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  • Writer's pictureBridget Sullivan Mermel CFP(R) CPA

Happy Retirement Planning: 4 New Ways to Plan Your Happiness Now!

Happy retirement planning is about more than the financial aspects of retirement. It's also about planning not just to retire, but to feel the happiest possible during your retirement years.

Money, happiness, and meaning, is a particular area of interest for Bridget. She discusses how the latest research in what makes people happy before and during retirement can help you think through your own plans to retire.

First, she talks about the latest from Carolyn McClanahan. Carolyn is an MD as well as a financial planner. She helps clients focus on their health and what is best for their health in the long run as well as there money.

We also talk about Kathleen Reihl's work. She's a retired from financial planning, but still active in the financial planning community. She talks about how to make plans with your spouse for how to use your time. She also discusses how new life expectancies can influence how you think through your life.

We discuss John Nelson's work in What Color is Your Parachute for Retirement. He advocates understanding both your values and roles.

Last, we discuss Paul Wong's work on how and why people over 80 score the highest on studies looking at who finds the most meaning in life.

Here are our firm websites:

Bridget Sullivan Mermel:

John Scherer:

And references of people we mentioned on this video:

Carolyn McClanahan:

For advisors around the US:

Thanks for watching and please subscribe!


Bridget: Many people want to retire, but they're at a loss for how to think it through. We'll give you our four top ideas for how to plan for and think through what retirement is really going to look like for you.

Hi, I'm Bridget Sullivan Mermel and I have a fee-only financial planning practice in Chicago, Illinois.

John: And I'm John Scherer. I have a fee-only financial planning practice in Middleton, Wisconsin. And before we talk about retirement planning, Bridget, I want to remind all of our viewers to hit that subscribe button. That helps other people find this show and helps us rise in their rankings. And with that, I'm really excited to talk about how to prepare for retirement. A lot of what we deal with, of course, are the numbers and the taxes and the investments and all those sorts of things.

But this topic we're going to talk about today is how you actually retire—what happens? The non-financial things that are really more important, probably, than the financial things. So I'm really excited. I know you've done some research. Why don't you tell us a little bit about where we're going to start with this conversation?

Bridget: Yeah, well, we're going to talk about four main thinkers, four ways to think this through. So the first person I want to bring up is Carolyn McClanahan. Anyway, John and I are both familiar with her, and I just saw a session with her and she's an MD as well as a financial planner. So she's got a little different perspective. She's talking about focusing on what you will regret if you don't do it. So it took me a while to wrap my head around that, but I think that it's a good way to frame your thinking, and it's an easy question to answer.

John: So from a practical standpoint, what things would I regret? While I kind of draw a blink, like, what types of things?

Bridget: And this is for me, I started my bucket list of travel places. Such as, I'll regret if I don't go to Japan, Australia, and somewhere else that’s not coming to my mind right now. I guess I won't regret it that bad 😊. Anyway, that's one thing. And again, it gives you a way to frame the question “How do I eliminate bad feelings?” Because there are three parts of happiness. There's feeling good, not feeling bad, and meaning. So she's focusing on not feeling bad. How do I avoid regret?

John: Interesting. As you're describing this, it reminded me how early in my career I had a client and we were having a similar sort of a conversation about this. And I distinctly recall the next meeting that we had. They came in and the wife said, “Well, we booked this trip,” and I have no idea what they're talking about. And I say, “Oh, good. What trip is that?” She said, “Well, we were having that conversation about what things you would regret or what's really important to you…” And I sort of thought, in passing, he had said if he never got to go elk hunting out west (that was one of his big bucket list things) that he would regret it in some fashion. And she said, “Well, boy, when I heard that, I couldn't live with myself if something happened and he didn't get to do that.” So he made that trip reservation. And again, it was really interesting for me, sort of like, “Oh, I didn't even catch that. And that was one of the critical things.” But the idea of taking action—like you talking about taking your trip—can be something that's really meaningful for a person.

Bridget: Right, exactly. So if you think, “If I don't do XYZ before I die…” What's your bucket list? And regret is even a little more extreme than bucket list. Bucket list is what I aspire to, but regret is, “Okay, these are the things I know I need to do.” The other thing she talked about is reframing retirement and slowing down work. So work stresses people out and they don't like it. But the conundrum is that people's health outcomes once they retire are worse because that little bit of stress, interacting with people, challenging your intellect, all those and probably working with hands maybe, depending on who you are, those all kind of help you stay alive and stay vital. So she's an advocate for working longer, but not as hard when you're older.

John: Part time working, those sorts of things.

Bridget: The thing is, for most people that's something you have to design yourself. There are some industries, like healthcare for instance, where you can be a part time nurse or a part time physical therapist and it's all set up for you. But there's a lot of industries where it's not quite so much. You have to figure out, “Okay, how am I going to do this?” But having a little bit of pressure actually helps you and helps your longevity. So underlying her idea as an MD is that you're going to live as long and as happy as possible. So maybe you don't care about that, but assuming that's your goal, those are two ideas.

John: I know that you were talking about some other research you've done on aligning your values and sort of identifying, again, similar topic, but a different vein, like what's really important. Tell me about that.

Bridget: So John Nelson wrote a book called What Color Is You Parachute? For Retirement. That got me interested in values. So, really understanding what your values are and then planning your activities around your values really helps. Because a value plus a goal equals more meaning. And again, meaning is one of the three parts of happiness. So that feeling of “that hits the spot,” that's really resonant. So an example for me is I realized when I was doing this that one of the things that I really care about is the environment. And, when I thought about it more deeply, it's the trees. Okay, I don't work with trees. I love the tree in my backyard, but then I thought about it a little bit more, and it's like, “Oh, yeah, when I was a kid, I would go in this great tree that we had in the backyard, and I would just spend a lot of time in this tree. That's pretty fascinating.

Okay, so I like trees, but again, I don't deal in trees. I'm dealing in financial planning. It's like a totally different. Okay, so I like trees. So I started donating some money and getting more involved in trees. Now trees plus, “Okay, I want to try to plant some trees across the street.” That all came to pass, and it oddly hits the spot. It's ridiculous how much pleasure I get out of that compared to…

John: By having commended those values related to it there's something that you wouldn't have guessed.

Bridget: Yeah.

John: Sounds like you wouldn't have guessed it.

Bridget: Yeah. I wouldn't have thought it except this research. So that's how understanding your values is important, and then planning some goals and activities around those.

John: Yeah. So that's really excellent. Interesting. You have a personal experience of how it kind of shows up on that. What else do you tell your clients or talk about?

Bridget: Again with John's research, it’s interesting. He talks about the roles that people can have. So think about the roles that you might have in your life, and if you don't think about it in retirement, you'll end up defaulting to the home keeper role or the caregiver role. So if you think of yourself as an artist, as a scientist, as an environmentalist, as a hunter, whatever—if you don't think about it and say, “Yeah, this is important to me, trees are important to me,” then I'm going to do the thing that comes to me. And the thing that comes to you if you don't do anything else is your house and caregiving. For example, “I need some help. Can you take me to the doctor?” Not that you shouldn't help people. Maybe that's your role.

John: Being intentional about things you’re doing.

Bridget: Exactly. Otherwise it’s your default. There's nothing wrong with those roles at all. They're great roles, but if that's not your groove, then you want to be intentional and say, “No, I'm doing trees today. I can't see the contractor.”

John: We talk with clients oftentimes about the idea that there's no right answer to many discussions we have, but being intentional about things, whether it's saving your money or what you're doing. It doesn't matter what it is, but as opposed to turning around and going, “Geez, I never thought about that,” to be proactive on that is really key.

Bridget: Yeah. Okay. So another great thinker on these things is Kathleen Reihl and we both know Kathleen. She's well into her seventies now, and she's actively writing, et cetera. But one of the things she was on—I’ve got a TV show called the Chicago Money Show, and she was on my TV show talking about how you might live until 100. So that reframes it. When I think about how I could live to 100—and that's what's current with technology—that makes me more comfortable with retiring at 75. 70-75. Because I think, “Okay, how long do I need to be retired?” 25 years. That's fine. Reframing ‘how long is this going to last?” Because people tend to think that they're going to die younger and they then keep doing things. One of the things my husband keeps saying is, “I keep thinking I might go, and then I last another ten years.” Which I'm glad 😊 Thank you!

Anyway, the other thing she's advocate for is, before you retire, with your spouse, backs turned to your spouse, write out Monday- Sunday with all hours in the day. Then ask yourself “What am I going to be doing each hour?” And then compare notes.

John: Yeah. Interesting.

Bridget: And see, okay, how are you filling your day? And again, be intentional about it and make sure you plan time with your spouse. But then you're going to both want to be doing other things, too.

John: Yeah. We talk all the time with people about taking vacation. Being gone for a week, being gone for two weeks or a month is fantastic, but then there's always work to come back to when you're on vacation. When you retire, it's every day. I had a client who described it and I think it was really great. He said, “Every day in retirement is not like being on vacation. Retirement is like every day is Saturday. Vacation you're off whether you're at the beach or up at the lake or whatever it is, and you're relaxing. On Saturdays when you're working, you've got things to do. There's stuff around the house and there's projects and there's things, and you've got to go back to work. And it's that rhythm.

I thought that was a really interesting way to look at it. It's not vacation. It's every day is Saturday, which is cool, but on your 777th Saturday in a row, what do you do? It's great for a while. And then what happens Monday through Friday when you got those 24 hours to fill up? If you haven't thought about that, that can be a huge challenge for people. And I love that idea of going back-to-back with your spouse and say, “Listen, what do you think versus what I think?”

Because that's a real difference than just having a conversation the other day at a party with somebody about, “Hey, now suddenly you're in my space all the time. Here's my plan.” This was one of the spouses was already retired, and the other one was going to and they're saying, “Yeah, we're trying to figure out how to make this thing work, sort of a thing, because if you're not on the same page or have some understanding, you don't want to get to retirement and suddenly be all in each other's business. It's really challenging.

Bridget: Yeah. When one or both spouses are working, you've got a bunch of built-in time away from each other. A lot of people also want alone time just at the house by themselves. So you want to be able to accommodate it. Okay. So the last figure I've got is Paul Wong, and he is—you wouldn't have heard about him in our circle—a researcher on the topic of meaning. And again, we've got happiness, we've got feeling good, not feeling bad, and meaning. And meaning is that feeling of really hitting the spot. And so Paul Wong, according to his research, says people over 80 have the most feeling of meaning.

John: People over 80?

Bridget: Yeah. And you do a natural reflection on your life because you're putting it all together. And so when you talk to people who are in that age group, even it can be over 75, there's this whole kind of life review going on.

John: Interesting.

Bridget: And so I thought that was just a very fascinating topic and a fun thing to look forward to, like, you're kind of putting the whole puzzle together. All the pieces are in place now and you can kind of put it all together and make your story. So I just wanted to mention that that's something to really look forward to.

John: Yes, absolutely. That's a great thing and I think it's a great place to sort of wrap things up. There are four super ideas about how to make retirement meaningful for you. Again. I'm John Scherer and this is Bridget Sullivan Mermel. We both run fee-only financial planning practices, and both Bridget and I are members of the Alliance of Comprehensive Planners. So if you like what you hear on our show, you can go check out Both Bridget and I have clients all over the country, so feel free to reach out to us. But if you want somebody in your local area it’s to find somebody in your area.

Bridget: And don't forget to subscribe to Friends Talk Financial Planning. It helps our YouTube ratings and helps other people find our channel.

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