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ARCHIVED  November 1, 1997

Retirement an emotional, financial transition

“For the aging person it is a duty and a necessity to give serious attention to himself.”

Entering the world of senior citizenship is a bit like entering a foreign culture: There is the thrill of being someplace new, and there is culture shock. Nothing is exactly familiar, and the coping mechanisms that worked for earning income and raising families no longer apply. The first signal of senior status appears magically at age 50 with an invitation to join the American Association of Retired Persons. While it might seem premature for one so young to make any claims for special treatment, this particular invitation with its promise of discounted airfares, hotel rates and meals at IHOP serves as an early warning that retirement draws near. Income and independence — those standard North American measures of success — will be shrinking relative to the world at large.
Erica Marjoram, a Fort Collins public school teacher, will take early retirement in two years, and for her 25 years of teaching, she will receive 50 percent of her salary. She is already thinking about what daily adjustments she might have to make.
"Obviously, I am concerned about maintaining my lifestyle on half of my income," Marjoram said. "If I had gotten financial advice earlier, I might have done some investing, but now I expect I will have to continue with some kind of employment to supplement my pension."
Marjoram is the sort of retiree for whom discounts for banking, movies, food, travel, recreation and entry into the National Parks were designed: She is well-educated and healthy. She also belongs to the group that JoEllen Thornton, a certified financial planner who specializes in retirement counseling, spends a lot of time with.
"Death, divorce and retirement. Those are the times of financial and emotional transition," Thornton said. "As people approach retirement, they become concerned that there will not be enough money no matter how well they have planned."
Thornton points out that, while 25 years ago retirement amounted to about six years, it is not unreasonable today to expect retirement to last 26 years. That is a long tour to plan for financially, and Thornton suggests that the invitation from AARP is a good early invitation for couples and singles to start thinking about the trip. Not all retirements created equal
The day to day, month to month concerns of retired persons — who typically live on 70 percent of their previous income — are different from the concerns of those whose incomes are still growing. However, the systems that support the population of retired persons parallel those of the working population.
The very poor are already in the loop for food stamps, Medicare, and other state and federal assistance programs. The enthusiastic Sustacal population that invested well, has a good pension and can afford supplements to Medicare insurance (e.g. nursing-home insurance or home-care insurance) is typically well-informed enough to take advantage of various marketing ploys from American Airlines senior coupons to the Golden Age National Park Pass.
Retirees with money in the bank move it around to catch good deals from programs such as Poudre Valley Bank˜s Silver Medallion Club Account or the Prestige Account from Norlarco Credit Union.
In contrast to the very poor and the economically comfortable, retired middle-class wage earners and the retired working poor may never have entered the loops of public assistance or financial counseling. Lynette McGowan, the long-term care ombudsman for Larimer County, points out that there are many in this group of senior citizens who are just one illness away from financial ruin. These are the same people who may have depended on informal networks in a neighborhood or apartment complex to help with little repairs and transportation to the doctor.
"But if that helpful neighbor dies or moves away," McGowan said, "then an elderly person in need of assistance may not know how to get access to the help he or she is entitled to such as with food and household repairs."
Phases of retirement
Thornton identifies three phases of retirement for those who have the means and have planned well. In the first phase, which lasts from six to 10 years, spending goes up as the retiree(s) travel and enjoy the freedom from work. In the second phase, retirees tend to settle into a home base, at which time spending goes down and holds steady. But though the wanderlust may be over, the desire for a full social and recreational life is not.
Facilities such as the Fort Collins Senior Center, with its lap pool and fitness room, serve a still active population interested in a familiar place for social and recreational activities. Seniors for whom Spanish is the first language can participate in programs sponsored by the Los Ancianos Unidos (Hispanic Seniors˜ Club) at the North Aztlan Community Center.
The Aspen Club at Poudre Valley Hospital also serves a broad, but settled senior population. "Our focus is to promote health," explained Eileen Hendy. "We have some social events such as a supper club and a lunch group, but our classes focus on health issues and on making all seniors educated consumers of health care."
The third phase of retirement involves the loss of independence and the financial costs and adjustments that go with it. This phase introduces everything from simple assistance with shopping and transportation to full-time care and medical support. For the most part, there are systems in place to provide assistance (listed in guides such as the "Services Guide for Older Adults in Larimer County"). The trick is knowing the services are there.
Georgia Hochenderfer is in her 80s and still gets around in her 1972 Dodge. "I like being independent," she said. "I have lived in this same house since 1960. I don˜t drive at night, but when the weather is good I can still drive to the grocery store and church."
However, when her leg was broken, Hochenderfer depended on Meals on Wheels, and she uses Dial-a-Ride (discounted for seniors) when she goes to visit the doctor. When the weather is bad, the volunteers at Steele˜s or Toddy˜s deliver her groceries.
Meals on Wheels, a national organization, operates throughout Northern Colorado. Volunteers for this organization deliver one hot meal per day to those who are homebound. The meals are not free, but the delivery is.
For those seniors who still like to cook but who have trouble driving to the grocery store, there are delivery systems in place. For a $9.99 fee, King Soopers will deliver to residences in those cities where it has stores. The volunteers who take once-a-week food orders for Steele˜s and Toddy˜s deliver for free.
In Estes Park, especially when the weather turns harsh, the Country Super Market offers free grocery delivery Monday through Friday.Senior Chuckwagon, a county service, will make home deliveries, although it is best known for mixing food and sociability. Larimer County residents who are 60 or older can meet for meals ($3 contribution) at senior centers in Bellvue, Fort Collins, Loveland and Wellington Monday through Friday.
Forewarned is forearmed
So, finally, how do people get ready for a retirement that comes not all at once but in stages with shifting financial and emotional demands?
"Talk," Thornton said. "No matter the size of your retirement account — or if you have one at all — after age 50 or 55 set aside some time each month and talk about what your retirement will look like. What will you do more of? Less? Will you move closer to the kids or stay put? Where will you get help when you need it? Get used to the future, and the transition will go more smoothly."

“For the aging person it is a duty and a necessity to give serious attention to himself.”

Entering the world of senior citizenship is a bit like entering a foreign culture: There is the thrill of being someplace new, and there is culture shock. Nothing is exactly familiar, and the coping mechanisms that worked for earning income and raising families no longer apply. The first signal of senior status appears magically at age 50 with an invitation to join the American Association of Retired Persons. While it might seem premature for one so young to make any claims for special treatment,…

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