With the number of years I been your financial advisor, (long enough to have experienced the full range of the “market roller coaster”), you’ve no doubt heard me talk about the “emotional stages of investment”: the initial excitement about getting in; the rising enthusiasm as prices go up; the initial misgivings when prices begin to fall; the increasing nervousness when values fail to recover; the urge to sell, just to put an end to the worry; the eventual relief when things begin to recover—and the cycle repeats. I know we have had discussions as it relates to all these different stages in helping you stay focused on the ultimate destination, on the importance of remaining patient and disciplined, on the value of maintaining a diversified portfolio constructed according to your established risk tolerance and long-term financial goals.
But there’s another emotional process that can take place over a period even longer than the typical market cycle, one that can have an equally great impact on your satisfaction with and understanding of your financial plan and how it supports your lifestyle goals and dreams. This cycle is related to your stages of life and, even more importantly, how your emotions and priorities change as you move from one stage into another.
Most of us understand the basic concept of how our use of and attitude toward money develops during the principal financial life stages of accumulation, preservation, and distribution. In the first phase, we are focused on earning and building: advancing in our careers, saving, investing, building equity in our various holdings and enterprises, and contributing to retirement plans. In the second phase, as our careers mature, we start to think about diversifying in order to protect the value of what we have accumulated. In the final stage, we are drawing down on our accumulated resources, both to sustain our own lifestyle and, in many cases, to assure the future benefit of people and causes we care about.
When we’re in the accumulation and preservation phases of our financial life, the distribution phase typically looks like the finish line. But it’s vital to realize that in reality, retirement is not “the end”; in many cases, it’s just the beginning. While the “average” American will spend about 14 years in retirement, according to recent polls, it is not unusual for people to live 20, 25, or even 30+ years in retirement. In other words, most of us will experience emotional and mindset changes during retirement that deeply affect how we feel about our money and our financial plans.
1. Getting Your “Gold Watch.” Much like the day of marriage and the honeymoon, this can be a time of exhilaration and anticipation. Many think, “I’ve finally made it!” as they dive into all the things they’ve been looking forward to: reading the books in the “pending” stack; setting a mid-week tee time; starting their first volunteer shift; or taking a vacation with all the grandkids. Financially, we’re focused on enjoyment in the present, and not so much on implications for the future.
2. “Is that all there is?” Again, as with marriage, the initial excitement inevitably begins to wear off, and we are forced to contemplate “real life” without the involvement and routines built into the working phase. Feelings of loneliness and boredom can set in. Especially for younger retirees, isolation from friends and colleagues who are still working can compound the experience of dissatisfaction. When we feel as if we have nothing to look forward to, no amount of money helps. So, in this stage, it is important to have a good understanding of how the financial plan allows for opportunities to find and explore new interests and even chances for fun.
3. The new normal. Over time, the goal is to reach a point of equilibrium. We accept the new landscape of retirement and establish new routines and expectations. We gradually shift from identities defined by what we do/did for a living to a focus on what we hope to accomplish and leave behind for others. In this stage, careful consideration of estate plans and philanthropic goals can play an important role in creating greater satisfaction.
As a client, I have communicated with you that I understand your emotions are inextricably intertwined with your financial plan. With the resources I have available, along with 36-years of experience in the financial service industry, I will continue to provide guidance for the ups and downs that come with the markets—and with your life cycle. If you have any questions or concerns during these roller coaster rides, we have been seeing, don’t hesitate to reach out.
1. Cathay Bank, “How to Use Your Money to Prepare for Different Life Stages,” April 12, 2021, https://www.cathaybank.com/about-us/insights-by-cathay/prepare-money-for-lifestages
2. Jordan Rosenfeld, “Jaw-Dropping Stats about the State of Retirement in America,” GoBankingRates.com, September 6, 2022, https://www.gobankingrates.com/retirement/planning/jaw-dropping-stats-state-retirement-america/
3. Mark P. Cussen, “Journey through the Six Stages of Retirement,” Investopedia, April 30, 2021, https://www.investopedia.com/articles/retirement/07/sixstages.asp