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Redefining Retirement for Gen X and Beyond

For Gen X and beyond, what does retirement look like? Is it even still retirement?

For many of us in Generation X, retirement is a life we can’t even imagine. Not that it’s so far away, or that we’re not saving (although many Gen Xers aren’t), but rather, retirement simply doesn’t mean to us what it meant to Baby Boomers and World War II babies. 

So let’s redefine retirement for those born between the early 1960s and the early 1980s. How are we different from our parents? What are we scared of? What drives us? What do we think when we hear the word “retirement?” 

Less and less often are we seeing people retiring from the Fortune 500 board room or widget company to a gold watch and a life on the golf course. And in the cases where folks are getting a gold watch, it’s part of their severance. 

We’ve seen our parents retire simply because they reached a certain age, usually 60 or 65. Or we’ve seen them retire because they reached a certain number of years at the company or in the school system. Or maybe they retired due to health concerns that weren’t life-ending, but required them to back off from their career. 

For me and many of my peers in Gen X, the drop-dead retirement date where we sail off and do… something else… simply doesn’t appeal to us. Playing golf, or volunteering, or coffee at the country club eventually becomes its own work when you have to do it every day. So, why would we stop doing something we enjoy with people we enjoy, where we’re also getting a paycheck, due simply to age or season of life? This is not your father’s retirement, folks. 

As people are living longer and longer, this also becomes a factor – we don’t know how long of a retirement we’re going to have. Plenty of people make whimsical comments like “Oh I’ll work forever,” and while some of these people are those who haven’t saved a dime at age 50, just as many are people who are saving diligently, but simply can’t imagine what else they’d be doing. 

Perhaps you’re reading this thinking, “But I don’t enjoy what I’m doing now…” 

I know some people hate their jobs, and while I can’t empathize with that as I’m not in that position, I do understand that for these folks, working to 65 to get their government benefits (think Medicare) is a perfectly good plan. But I also want to warn you about the possibility so you can start preparing mentally – if you do plan to work just to get your government benefits, you’re probably going to have to keep at it till you’re at least 70. This is likely the reality for the post-Boomer generation. If people are living longer, what’s wrong with them working longer? That’s how the government will view it anyway, in my opinion. 

As retirements get longer with people living longer, most Gen Xers won’t have saved enough to get all the way through it. But we do want you to enjoy life now – save a little, spend a little, maybe work more years but fewer hours toward the end of your career. But above all else, make sure that where you’re spending a large portion of your day is doing something you enjoy. If you’re not, find it! You could very well have another 30 or 40 years there. Think on that for a minute. 

How do your thoughts and goals about retirement, or the later part of your working life, differ from those of your parents and grandparents? For all you Gen Xers reading this, are we close to hitting the mark with this newsletter? Or do you have different ideas about what retirement will look like for you? We’d love to hear your thoughts during your next planning meeting, or hit reply on this email and let us know. Learning more about your goals, concerns and vision for the next decade and beyond helps us serve you better as you work toward the life you’ve dreamed of. 

Article by David Smyth, CLTC, Senior Partner at Family Financial Partners — a financial services firm in Lexington, Kentucky.

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