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Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.
Dr. Schwartz's Weblog

To Retire or Not, A Complicated Decision

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. Updated: Apr 18th 2012

To Retire or Not, A Complicated DecisionThere was a time, not so long ago, when people retired from their occupations with a full pension from the corporation they worked for after thirty years. Since that time, people do not stay at one corporation for that long for a whole variety of reasons, some of their choice and many not of their choice. Consequently, most people face the decision of when to retire and the troubling question of whether or not they can afford to do so?

Supposedly, even without a pension from work, people should have enough money to retire if they saved and invested their money in the stock market, or in tax deferred annuities. As it turns out, many families find themselves in the dilemma of being of retirement age but without the resources to do so comfortably. The reason for the short fall in money is not only that they do not have those lucrative pensions to fall back on but find that they spent their savings and investments on such things as college tuition for their children, unexpected medical expenses for chronic illnesses, disasters on the stock market that wiped out their investments and employers laying them off due to the recession.

While people do have social security to fall back on, most would agree that it's not enough money to support a comfortable life style after retirement and there is the anxiety that the social security program may, at some time, go bankrupt.

Even for those couples who do have enough money to retire, there are other decisions that need to be made. When I was a child my grandfather retired from work and lived happily, with my grandmother, in their home until they each passed away many years later. Today, many couples who are able to retire elect to move away from their home in order to down size and relocate to a warmer climate. So, the question is The complication is where to move to and the cost of living in the new location?

It's important to keep in mind that the nature of marriage has changed today as compared to when my grandfather retired. He was the sole breadwinner for his family and, therefore, was able to make the choice for himself. Of course, he had my grandmother's support but the decision was not complicated. They had enough money, they were both in good health and they could afford to live where they always had lived, in their apartment in New York City, surrounded by family and friends.

Today, as couples approach retirement age, the decision to retire is more complex because both husband and wife work. Given the fact that, in most cases, wives are four years younger than their husbands, and that they joined the work force after the children were raised, husbands who want to retire discover that their wives want to continue to work. In addition, wives may not want to move to the same geographical location as their husband.

As always, both past and present, there is the challenging question of how the free time will be spent, post retirement. For some, this is no challenge at all. There are those who retire to golfing communities and spend as much of their time golfing. Others want to travel and see as much of the world as possible without being tied down by a house and mortgages. However, for many others, the fear is that there will be nothing to do.

Work forms a major part of the way people define and see themselves. To no longer work is the same as losing part of who they are. Many of these people delay retirement as long as possible and, after being forced to retire, look for employment elsewhere, especially in the kinds of jobs they always wished they could do.

There is no question that the decision to retire has all kinds of consequences for people. Couples can find themselves arguing with each other much more because they have too much time alone with each other. It is now a well established fact that older people can be stalked by feelings of depression. Finally, people at the age of retirement are fully capable of abusing drugs and alcohol. With time on their hands, it is easy for retirees to sink into depression and abusing substances., not to mention marital conflict.

Is it such a good thing to retire in light of all of these difficulties?

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D.

Readers who live in the Boulder, Colorado metro area, or in Southwest Florida may contact Dr. Schwartz for face-to-face consultation. He is also available for psychotherapy through Skype video for those who are not in Florida or Colorado. He can be reached via email at for details.

Reader Comments
Discuss this issue below or in our forums.

Learning how to retire. - trlinde - Apr 18th 2012

It seems that much of the retirement question facing people today is not just if they will have enough to retire. But it's have they learn how to prepare to retire.

There are plenty of sources telling people how to invest or save, but none that show how to arrange their expenses for it.

My parents retired without and income other than Social Security, they did it simply by already having their house and car paid for. By living within their means.

If done right all the bills you should have is utility and property taxes once a year. Then it's just food, they rest is up to you.

Moderation a living within your means is something most Americans have forgotten, buying a house or car and not planning to have it paid off by the time they retire is something most people have not thought far enoughahead about.

While most parents see it as a tradition of sorts to pay for their childrens college, they often forget about anothe rtradition of the children paying a tithing to their parents. One of the reasons why most families were originally large as a way to invest in the future.

Educating people on retirement needs to cover all of it, not just the investing side.

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