In this issue of the Journal, Marty Martin explores “3 Roles of the Retirement Planner: Listener, Connector, Resolver.” It goes beyond the numbers to discuss ways to understand and engage clients at a deeper level.
I’ve edited a lot of retirement articles. I’ve seen the scary statistics about how poorly prepared many Americans are. I’ve read reams of content about how attitudes toward retirement are changing. With all that background, you’d think I’d have a mature, objective attitude about retirement, and in many ways, I do.
My wife and I are proponents of the “Aging in Place” movement. The last two years have been spent designing, building, and endlessly tweaking the home where we hope to live out our lives. Everything is calculated. Interior doorways are 36 inches wide, instead of the standard 32 inches. And all of those doors have levers, rather than traditional round doorknobs that would be harder for arthritic hands to grip. Electrical outlets are 18 inches above the floor instead of the standard 12 inches, so that we won’t have to bend as much. The most important number is one, as in one level—there are no stairways to negotiate. Everything from the building materials to the landscaping was designed to be low-maintenance and long-term.
Ah, but then there’s my baggage. This includes a lifetime of experiences, hopes, fears, memories, and images. Some are hopeful. A co-worker invested well, retired young and is probably still sailing the world. A friend’s father started a successful business after retiring.
Other images are sad: my great-uncle Will sitting in a darkened two-room house until forced into a nursing home. Or my dad, who died at age 59 before reaching retirement. My mom survived another 20 years without him. I found a scrawled note among her possessions that read, “Living alone is a slow death.”
When I think of Social Security, part of me rejects the idea of relying on a government program for any part of my subsistence. But another part of me insists that I’ve paid a lot of money into that system, trusting in the government’s promise to pay me back someday. I’d be pretty angry if the government reneged on that promise.
All my life, I’ve been exposed to retirement ads and commercials. Many of these depict elderly couples strolling hand-in-hand along the beach. They’re always barefoot. I suppose this is meant to symbolize freedom, though as a child I speculated that retirees couldn’t afford basic footwear. Other ads and commercials focus on seniors cavorting with their grandchildren. I have no grandkids. I guess I’ll have to cavort with my dog.
When my financial planner talks to me about retirement, he’s really talking to two people: the rational me who’s read the literature and understands the numbers, and the emotional me whose concept of retirement reflects a lifetime of experiences filtered through my emotions. My advice: the next time you talk to a client about retirement, remember to check for baggage.