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Emotional, financial readiness dictate retirement age

Rochester Business Journal
January 18, 2013

Retirement has agreed with Edward Tarbell. Since leaving teaching in 1999, the longtime Webster resident has taken a riverboat cruise through Germany, built a new home, kept up with bicycling and made modest improvements to his golf game.
Bidding farewell to a 9-to-5 routine rattles some, but Tarbell does not regret taking the leap. While he was teaching industrial arts and, later, technology in the Webster Central School District, he saw at least five colleagues retire happily, which helped dispel any doubts.
Working with a financial planner also eased the transition.
"Saving and investing for retirement was new to me," says Tarbell, a Brighton Securities Corp. client.
Tarbell also kept his part-time job with the U.S. Postal Service for a few years into retirement.
"You know, I think probably the most common thing I've heard and probably that I've said (about retirement) is that you wonder how you did everything you did when you were working, because it just seems like you don't even have enough time when you're retired," he says.
Experts who help seniors sort out when the time is right to retire recommend considering both the emotional and financial sides of the issue.
At first glance, the prospect of no longer working may trigger anxiety, says Lisa Fogel, a psychotherapist and licensed clinical social worker whose practice is in Pittsford.
But when seniors take the time to process questions about how they could spend their time and put aside concerns about what others may think of their decision, "they find they have a lot more control over what's going to happen," she says.
Fogel says she once had a patient who repeatedly expressed doubt that she could afford to retire, though she had not bothered to tabulate her living expenses. Shortly after overcoming the fear of examining her financial status, the patient decided to leave her job for good.
"You know, anxiety comes from only looking at a problem halfway," Fogel says.
Envisioning a satisfying retirement may take time.
"I once had a patient who had run a successful business for 20 years, and even though he could boast about the many compliments he received over the years, he never felt it was successful enough," Fogel says. "Once he realized he was letting others define success, he realized he had nothing to prove and was able to consider retirement."
She adds: "We want to ask ourselves what makes us feel at peace and feel fulfilled. For example, having coffee with a friend once a week gives you great satisfaction and a closer connection than you have had sitting at your office desk for 40 hours a week."
Going to art exhibits, taking walks, bowling, planning healthy meals or volunteering in a low-stress job could be enjoyable pursuits.
"Much of what we feel about ourselves can often come from what we perceive society is telling us," Fogel says. "When we can take time to stop and think about what we really want, we can often find peace."
Determining when to retire from a financial standpoint entails taking a hard look at fixed and discretionary expenses, says Nannette Nocon, private wealth adviser at Henrietta-based Nocon & Associates, a private wealth advisory practice of Ameriprise Financial Services Inc.
Property taxes and utilities costs, for instance, probably will not decrease in retirement.
Seniors also need to determine what their sources of income will be in retire-ment "and what changes the day you get that gold watch," says George Conboy, president of Brighton Securities.
A salary will go away, but seniors may have rental income or they may have begun to receive a pension years earlier from a former job, he says, and that will not change in retirement.
"It's a little bit of an illusion that employment-related expenses drop," Conboy says. "Some are clear, like the expense of commuting. But you're still going to drive; you won't drive as much. And the idea of wardrobe-you're still going to buy clothes. ... You might not buy as much."
Given advances in health care and longer life expectancies, today's seniors do not plan to spend retirement hanging around the house.
Expenses related to being active and social need to be considered, Nocon says.
"Once in a while, I encounter clients or prospects, if you will, that are looking at retirement at a more expensive lifestyle than they have today (with limited resources)," she says.
That spells trouble down the road. For clients who resist doing a detailed budget to shed light on whether retiring makes sense financially, Nocon suggests they live on a reduced amount of money for a few months to test the waters.
"A lot of people don't do that (practice run). They just wait until the event," she says.
National research supports Nocon's point.
According to the 2012 Retirement Confidence Survey by the Employee Benefit Research Institute in Washington, D.C., 56 percent of respondents reported that they and their spouses had not tried to calculate how much money they would need to save so they could live comfortably in retirement.
The survey also shows that only 14 percent claimed to be "very confident" they would have enough money to live comfortably in retirement, compared to the statistically equivalent 13 percent measured in the 2011 survey. Twenty-three percent were "not at all confident" they could do so.
Nocon says she has encountered a few clients who miss the intellectual and social engagement that go along with working. When one of her clients had trouble envisioning what his life would be like without the daily grind, he decided to delay accepting an enticing retirement package from his employer but got involved in volunteering.
"And now he's actually in a stronger position because his Social Security is coming in," Nocon says.
In determining how much money people need to retire nowadays, a magic number simply does not exist "because some people approach retirement with more debt than others," Conboy says. "Some people approach retirement with children who are younger, and require some more support."
Seniors who receive lump sums upon retirement should be cautious about their spending, especially if they have never before had access to such a large amount of money, he advises. The recession, however, did make nearly every Brighton Securities client more conservative with money.
Working part time makes perfect sense for some retirees, particularly because it can stretch their savings for what could be 25 or more years of remaining life, Conboy says.
People need not wait until the eleventh hour to envision their lives beyond work.
"We easily get into a rut of working set or long hours, then coming home to have dinner, rest or go on the occasional outing," Fogel says. "However, with some thought, patients come to realize they have other interests and activities they can start even before they retire."
She adds: "They may want to ask themselves how they are defining their worth. Oftentimes, people define themselves through their profession and do not realize that we are not defined by what we do, but who we are."
Sheila Livadas is a Rochester-area freelance writer.1/18/13 (c) 2013 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email

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