for the elderly, and that role can create a sense of obligation. While the relationships are still vital, Chopik said, they may not provide as much joy in an elderly person's life as long-term friends.

When considering your friendships, don’t overlook the opportunity to start relationships with younger people as well. In “Retire Happy,” authors Richard Stim and Jake Warner quote George Vaillant, director of Harvard’s landmark Study of Adult Development, as saying, “Learning to gain younger friends as we lose older ones adds more to life’s enjoyment than retirement income.”

They then go on to highlight Michael Phillips and Catherine Campbell’s analysis of losing friends in terms of actuarial tables: “As we age, the names listed in our personal phone books will slowly be crossed out. To sense the extent of the problem, we can imagine a party to which a large number of longtime friends are invited. Now, picture the same guest list when we are 65: 25 percent of our male friends and 15 percent of the females will be dead. By the time we are 85, only one out of five men who were our friends at age 35 will still be alive, and only two out of five women.”

When looking to befriend anyone new, it’s often easiest to form a friendship based on common interests such as hobbies or connecting with someone at church. Several of my clients, for example, have found an entire new group of friends who all love playing pickleball and they get together regularly to play.

Having a support network that goes beyond your immediate family members is important for when important things change in your life. I am always surprised and shocked when I get a client who was just diagnosed with a life-threatening illness; it’s one of the hardest parts of my job. Each client handles these situations differently. Having strong relationships obviously helps with dealing with times like this, but it also goes beyond just having people who can help you emotionally. Having other professionals to lean on to help prepare you and your loved ones for what is to come is also extremely helpful. Knowing these people beforehand allows you to make an unemotional and quick decision. You can meet with several people and choose the right person for you.

My mother had a saying that I have always tried to implement in my life: “If it’s meant to be, then it’s up to me.” If you have read my articles or have seen me speak before, you know how important this credo is to me. You can implement this saying in just about every part of life, and keeping your relationships healthy is no different. If you intend on keeping a strong bond between your immediate family and your group of friends, it is entirely up to you, and it starts right now.

Opinions expressed are that of the author and are not endorsed by the named broker dealer or its affiliates. All information herein has been prepared solely for informational purposes, and it is not an offer to buy or sell, or a solicitation of an offer to buy or sell any security or instrument or to participate in any particular trading strategy.

Premier Planning Group is an independent firm with securities offered through Summit Brokerage Services Inc., Member FINRA, SIPC. The firm is located at 115 West Street, Suite 400, in Annapolis.

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