The four horsemen of the retirement apocalypse

I recently talked with a banker while researching an article on ways baby boomers can finance home improvements before retiring. After answering my questions on financing options, our conversation turned to the broader topic of boomers preparing for retirement.

We agreed the emotional and financial hurdles facing boomers can be daunting. Yet, we both have worked with clients who seem blithely unaware of a multitude of issues they will soon face. Why then are boomers so resistant to preparing for a future that is just around the corner?

1. Magical thinking

Magical thinking takes over when it comes to boomers and aging. We see ourselves as much younger than we are. In 2017, the leading edge boomers born in 1946 will turn 71. Boomers born 11 years later in 1957 will turn 60 this year. While no one says that boomers have to act old, we do have to act our age and take responsibility for planning our next phase of life. Magical thinking allows us to believe we still have plenty of time. The truth is boomers have an ever shortening window in which to take action.

2. Denial

Denial is used to cope with a difficult reality by not facing it. While we may think this coping mechanism helps us, it, in fact, hurts us by disempowering us. Denial tells us “if I don’t look at this, I don’t have to deal with it.” Ignoring something never makes it go away. Instead it limits our options to deal with a situation and can make the situation worse. This is especially true about saving for retirement and coming up with a plan for this next phase of life. Most of us will live a decade or two after we stop working. Not having a plan for what we will do with that time and how we will support our selves is not just foolhardy, it can have catastrophic consequences.

3. Obsession with Youth

We live in a culture that doesn’t value the elderly. Baby boomers are responsible in part for this mind set. We are the ones who naively admonished our peers to “Never trust anyone over 30!” As a result, there is no rite of passage to transition from middle age to “elderhood”. Nor is there a tradition of handing down the wisdom of those who have gone before us and successfully transitioned from working to not working so that we might learn from their experiences. Instead, we delude ourselves with the perception we are much younger than we are. While we may feel like we are 40 on the inside, we cannot make responsible plans for retirement by acting as though we are that age. We must acknowledge how close we are to retirement. In just 13 years, every baby boomer in the United States will be 65 or older. That is a fact.

4. Despair

As the consequences of not planning and preparing for this phase of life, many people will experience feelings of shame and remorse. These useless emotions do nothing to help us cope with the reality of our situation. Despair leads to hopelessness, the belief that nothing we can do will improve our situation. But this is not true. While we may not like the choices we have, we can always choose our attitudes and actions. The sooner we fess up to our problems, the sooner we can begin to correct them. If we don’t deal with these four horses of the retirement apocalypse, the “end time” of life, as baby boomers currently know it, will be upon us.

I am by nature an optimistic person and I don’t like writing doomsday-style posts. But the simple fact is this: most baby boomers are ill-prepared to deal with what is coming. If boomers don’t break out of their denial and take action, they forgo any opportunity to change their outcome.

What you can do:

Be courageous and talk to a financial planner about your situation. A financial planner’s job is to help you come up with a solution, not to judge you. If you don’t have access to a financial planner, talk to someone at your bank or credit union. Whatever you do, talk with someone who is knowledgeable. Ask them to help you come up with a retirement plan and follow their advice.

Talk about this topic with others in similar situations. Knowing that you are not alone can be reassuring. Brainstorming solutions and ideas benefits everyone. Find a partner who can help you set and meet goals and hold you accountable.

Don’t wait. Not a minute, not an hour, not a day. Take charge of your future. Ask questions of others who have retired or are contemplating retirement. Find out if your human resources department offers counseling, tools, or classes to prepare you for retirement.

Breaking through denial can produce stress and anxiety. Find healthy ways to channel those emotions. Avoidance behaviors like drinking, overeating, smoking, and overspending provide only temporary relief. Permanent relief comes from identifying a problem and solving it.

Kathryn Avery

About Kathryn Avery

When Kathryn Severns Avery’s husband, Chris, began contemplating retirement in 2014, she knew they had to quickly come up with a multi-faceted plan. They spent the next year discussing, sometimes heatedly, what they would do once he stopped working. On paper their plan looked exciting. They would head from Colorado to the 1891 sea captain’s house they bought and renovated in Rockland on Maine’s midcoast. But the reality of planning and implementing retirement was much different than expected. Kathryn has worked in radio, television, marketing, and public relations. She is the author of five books and has written articles on interior design and crafts for national and regional publications including Romantic Homes, Log Homes Illustrated, The Rocky Mountain News and Colorado Homes and Lifestyles.