Retirement Isn’t for Sissies

May 28, 2014

Radiologists might find that planning for and enjoying retirement is more challenging than expected.

I recently spoke with a physician who is about to retire and was surprised to hear him say, “Well, since I am retiring soon, I guess I need to find a hobby.” With all the unhappiness in medicine these days and the threats and/or dreams of retirement that are so frequently heard in the doctor’s lounge, I am amazed at how little actual planning for retirement is being done. It has been said that the average American spends more time planning for a vacation than for retirement. Doctors are probably much worse.

There is a retirement crisis in this country-both in the funding of retirement and the detailed planning of what that retirement will look like. The old scenario of working for the same company until one’s mid-60’s, receiving a gold watch, a pat on the back and heading off to the fishing hole or rocking chair has long ago become passé. This is especially true for physicians. Physicians start their careers, on average, at least a decade later than most workers, frequently with substantial debt and often a limited career span, especially for some of the surgical specialties. Radiologists are fortunate to be able to have long careers if they choose. I know a radiologist in his mid-80’s who still actively practices in the community hospital setting.[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_crop","fid":"24722","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image media-image-right","id":"media_crop_2273029034168","media_crop_h":"0","media_crop_image_style":"-1","media_crop_instance":"2173","media_crop_rotate":"0","media_crop_scale_h":"0","media_crop_scale_w":"0","media_crop_w":"0","media_crop_x":"0","media_crop_y":"0","style":"height: 172px; width: 250px; border-width: 0px; border-style: solid; margin: 1px; float: right;","title":" ","typeof":"foaf:Image"}}]]

With the possible exception of my octogenaradiologist friend, most people live as long or longer in retirement as their active work years, so it can be a tremendous challenge to properly fund that retirement. Physicians must earn and save enough money during their working years to sustain them throughout their retirement. We tell our retired clients that they need to think of their retirement savings as their new employer. By employing a saving-first mentality and following a prudent investment philosophy, the accumulation of a retirement nest egg can be relatively straightforward, however. The real challenge starts when actual retirement begins.

Most people have no idea what it will cost them to live in retirement. So long as they are working and there isn’t too much month at the end of the money, life lurches along in a more or less comfortable fashion. When the paycheck stops and you have to start living on a budget, reality rears its ugly head.

It used to be said that people should plan on living on about 70 percent of what it cost them to live pre-retirement. Now, needing more than 100 percent of that number is closer to the mark. People in retirement are healthier, living longer, more active, more able and willing to travel, and frequently have more financial responsibilities, including aging parents and children and grandchildren in need of assistance. We recommend that our clients “practice” retirement by living on their retirement budget for the year before they actually retire.

There are other important aspects like spending more time with a spouse who is used to you working all the time. This is frequently a painful adjustment. Many physicians feel defined by their profession. The loss of status and self-esteem associated with physician retirement is not to be underestimated. What will your days look like after retirement? Will you volunteer, teach, travel, start another career? An excellent book to help you explore this topic is Don’t Retire, REWIRE! by Jeri Sedlar and Rick Miners. It has had a profound effect on my life.

I wished my friend luck on finding a hobby to fill his time and the void in his life when he leaves his long career in medicine. He is in for some real challenges. Retirement isn’t for sissies, you know.