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The Stats Guy: It’s vital to know the key phases of retirement

The stakes are higher than ever as we are seeing the largest number of people retire this decade. 

The stakes are higher than ever as we are seeing the largest number of people retire this decade.  Photo: TND/Getty

In five years even the youngest Baby Boomer will be of retirement age.

They will not all be retired, some will still hang around on company boards, others will hang onto their talkback radio shows. More than anything though, the biggest birth cohort that Australia ever saw will be retired by then.

It is therefore important to understand how retirement works and what predictable stages we go through in retirement.  

This column is based on the wonderful book The 4 Phases of Retirement by Dr Riley Moynes. Read and study it carefully if you are a fresh retiree or are going to retire soonish.

For younger readers my humble summary and interpretation will do the trick for now.  

Moynes outlines the psychological journey retirees go through and offers a framework to understand and navigate your transition into a whole new stage of life.  

As you guessed from the title of the book, there are four distinct phases of retirement.  

Phase 1: Vacation 

This is the honeymoon phase of retirement. You finally break free of the routine that you followed for the past few decades.

You feel excited to be able to go to bed whenever you want. You sleep in every day.

Memories of endless summer holidays flood back to you. The vacation phase is pure freedom, and the lack of a set schedule feels like a weight off your shoulders.

You engage in leisure activities and hobbies that you put on hold during your working years.

After a few months, maybe a year, the lack of structure slowly gets to you and eventually you feel rather aimless.  

Phase 2: Disillusionment 

Once the initial excitement has worn off, the lack of purpose and direction in your life makes you feel more than just a little lost.

There must be more left for you to do than just aimlessly seeking out hedonistic pleasures.

This phase can be extremely challenging and is often marked by the three Ds of divorce, depression, and decline (in mental and physical health).

This is also when suicides in old age spike.

You might be one of many retirees who severely struggle to find new meaning in their lives during this phase of disillusionment. 

Phase 3: Trial and error 

You slowly try to figure out how to get out of that disillusionment hole. You look for new hobbies, maybe you think about volunteering, after all you have so much left to give.

You try out new things. You throw stuff at the wall to see what sticks. You take the scary leap into experimentation and adjustment.

Step by step you discover fulfilling ways to spend your time.

Persistence is key as many activities you try out don’t scratch that itch of yours. This is a humbling phase.

After years in the workforce where you could display your mastery of your profession, you are but a student again trying to figure out who you really are. Teenage angst 2.0, if you will. 

Phase 4: Reinvent and Rewire 

Your persistence will eventually be rewarded.

In this final phase, you find a renewed sense of fulfilment and happiness.

You discover which activities provide you with a deeply personal sense of purpose.

Usually, this journey takes you back to the outside world where you contribute to a community of sorts. This could be a church, a cause, a volunteering program.

Your journey might also lead you into yourself where you find meaning in deep contemplation or oneness with nature.

This phase represents a period of personal growth and satisfaction, where retirees “squeeze the juice” out of their retirement years. 

 

 

Moynes emphasises the importance of preparing for both the financial and psychological aspects of retirement.

Planning ahead and understanding these phases can help you navigate the transition into retirement more smoothly and find lasting fulfilment sooner. 

When talking about our retirement we often reduce the discussion to how much money we need in our super accounts to ensure we retain our current lifestyle.

That quite frankly isn’t enough if you want to make your retirement years your golden years. 

The good news is that these stages of retirement are predictable and universal. A good super fund, a good financial adviser, a good local government knows about these predictable stages and guides its members, clients, and residents through them.  

The stakes are higher than ever as we are seeing the largest number of people retire this decade. 

 Demographer Simon Kuestenmacher is a co-founder of The Demographics Group. His columns, media commentary and public speaking focus on current socio-demographic trends and how these impact Australia. His latest book aims to awaken the love of maps and data in young readers. Follow Simon on Twitter (X), Facebook, LinkedIn for daily data insights in short format. 

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