Many people don’t have much choice about when they retire. Illness, job loss or caretaking responsibilities push them out of the labor force, ready or not.
But some people have the opposite problem: They do have a choice, and yet they can’t quite bring themselves to quit working.
Some love what they do and never want to retire. Others are paralyzed by fear of the unknown, financial planners say. They may worry about living without a paycheck, spending down the money they worked so hard to save or figuring out how to structure their days without a job.
"A lot of the people I see are financially ready before they’re emotionally ready," says Cathy Gearig, a certified financial planner in Rochester Hills, Michigan.
Here are three signs you may be ready:
Your checklist of worries
Retirement is often depicted as an endless, stress-free vacation. In reality, retirement requires fundamental changes in approaches to life, says CFP Barbara O’Neill, author of "Flipping a Switch: Your Guide To Happiness and Financial Security in Later Life."
Instead of earning a paycheck, for example, retirees have to create one from savings and other resources. If something goes wrong — the furnace dies, or their investments tank — they can’t just earn more money to make up for any shortfall.
Those who have been diligent savers often struggle with the idea of spending retirement money.
"They’re so used to seeing their account balances increase over the years and they find it really difficult to pull money out of their accounts," says CFP Janice Cackowski of Willoughby, Ohio.
Other fears — of becoming irrelevant or simply being bored — can cause people to postpone retirement, according to some financial planners.
"Honestly, the biggest fear I see is, ‘What am I going to do with myself if I don’t go to work all day?’" Gearig says.
Once you know what frightens you about retirement, you can begin to address those fears, financial planners say.
Your financial plan can weather storms
If your fears are financial, you can hire a fee-only financial planner to review your retirement plan. Choose a planner who is a fiduciary, which means they’re committed to putting your best interests first.
The planner can help you maximize Social Security benefits, navigate Medicare or other health insurance options, decide the best way to take a pension, plan for possible long-term care and figure out a sustainable withdrawal rate from savings.
"This will be your only retirement. It’s paramount that you get it right," says Adam Wojtkowski, a CFP in Walpole, Massachusetts.
Using sophisticated planning software, the adviser also can stress test your plan to see how it would withstand a major market downturn, a surge in inflation, higher tax rates or the premature death of you or your spouse, says CFP Shelly-Ann Eweka, senior director of financial planning strategy for finance company TIAA.
CFP Michelle Gessner of Houston runs her clients’ plans through a "maximum spend" test to see when they would risk running short of money.
"I’m really beating the heck out of these plans and then (clients) can see ‘Hey, look, it still works,’" Gessner says. "‘And if it still works, maybe I don’t have to be afraid anymore.’"
A clear vision of retired life
Many retirees struggle, at least at first, to find a sense of purpose and a structure for their days. Having a plan can help, says CFP Ian Weinberg of Woodbury, New York.
That plan might include a bucket list of travel and experiences you can start checking off. Or, you could create a chart of how you want to divide your time among various pursuits: hobbies, volunteering, physical fitness, family time, travel and so on.
Retirement also can be unexpectedly lonely, especially if you’re single or your partner is still working. If your primary social interactions were with co-workers, you may need to find some new friends, says CFP Patti B. Black of Birmingham, Alabama. Black recommends checking out volunteer groups, clubs and classes.
You may need some time to prepare yourself mentally and emotionally for retirement. Just don’t let the preparation continue indefinitely, since the future is never guaranteed, Gearig points out.
"Just jump in and enjoy the ride," Gearig says.