The typical milestones of life – school, work, marriage and raising kids – are usually concentrated in the first 50 years of life. So what do the next 50 years hold for you? These days, when making plans for those years of life, you have to take a lot into account: you may not have a pension to fall back on and need to think about income in later years, or maybe you don't want to stop working and are following your passion to a new career. Planning for the next 50 years can require a bit more thought than the first 50 – you should consider your goals, your health and your monetary expectations. Mapping out your plan can seem overwhelming, but it doesn't have to be.
First, ask yourself what you want. More time to be with family? Time to travel the world? Take on a new hobby? Whatever it is, set yourself up for success by taking the necessary steps to ensure a happy and healthy road ahead.
Make Your Plan
Where do you see yourself in 50 years? Answering this basic question may require talking it over with a spouse, friend, loved one or a life coach.
"A good place to start is by writing your objectives down, listing the most important goals first," suggests life coach Laura Kronen. "Having a written strategy is important in helping you live the lifestyle you desire. At first, don't focus on budget. Focus on ideas, and be as specific as you can. For example, instead of 'travel,' list 'trip to Venice' or 'African safari.' Instead of 'do volunteer work,' write down 'volunteer with my local animal shelter.'"
Kronen also suggests making a list of your sources of income and your expenses. "Start a journal depicting how you envision your life in your 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s. Be practical: Your list should rule out the unnecessary expenses," she says. "Make sure all your financial needs are met as you brainstorm. The more descriptive you are, the more tangible your outcome will be."
Kick the Bad Habits
The next step is to kick bad habits and improve your overall health – make sure you are sound enough in mind and body to accomplish these goals you've set for yourself. It will certainly be harder to enjoy your free time if you spend half of it at the doctor's office.
"We should all strive to make each decade better than the last," says Dr. Debra Carlton, associate medical director for primary care and informatics for Kaiser Permanente of Georgia. "Being intentional about improving and maintaining your health through your middle and later years requires a plan that begins with honesty about your current state."
To assess your current situation, Dr. Carlton says to ask yourself a few simple questions:
- What habits do you have that will affect your health?
- Do you smoke, use drugs or overuse alcohol?
- How are your eating habits?
- What is your state of mind? Are you anxious, depressed or stressed?
"Once you have faced your reality, you can move on to plan for a better state of health," Dr. Carlton says. In addition, it is important to know what screenings to get annually and when to get them done. Dr. Carlton says if you are going to visit only one doctor later in life, it should be your primary care physician (PCP). "A good PCP will be accessible, listen to you and be concerned about your physical and emotional health," she says. "He or she should share with you information pertinent to your concerns, putting you in the best possible position to make good health choices."
Annual screenings should include important immunizations, like tetanus and shingles, as well as checks of your blood pressure, weight, cholesterol and glucose. Living a healthy lifestyle also includes simple changes at home, like eating more vegetables, avoiding tobacco and engaging in physical activity.
Dr. Carlton recommends the following changes to your day to day:
- Get enough sleep. Most people need seven to nine hours per night.
- Learn ways to deal with stress. Stress affects you mentally and physically, so managing it well can improve your health.
- Enjoy your family and friends. Maintaining your family and social support system is key to feeling happy and healthy.
- Be a lifelong learner. Constant learning stimulates your brain and keeps you sharp.
- "Fortunately, most of the time, your health is under your control, so being intentional about your health will make a difference," Dr. Carlton says.
Dollars and Sense
You're healthy, you're ready to get out there – but what to do about those finances? Enjoying the upcoming years can be tough if the money isn't there to support the lifestyle you want. To get started, think about what you want to do over the next few years. "The amount of savings you need is a mathematical formula based on how much income you need a month," says Karen Lee, certified financial planner. "Ask yourself, did you pay off the mortgage? Do you want to move? Do you want to travel?" Debt can hinder these plans and should be the first area you tackle the next decade.
Having a realistic understanding of your finances today and planning for the type of future you want is one of the best ways to ensure your next 50 years live up to your expectations. Unfortunately, due to the recent economic crisis, even people who were conservative with their money lost out. Many people did everything right to prepare for their future financial security – they worked hard, saved and invested, but their savings still took a big hit.
According to the latest retirement confidence survey from the Employee Benefit Research Institute, a full 28 percent of Americans are not confident they will have enough money saved for later in life. But not all hope is lost – the future might not look exactly how you originally envisioned it, but with these tips, it can be just as bright. The obvious option is to keep working at least part-time at your current job. While you're still working, Lee points out, you can continue to fund a Roth IRA, 401K or 403b to reestablish some financial security.
But if you really had your heart set on leaving your current job, don't let a reduced savings account stop you. "Consider other nontraditional assets and passions that could help fund you later in life. Many hobbies and skills can be turned into real income," Kronen says. "Maybe you collect antiques or restore cars? Perhaps you're an accomplished pianist and can teach lessons? Maybe you are crafty and can sell handmade products on Etsy? Take what you are good at and where your talent lies and run with it." Options like these will help you achieve a later-in-life change without retiring. Instead, you can combine the exciting change you want with the supplemental income you need.
If you do find yourself working into your later years, it will be well worth your time. According to the Center for Retirement Research, the earnings for workers in their 60s and 70s are rising faster than those in their prime working years.
Keeping an active mind and body will make the next phase of your life a fun and fulfilling one. There's no better time than the present to learn a new skill, pick up a new hobby or meet new friends. Some questions to ask yourself when you're moving into your next act: What makes me happy? What will keep me happy long term? How will I continue to grow and thrive?
"As we age, our body changes, but our spirit is always youthful. Our spirit is what keeps us going," says Keisa Leprell Davis, a certified life coach. Davis, who works with a variety of people, says the best thing you can do later in life is get active, which will keep you thriving and satisfied. "Volunteer with a local organization, become active in the community or church," she says. "Find what you love and do it."
Jason Flurry, president of the National Center for College Planning, sees many people head back to school once they move out of the workforce. "A lot of people find purpose specifically at that season in their life. There are still things they want to accomplish," he says.
"The retiree is more of the non-traditional student with non-traditional wants and needs. They can reinvent themselves, and the reward of their own accomplishment can be more weighted than a paycheck." And it's never too late! Many schools offer programs for adults who want to continue learning through the years. In fact, according to the American Council on Education, adult learners have comprised close to 40 percent of the college-going population for the last two decades.
Regardless of whether or not your next 50 years contain the milestone of retirement, taking stock of your health, finances and avenues for life enrichment are crucial at this stage in the game. Use these tools to build the life you want, and turn the next 50 into the best 50.
Meet these Atlantans who are making these years their best.
The Career Changer
As a single mom, Tracy Ann Unsworth knew she needed a flexible, lucrative career to provide for her family and her own future. A 14-year career as a massage therapist offered her both qualities, but as Unsworth got older, massage therapy began to take a physical toll on her. So as she entered the next phase of her life, Unsworth decided to look for work that was less physically demanding and even more financially secure. Her research directed her toward a program studying medical diagnostic sonography and ultrasound at Georgia Northwest College. She attends class three days a week, is finished by 2 p.m. each day, and will have completed the program after only 18 months. This flexible school schedule allows her to continue massage until she fully transitions into her new career in the medical field. Her new career will not only provide her with many opportunities to work with doctors, hospitals or home health care, but it will also allow her to secure her financial future relatively quickly. "There are many options for our second phase of life," she says. "It just takes a little research, understanding of what's available to us with each job, as well as creative scheduling with school." After that, the sky is the limit.
When Judy Brannan retired from her position at Coca-Cola in 2000, she and her husband decided to leave the Atlanta area for a place "more laid back." They found an active adult community in Gainesville with more than 250 homes and plenty of neighbors to visit and enjoy.
"They offered what we thought were the elements of a fulfilled life. You can participate or not. You can keep really involved or do less if you want to. It's a place where people have common interests. We have a common bond here," Brannan says.
And Brannan does stay involved – she leads an exercise class, participates in games and water aerobics, teaches games like bridge and is in charge of the welcome committee to greet new residents. "It's a good way to give back to the community. We're grateful for being here," she says.
Jean Reiss retired a few years ago from her role as a psychiatric social worker and, along with her good friend Sharon "Scottie" Scott, seems to have conquered the globe. "We travel a lot. We have a trip planned to Antarctica. Scottie just got back from the Amazon. We've gone to Turkey, Ireland and the Panama Canal," Reiss says. "We go through our list of places we want to see and try to look at things neither one of us has gone to, like China, India and Thailand," Scott adds.
About 10 years ago, the pair decided to start what they called "Ladies' Poker Night," a club which has nothing to do with poker, but more about trying something new or attending a new event. "It's the luck of the draw. We try to keep the events limited in terms of money and output.
One of us will come up with an idea, and we will tell everyone to meet us at such and such parking lot on a Thursday, and no one will know where we're going. We have a ball," Reiss says. So far, the group has gone to a roller derby meet, various storytelling events, the Evacuation of Jonesboro, an Elvis impersonator dinner, and a kangaroo conservation center, to name a few. "We always try to include new people and reach out to new people. The friends we've made over the years with this group have been great. We've met the neatest people," Scott says.
Dr. Debra Carlton - Kaiser Permanente of Georgia, www.kp.org
Jason Flurry - National Center for College Planning, www.yourcollegeplanners.com
Laura Kronen - Be You Only Better, www.beyouonlybetter.com
Keisa Leprell Davis - Be You Be Now™, www.beyoubenow.com
Karen Lee - Karen Lee and Associates, LLC, www.karenleeandassociates.com