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Getting to know your "retirement personality"

Tips to help you plan and talk to your family about how you want to approach retirement

Retirement is about more than money. It's about how you are going to spend your time. What you're going to value. What you're going to prioritize. We've defined five basic retirement "types," each with its own set of joys and challenges. This is true not only for the retiree, but for their family as well.

Once you have a better idea of what you want to prioritize in retirement, the real fun can begin: talking to your friends and family about how you want to live (and what your plans might mean for them). 

This guide is here to help. See below for the unique considerations for your "retirement personality" type. There are also some tips to help you navigate the conversation with your family when the time comes.

We encourage you to wear these ideas lightly — they are here as conversation starters and ideas to explore, but nothing is set in stone. Stay open and have fun!

Choose your retirement personality below to get started. 

Vagabond

What it means to be a Vagabond in retirement

As a vagabond, you've waited your whole life to have the freedom to see the world. Now you're doing it.

For you, retirement is all about exploration, experience and being open to whatever comes your way. When you're not crossing off destinations on your global travel bucket list, you're exploring the community where you live.

While travel is at the top of your list, consider thinking about the following.

How often do you want to be “home?” And what does that “home” look like?

Unless you plan on traveling 100 percent of the time, you’ll still need a place to call home — but that doesn’t have to look the same as it does now.

If your family is still concentrated in one area, maintaining a home near family may still be important to you — and to them. But consider whether your current home is more than you’ll want or need when you retire, and think about what might better fit your needs when you get there.

Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • If I keep my current home, how often will I be there? Is it worth keeping if I'm there infrequently?
  • What would it mean to me and my family to sell the family home? Would the emotional cost outweigh the financial benefits, or vice versa?
  • Do I want or need more than one home? Am I going to spending significant parts of the year in one place? If so, it may be more efficient to have two smaller homes than one larger one.
  • How much space do I actually need? Could you also downsize your possessions? Are there things I simply don't need anymore?
  • How will I maintain my home once I'm a frequent traveler? What kind of help would I need? Who would I look to for help?

Downsizing to a townhome or condo may be more suitable to an on-the-go lifestyle. They're also easier to maintain. But a townhome or condo — which has less space — can change the family dynamics around holidays and get-togethers if you're used to playing host. How would downsizing affect you, and also your family?

What kind of Vagabond do you want to be?

There are many ways to explore the world. Each can offer very different experiences. Consider testing the waters with some trips now. You can also game out how you might travel, planning trips but not taking them in order to explore different travel styles. Either way you can ask yourself:

  • Do I want to stray from the beaten path and focus on nature? Or do I prefer a golf resort or beach life? Or am I more interested in exploring all a new city has to offer?
  • Do I want to be my own tour guide, or travel in a group?
  • Do I want to plan every detail in advance? Or do I want to just to hit the road and figure things out when I get there?
  • Do I always want luxurious accommodations? Or do I try to stretch the budget, or prefer to rough it?
  • How do I want to get there? Go by air? On a cruise? Road trip in my car — or maybe even an RV?
  • How might my family feel about these different styles? What might they prefer in terms of my safety, how much contact they'll have with me, how long I'll be gone, and so on?

How to talk to your family

As you get closer to retirement and have a better idea of what traveling the world will look like for you, share your plans with your family. Here are some points to consider:

  • How much time do you plan to be on the road? If you’re planning a couple big trips per year, that may not be too different than what you do now. But if you’re planning on being away from home 90 percent of the year, that’s going to be an adjustment — especially if you live near your family and they’re used to seeing you often.
  • How will (or won't!) your travel plans involve the rest of the family? Will exploring be a solo activity, or do you envision bringing the rest of the family along sometimes? And would you pick up the tab? While the idea of blazing new trails with you may sound amazing to your family, it may not be financially or logistically possible because of work, school, and so on. If having your family along for the ride is important to you, be sure to have an open conversation about what's realistic for everyone.
  • What's your "adventure quotient" when it comes to travel? You may feel great roughing it and thrill seeking, but your family may be more tentative. The opposite can also be true! You may want to play it safe, but your family may want you to take more risks. You never know until you have the conversation.
Do-Gooder

What it means to be a Do-Gooder in retirement

You've always been about helping others and making a positive impact on the world around you. Now you're doing it full time.

For you, retirement is all about giving back and spending your time lifting up people other than yourself and your family. Maybe you're helping keep your local parks clean, volunteering at a church, school or nonprofit, packing meals at the local food shelf or traveling the world cleaning up the oceans.

Whatever it will look like to you, making the world a better place is at the top of your list. Here are some things to ponder before you dive in head first.

How ambitious do I want to be with my efforts? And what does "saving the world" look like?

There are so many places of need, and yet you're only one person and you only have so much time. Even with the best of intentions you may need to prioritize so you can make the most of your time.

You may want to consider:

  • What are my most important causes? If you're someone who cares a lot about everything, can you make a top-5 list? How about picking a top 3? Or, if you're more focused on a single issue, how can you explore it more deeply?
  • How can I use my skills to make a more lasting, meaningful contribution? Charities and nonprofits always need basic volunteers. But you might get more out of the experience if you're doing something you're good at already. What are some work or life skills you can apply to your new pursuit?
  • How much time do you really have for helping? Retirement means more time to do what you want, but it doesn't mean infinite time. What's a typical week going to be for you? How much time can you budget for helping others?
  • How much of an impact do I expect to have? People who help others can often burn out if they have outsized hopes for change. Who can you talk to now to help you frame your expectations?

What kind of do-gooder do you want to be?

There are many ways to help people. Each brings very different experiences. It may be worth experimenting with volunteering now. If not, then doing research on your favorite cause can help you gain a better understanding. While you're exploring ask yourself:

  • Do I have a specific cause that's near and dear to me? Or do I want to explore my options?
  • Do I want to take on a big issue? Or a smaller, more manageable issue?
  • Do I want to help close to home? Or do I want to travel and do my volunteering abroad?
  • Do you I want to work with individuals, such as teaching people to read? Or do I want to help an organization by providing support in one of their offices?

How to talk to your family

As you get closer to retirement and have a better idea of what doing good will look like for you, share your plans with your family. Here are some points you may want to discuss:

  • How much time do you plan on giving to the cause? Your family may have expectations about how much time you're going to spend with them. If you have grandkids, then your children may be expecting some free babysitting! It can help to talk about availability now.
  • Is there a financial component? For example, are you considering donating part of your retirement savings? If so, then you may want to prepare your family for the fact that you are going to be spending your money on charitable giving instead of yourself (or them!).
  • Where will your good deeds take you? If you plan on working with challenging people or communities, your family will respond better if they know the risks you're taking now. Even if you traveling often would stress your family out, it may ease their minds if they understand why.
  • What's your ultimate motivation? Your family will probably be more supportive if you can articulate the "why" of the good works. Help them understand why this is important to you.
Artist/Maker

What it means to be an Artist/Maker in retirement

You've waited your whole life to have the freedom to create. Now you're doing it.

For you, retirement is all about following your passion for making things, whether it's artistic or functional or somewhere in between. When you're not mastering a new skill or technique, you're enjoying the company of like-minded souls or voraciously consuming the best of your chosen field.

While creativity is at the top of your list, here are some things for you to think about before you dive into your new creative endeavors.

How dedicated to your craft do you want to be? And what does that look like?

Some makers like to tinker. Others dream of starting an entirely new life pursuing their dream.

Either way, if this is something you've long dreamed of doing — but have put it off because of career commitments — the reality may come as a surprise. Questions to ask yourself:

  • How much money am I willing to spend on my pursuits? Will I want to rent or build a studio? Will I go back to school? Am I planning on selling my work, or doing it mostly for fun? Will travel be involved?
  • How much time do I plan on spending on living this new dream? Do I want to throw myself into it? Or take my time and explore?
  • How might my work change your existing relationships? Do I see myself making this craft my top priority? Or will family come first?

What kind of artist or maker do you want to be?

There are many ways to build beautiful and lasting things. But each discipline brings very different experiences. Ask yourself:

  • Do I want to work mostly on my own? Or do I want to have my creative pursuits be a more social experience? You can write a book all by yourself, but you could also start a writing group. What's more appealing?
  • Do I want to learn on my own or take classes? If I want to take classes, do I want to get a degree or some kind of certification?
  • Do I want to make money from this work? Or am I more interested in creativity for creativity's sake and finding a new purpose for my time?
  • What kind of budget would I need to follow this dream? Writing poetry will cost only a trip to the office supply store, but being a potter may mean buying a kiln. If I have a more expensive dream, how can I start saving for it now?

How to talk to your family

As you get closer to retirement and have a better idea of what your creative work or hobby will look like for you, share your plans with your family. Here are some points you may want to address:

  • How much time will you be "in the studio" (or equivalent)? Following your artistic dream can be very time consuming. You will definitely have the time, but your spouse or family may have different expectations about how you spend your time. If your family is looking forward to you being more available in retirement, they may look askance as you choose to take more of that time for yourself.
  • How does your family feel about your dream? Sometimes families are supportive of creativity. Others are skeptical or even suspicious. Find out now if they want to be a part of your pursuits or if you're going to find a community of your own. A little reassurance goes a long way.
Lifelong learner

What it means to be a Lifelong Learner in retirement

As a lifelong learner, you've waited your whole life to have the freedom to study, practice and generally expand your horizons. Now you're doing it.

For you, retirement is all about the personal growth and development. When you're not reading a book you're taking a class or practicing a new language with a friend. While learning is at the top of your list, you might want to consider the following:

How seriously do you want to pursue your studies? And what does that look like?

Even a lifelong learner can only learn so much. Having a sense of what's important to you and what takes priority (and why) can help shape your approach. You may want to consider:

  • Am I on a general quest for knowledge? Or is there a single subject that interests me most? If you're one of those people who's interested in everything, then can you make a Top 5 list? How about a Top 3? Or, if you're more focused on a single topic, then how can you explore it more deeply?
  • Will this intellectual pursuit be completely new to me? Or a continuation of a current interest? If it's the former, you may want to think about what it might mean to start from scratch. If it's a current interest, it's worth exploring if more time and commitment means "better" or if it more simply means "more."

What kind of lifelong learning interests you?

There is so much to learn. But each subject or topic can make for very different experiences. If you can experiment now, that's great. If not, then you can do research and talk to people about their experiences. Either way, try asking yourself:

  • Do I want to learn on my own? Or do I want to join a group of similarly curious people?
  • Am I interested in casual learning? Or do I want to pursue a degree or certification?
  • What do I want to get out of it? Is this learning for the sake of learning? Or do I want to apply that knowledge in some way, that could lead to a new job or craft?
  • How much do I want to challenge myself intellectually? Learning a new language or to play drums may sound like fun, but am I setting myself up for disappointment? Conversely, will it be enough to dabble? Or do I need a rigorous, multi-year learning project with a challenging goal to keep me going?
  • How much do I want to challenge myself personally? Some subject matters leaves us unchanged. Other topics can challenge how we look at ourselves and the world around us. How uncomfortable do I want to make myself?

How to talk to your family

As you get closer to retirement and have a better idea of what learning and growing will look like for you, share your plans with your family. Here are some points you may want to discuss:

  • How much time do you plan to spend on your personal development? If it's essentially replacing your pre-retirement career, how will that have an impact on your family? What are their expectations for your availability?
  • Will your pursuits have a significant financial impact? Going back to school to get a degree late in life is a wonderful thing to do. But it can also be expensive. How will your family react to you dedicating that much money?
  • If you've decided to challenge yourself personally, how does your family feel about that? Will you need their support? Or are you determined even if they don't exactly approve. These are good things to explore now!
  • How might you want to include your family in your goals? You may be thinking about retirement as a solo project, but your family may enjoy being included. Is this something you could learn along with your spouse or kids, or is this an opportunity to spend more time with your grandchildren?
Mover and shaker

What it means to be a Mover and Shaker in retirement

You've waited your whole life to have the freedom to start a business, create a nonprofit, or launch some kind of new venture. Now you're doing it.

For you, retirement is all about getting things done. When you're not researching markets for your products, you're at a seminar on how to be a more effective leader. While making things happen is at the top of your list, don't forget to consider the following.

How ambitious are your goals? And what does effectively continuing to work look like?

Age is no reason not to continue to be a dynamic, effective person. At the same time, even semi-retirement still means slowing down (even if it's only a little!). You may want to consider:

  • What do I want to get out of this new chapter in my life? Do I want conventional success as defined by the terms of money, power or status? Or is the pursuit valuable on its own, regardless of the outcome?
  • What's my tolerance for risk? Unless you've been an entrepreneur during your career, starting a business or other venture may carry more risk than you're accustomed to. This isn't a reason to not follow your dream, but you may be happier going in with open eyes.
  • What are the financial implications for my nest egg? Start-up costs almost always run over. What is the financial contingency plan for a slow start? What are the tax implications of success? Consider talking with both a tax advisor and a financial professional before you make any big decisions.
  • How much time and energy am I really going to have? This cuts both ways. A young, fledging organization may need more time than you are able to give, even in semi-retirement. The same can be said of successful organization. Whatever the case, be wary of your physical and emotional limits, perhaps even more than you were during your first career.

What kind of mover and shaker do you want to be?

There are many ways to start something new late in life. Each can bring very different experiences. You're probably already working on your business plan, but you'll also want to be emotionally ready for following your dream. Ask yourself:

  • How big or small do I want this project to be? No matter the organization, scale always presents a challenge. Start thinking now about your aspirations and the growth path of your venture.
  • Can I do the work on my own, or will I need a staff? Plenty of small businesses thrive on one person's talents and hard work. Others inherently need employees. What would be your preference both logistically and experientially?
  • How technologically savvy do I need to be? Is there anything new I need to learn? Using e-commerce templates for an online store can be relatively easy to set up on your own with relatively inexpensive tools available today. But selling online can also mean competing on a global level, not to mention having to effectively use social media to promote your work and serve your customers. How can you start planning now to master running your business on the internet later?

How to talk to your family about your plans

As you get closer to retirement and have a better idea of what moving and shaking will look like for you, share your plans with your family. Here are some points you may want to discuss:

  • What kind of time investment will your endeavor require? Launching a business can be incredibly time consuming. Talk to your family now about what expectations they may have about your availability.
  • What's your family's tolerance for risk? You may be comfortable going for it. But your family may have different ideas about how much financial or personal risk you should be taking on in retirement.
  • What kind of support do you expect from your family? You may be counting on them helping out. They may have different ideas. It can help to talk out how you may want them to be involved, and make sure everyone is on the same page from the start.

Need to know your retirement personality?

This quiz is all about taking time to dream and find out what you really want out of retirement.

Take the quiz

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See how one family dealt with tough conversations involving a decision to downsize in this story produced with The New York Times' T Brand Studio.

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