• Planning for Retirement is a Numbers Game

    By Mary Lee DeCoster

    The decision to retire is highly personal to each woman. For some, it will be circumstantial; for others, it will represent the fruition of a well-thought-out plan. For me, it was related to a set of conditions around my mother’s death; the requisite work associated with moving my dad to an assisted living facility; preparing, emptying, and selling their home; and coming to an agreement with my sister about how to care for our aged father. Now, at 94, dad is in Vancouver, my sister Carol is in Santa Barbara, and I am in Phoenix.

    We considered moving my dad, but his entire social fabric is in Vancouver, including medical support, church, friends, and a lot of family. Our commitment is to be with him for one week each month, taking turns through the holidays. The amount of time away from a full-time job to care for him would be extraordinary; luckily, the timing coincided with my 10-year work anniversary at age 67. At 10 years, I was 100 percent vested in my pension plan and eligible to start Social Security.

    For those of you who have been through this process, it takes weeks, and even months, to sort through 73 years of marital treasures, what will fit in the 400-square-foot assisted living apartment, what to distribute to family members, and what to sell or give away. Rather than compromise my employer, I made the decision to retire, expecting to work part-time after the dust had settled.

    Once the calendar was updated with my monthly visits to Vancouver, and my financial affairs were in order with Social Security and Arizona State Retirement, I had several weeks available each month to consider consulting projects. Having worked full-time for more than 45 years, I had not developed a “stay-at-home” schedule. So, I made appointments with myself, went shopping, met friends for lunch, went shopping again, and cleaned some closets. In addition, I pulled recipes off the Internet and cooked fabulous (high-calorie and delicious) meals. My husband was delighted.

    Now what? Retirement is more than preparing for financial security; it also requires a plan for ... what will you do each day? Six weeks after retiring, I was given the opportunity to work on a part-time basis with a trusted friend at a revenue cycle consulting firm, putting my experience to work helping healthcare clients resolve revenue cycle challenges and projects. 

    This past winter I transitioned to a reduced role, and while still supporting one client, I no longer set the alarm for 5 a.m. I now sleep in until a delicious 6:15 a.m. and wake up without an alarm. Some long-delayed home projects are being realized: It took six full days for a crew of three to strip, clean, and resurface our Saltillo tile floors. 

    The Travel Bug and Keeping Busy

    My husband and I want to travel while we are still in good health. We spent 10 days in Hawaii last September; his first visit, my fourth. We went to four islands and came home with hundreds of photos, stories, and memories.

    Dad served in the South Pacific during WWII and tells stories of his time in Australia with joy. He enjoyed the people as well as the location, and I’ve always wanted to go. So, my husband and I have planned our trip, which we have scheduled for February 2017. We will be joined by friends from Seattle and another couple, former Phoenicians who currently live in Brisbane. The payout of accrued vacation from my 10-year employer has been sitting in a savings account, earmarked  for this journey.  

    Aside from planning trips, some of us require the discipline of a schedule and a to-do list to stay focused. Volunteering for National and Arizona Chapter HFMA activities consumes a number of my hours each week. I spend another four hours per week at the St. Mary’s Food bank, volunteering in a number of interesting roles, from packing emergency food boxes to registering families as recipients.

    I do not focus on having a spotless home, and Kirk LLC CEO and HERe contributor Jennifer Erickson motivates me to continue reading great books. I also make time to visit with my girlfriends: Afternoon movies, garden shows, the Arizona Ballet, and lunches (of course!) now decorate my calendar. Each month, I fly to Vancouver and spend five days with my dad.   

    What's Your Number?

    So, how exactly do you get to the point of creating your own fulfilling retirement scenario? My advice is to be disciplined about creating your financial plan for retirement. Nationwide Insurance is running a clever television advertisement featuring a married couple frantically engaged in high-energy household tasks to avoid having a conversation about planning for retirement. Nationwide has done its research; this commercial is a reflection of many people's reality.

    Even more bleak is the fact that one-third of all Americans have no savings for retirement. Drilling down even further, 38 percent of women have no savings for retirement. An additional 25 percent of women have saved less than $10,000. Sadly, 63 percent of women do not have a basic financial plan for retirement. All of these numbers are compounded by the fact that women generally live longer than men and need to save more money before they retire to avoid outliving their nest eggs.

    I certainly hope that you don't find yourself reflected in these difficult statistics. If you're looking for a place to start planning, I recommend a new book by Chris Hogan titled Retired Inspired: It’s not an Age, It’s a Financial Number. In the book, he simplifies the things you can do to get started:

    • Get your spending under control; reduce what you currently spend.
    • Get out of debt: Pay off your car, pay off your credit cards, and consider selling your house.
    • Maintain your health.
    • Set a savings goal, and work toward that goal.

    These are the basics. Like the couple in the Nationwide commercial, you can avoid thinking about it and put it off until you’re done washing those rosebushes, but I don’t recommend this approach. As a strong woman leader, you can take charge, starting with a simple retirement calculator. When you know what your “number,” or monthly income requirements will be, you can start saving to reach that number. 

    Start Here

    There are many excellent references available for free on the Internet:

    Mary Lee DeCoster is a revenue cycle consultant at MLDeCoster Consulting in Phoenix.


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