Forrest Gump, the lead character played by actor Tom Hanks in the 1994 film of the same name, left audiences with many memorable quotes. One that stands out is when Forrest says, “My mama always said life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.”
I consider chocolate to be its own food group, so this quote caught my attention. Opening a box of chocolate today I was dismayed to find there was no ‘map,’ nothing on the lid to give me a hint on how best to choose. Which one of these morsel-sized beauties would I like? There were so many choices, what if I chose poorly and was disappointed on the first bite?
While some may find this to be a jump. Planning and preparing for retirement is a lot like what Forrest’s mama said about a box of chocolates. Like my freshly opened box of chocolates, there really is no map for retirement. You can plan for financial security, but that has little to do with informing how best to prepare for, and enjoy, your retirement years.
Each phase of life before retirement includes numerous guide posts to inform what to do next and how to move forward. Family, friends, guidance counselors, coaches, bosses, countless professionals, even movies, and advertisements influence both our mundane and meaningful choices. For the next generation of retirees there is no such guidance.
Many people look to their parents’ retirement experience. Realistically that is unlikely to help. Retirement will be radically different, and that difference goes beyond money. Unlike the life enjoyed by the defined benefit pension generation, retirement is likely to be more complicated for tomorrow’s 401k retiree.
Here are just two examples. Future retirees are likely to live longer and to be challenged with the question — what to do with all that time? Smaller families and unprecedented high divorce rates will require different ways of preparing for caregiving and self-care needs in advanced age.
Back to chocolate. Without a box lid to describe the various choices, I am confronted by so many, in fact, too many, choices. I don’t want to choose the wrong piece, doing so could turn what should be a treat into a bitter bite. And, like healthy years and money in retirement, there are only so many chocolates in the box — we need to choose wisely. Retirement can offer so many life possibilities. Age-in-place or downsize? Move to the beach or to the city? Go back to school? Start a new career? Stop work, continue working part-time, volunteer, or pursue long lost hobbies?
So, how might Forrest Gump’s mama advise eating chocolate and retirement planning?
- Pop one. Pick a random chocolate and pop it in your mouth. This strategy can work, but it is a toss up, since sometimes you get a chocolate that has a filling that’s just not right. Unfortunately, this is how most of us plan for retirement. For example, many don’t necessarily choose to age-in-place by design, we often stay in our homes by default, only to find that it eventually becomes impossible.
- Take a bite. You know this person. They take a small bite of the chocolate and after deciding they don’t like it, put it back in the box. With a smile they say, “you might like it.” While that is just plain gross when it comes to candy, for some, trying out a retirement lifestyle might make sense. Don’t just plan where and how to live in retirement based upon vacation memories, try it out. If finances allow, rent a home, live there for an extended period. Experience all of it, the good and bad weather, the grocery stores, how easy it is to make new friends, the traffic, access to healthcare, etc. Live real life, not brochure retirement life.
- Share the box. While sharing chocolate is difficult for me, asking for advice is helpful. This entails working with a financial professional that helps you plan for your life in retirement, not just your financial security. A skilled advisor in longevity planning has both expertise and the collective experience of other people, many just like you, that they serve. An advisor that applies a longevity planning approach to retirement can help you to identify life options you never considered, to sort and consider the possible choices, and to help you anticipate and resolve the unexpected.