The Three Stages of Retirement

Elderly couple enjoying playing guitar

In his new book Retirement Heaven or Hell: Which Will You Choose?  Mike Drak describes what he calls “the three stages of retirement” and how to escape from the second stage: Retirement Hell.

According to Drak, the first stage, when we first retire, is the “Honeymoon Stage.” For retirees, we know how that looks and feels. It’s when the shackles of 25, 30 or more years of the daily grind are finally over. The world is your oyster. You can play golf, go to the movies in the middle of the afternoon, shop till you drop, or just sleep in. 

The second stage,” Retirement Hell,” is more complicated. It’s when the obvious fun and games part starts to wear thin. You’ve watched as much Netflix as is humanly possible. You’ve even attempted to develop new hobbies, like knitting or cooking. But hobbies aren’t all that fulfilling. You’re missing your work routine, your colleagues with whom you spent the last decades sharing stories and complaining about the job. You’re feeling bored and worse, you’re feeling lonesome.

Drak says that retirement hell can take many shapes, including:

  • After working long hours for so many years to take care of your family, now that you have the time, they don’t want to be near you.
  • Getting divorced late in life.
  • Living with someone you don’t like and who doesn’t like you, for the rest of your life.
  • Your TV is your best and only friend.
  • Living with regret.
  • Being forced to do work that you hate doing because you need the money.
  • Feeling that your world is shrinking each year because you’re living on a fixed income.
  • Having nightmares about your old job and how they threw you out, and not being able to move forward.
  • Not being able to sleep at night because you’re worried that you might live too long and run out of retirement savings.
  • Discovering that you have a debilitating illness and there is a cure for it, but you can’t afford to pay for it.
  • Not being physically able to get out of bed in the morning and do the things you want to spend the money on.

Drak’s advice is that you need a reason to get up in the morning. He also focuses on those he calls “Retirement Rebels” and “Adventurers:” the retirees who become adventurers and live outside their comfort zone, exploring, learning, and doing interesting and exciting things. That’s the sweet spot, which Drak terms “Escaping Retirement Hell. By becoming a Retirement Rebel, you have a chance to unleash your passion and creativity — parts of yourself that you may have kept bottled up inside for years.”

There are many good reasons to become a member of this third category, the retirement rebel or adventurer. Firstly, retirees are living longer than ever before. For a couple aged 65, there’s a 50 percent chance one of them will live past 90. Who wants to do nothing for thirty years?  

Secondly, the generation of new retirees, baby boomers, born between 1946 and 1965, accounts for more than one in two of the 6.8-million Canadians over the age of 65. From our youth during the 1960s and 1970s, we know there’s power in numbers. Today there is a multitude of causes to get behind, as we did years ago. I can’t think of a better reason than changing rigid and outdated attitudes toward ageing ——and that can include everything from ensuring superior care for elders living in long-term care facilities to agitating for ways to help retirees enjoy a safe, social and meaningful retirement.

Thirdly, there are excellent options to guard against cash flow issues. Inflation, even when it’s low, can still take a bite out of your budget. All you need to do is grocery shop, to learn how expensive food is. Taking the initiative to solidify your financial situation is one of the most critical actions retirees can take. For many older Canadians, debt is a fact of life. Dealing with debt in a smart, tax-efficient manner is a most practical solution to avoid retirement hell. 

For instance, HomeEquity Bank offers several flexible reverse mortgages that provide retirees with a sound method to increase their cash flow without forcing them to move from the home they love or the neighbourhood they know best. 

Another way to keep cash flow healthy is to work. I must admit that I love to work and I do it five days a week. For years, I taught journalism, and the minute I retired, I started writing, first for the Globe and Mail and now for this blog. I’ve also published two novels since retiring, The Cook’s Temptation and Last Night of the World. Becoming the writer I’ve always wanted to be, but couldn’t find the time for when I was working full time and raising my daughter on my own, is a constant joy.

To avoid retirement hell, make sure when you wake to get dressed and enjoy a healthy breakfast. It’s never been more critical than during this lengthy pandemic to make a plan for each day. I like to fill my “To-Do List” with an optimistic variety of tasks to accomplish. I’m not always successful, but I try.

Let’s remember that Joe Biden, at 78 years, is the oldest person to be inaugurated for the first time, as the President of the United States. Think about Joe when you’re bored, and I bet you’ll find the inspiration to avoid retirement hell.

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