To someone with a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. For decades the financial industry viewed retirement through the prism of having enough money to live without a steady paycheck. While a robust monetary base is crucial, it cannot be your sole focus. Instead, look at retirement as a blank slate, but that can be exciting and daunting. I have zero artistic ability, but an empty sheet of paper or Word document intimidates similarly.

Some people can ride off into the sunset with no worries, but many people, I think most, need a retirement goal or plan. Without one, you may find yourself adrift, sometimes leading to physical maladies. When you are working, getting off early on Friday is a treat, but in retirement, it is just another day. A study from the Institute for Economic Affairs, based in the United Kingdom, found retirees faced a 40% chance of a clinical diagnosis of depression. The study also found better than average, self-assessed health reports declined, too. Sixty percent of retirees were taking prescribed medicine for one or more physical conditions not present before retirement.

For some couples, retirement in tandem works. Together they motivate each other and support their spouse’s passions. You may be more inclined to exercise in the morning instead of lounging around with coffee if your partner wants to get outside. However, for the last two decades, divorce among couples in their fifties or older has gone up compared with an overall decline in the divorce rate. Sociologists link the spike in “gray divorce” to a host of reasons, infidelity, financial mismanagement, and often people grow apart. With longer life expectancies and with children raised, the incentives to stay together may not be there. However, planning retirement together could motivate you to stay together, as Reverend Al Green sang.

If your career allows a phased retirement, where you cut back on hours or take random short-term projects, it will enable you to “test drive” retirement. In large companies, some people may find they get sick of the corporate world but find retirement blissful because they have family, friends, and activities they enjoy. Among their travel plans, one couple had a retirement goal of going to Auburn football games. While you may not be a sports fan, the point is they knew what they wanted during retirement.

Some people enjoy what they do and don’t want to stop. On his deathbed, Merle Haggard wanted to see the Pacific Ocean for a final time from his tour bus. They loaded him in it, drove The Hag down to the coast, and he died. Look at retirement as a blank canvas, then create what you like. You will probably live longer than you think, make the best of it. You won’t get a mulligan.

You can’t always get what you want, but Buz Livingston, CFP, can help you get what you need. For specific recommendations visit us online at or come by our office in Redfish Village, 2050 Scenic 30A, M-1 Suite 230.