We have $7 million for retirement but ‘I feel bad about not working’ — should I retire anyway?

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Dear MarketWatch, 


Help me retire. I am 59 and working. My 73-year-old husband retired three years ago. We have no debt and we own our home and cars. Our last kid is a senior in college, which is fully paid. I have $2 million in my retirement account and our other retirement savings has another $5 million. 

Our expenses are about $6,000 a month, which are more than covered by my husband’s required minimum distribution and Social Security. He can get retiree medical for all of us for about $700 a month.

I have a well-paying job but the management and the work are stressful and not thrilling. I feel that I am able financially to retire, but I feel bad about not working.

What is up with that?

Feels Bad in Florida

See: ‘Retirement? How?’ I’m 65, have nothing saved and am coming out of bankruptcy. 

Dear Feels Bad in Florida, 

Retirement preparation is so much more than attaining the amount of money you need to live the rest of your life. The psychological component of preparing for this chapter is just as important, so know that you are not alone in feeling bad about moving on from the workforce. 

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I am going to focus this letter more so on your struggles to flip the switch, but I did want to touch base really quickly on the money part of retiring. 

Based on the financial information you shared, it sounds like you could be very comfortable in retirement, with the amount you have saved and also coming in every month. But of course I have to warn you to think of every possible expense you may have in retirement — including healthcare (the expected and unexpected costs), taxes, any big trips, and home or auto emergency repairs. Then triple check your budgets, portfolios and the other sources of retirement income you expect to receive. A financial planner could really help you ensure that the money you have invested is working for you as best it can, and also that your cash inflows and outflows are on track. 

Check out MarketWatch’s column “Retirement Hacks” for actionable pieces of advice for your own retirement savings journey

A professional could also address the age gap between you and your husband, and provide a plan for how to make the most of your money during both of your lives (this includes having the right estate planning in place). You may also want to look into long-term-care insurance.

Let’s get to the nonfinancial aspects of retirement prep, though. 

First, there’s no hard-and-fast rule on how you retire. You may be financially equipped to exit the workforce, but if you feel bad, ask yourself why. Is it because you’re worried about finances in the future? Or because you think you should be spending your time at a job if you haven’t hit 60 yet? Or do you actually like the idea of working, and you’re just not happy where you are? 

I know this column is called “Help Me Retire” but you don’t have to retire yet, if you weren’t ready to do so. It sounds as though your current employment isn’t bringing you joy, and thanks to your large nest egg, you have options for what to do instead. You could take the time to look for another position, or maybe move from full-time to part-time work. You might also find it beneficial to leave your job completely and get into some sort of consulting or freelance work. 

Don’t jump right into any decision.

“Clients should start planning for their retirement well before they retire,” said Ryan Marshall, a certified financial planner at Ela Financial Group. This includes the money matters, like a budget, healthcare changes and withdrawal strategies, he said. But it should also incorporate what you’re going to do with your time. You could end up retiring tomorrow, but if you have nothing planned for you and your husband to do — together and separately — you may end up feeling just as bad or unfulfilled in this new chapter.

Also see: I’m 49, my wife is 34, we have 4 kids and $2.3 million saved. I earn $300K a year but ‘lose a lot of sleep worrying about tomorrow’ — when can I retire? 

Know that there are also many ways to approach retirement, once you get into it. I love to share the list of the “six types of retirees” created by Nancy Schlossberg, an author and former counseling professor. Schlossberg has been writing about the transition to retirement for decades, and has made a few changes of her own during this stage of her life (she’s now in her 90s and acts as a consultant for Zoom programs about life transitions). 

She identifies the six retirees as these: the adventurer, who goes into retirement trying something new; the continuer, who follows a path aligned with his prior career; the easy glider, who has no agenda and just seizes the day; the involved spectator, who may attend events in a field of interest but doesn’t work them; the searcher, who isn’t quite sure what she wants to do in retirement just yet but is retired anyway; and the retreater, who acts like a “couch potato” and doesn’t know what to do. Retirees can be any of these types at any point in their retirement, but which do you think you’d be? 

Some retirees find that consulting work makes them happy, and it doesn’t hurt to have another source of income. Others are happier to spend their time volunteering, trying a new hobby or pursuing a childhood passion. “The worst thing a retiree can do is nothing all day,” Marshall said. 

“Some retirees may be paralyzed with the amount of information out there and have a difficult time figuring out what is best for themselves,” Marshall said. “Everyone’s retirement is different and they should figure out what is best for them and not their neighbor or friend.” 

Readers: Do you have suggestions for this writer? Add them in the comments below.

Have a question about your own retirement savings? Email us at HelpMeRetire@marketwatch.com

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