How to break retirement into bite-size pieces

Year planner with colorful thumbtacks

Image: Flynt/

The temptation with retirement is to consider it a 20-year-or-so period of time that’s an empty space to enjoy life. But without thinking and planning, that space could easily become a wasteland. A 20-year-or-so wasteland.

20 years is a long period in a lifetime. If you’re 50, you were 30 years of age 20 years ago. If you’re 60, you were 40.

And, of course, if you’re 50, in 20 years’ time you’ll be 70. If you’re 60, you’ll be 80.

This amount of time needs some thinking. And planning. The easiest way to do this is to slice your 20-to-30-to-whatever year retirement into bite-size pieces.

1. The first six months

Even those who haven’t thought much about retirement tend to get this period right.

This is the time for the long-planned-for holiday. Working on the renovations. Clearing out the shed. Setting up the office or craft room. Establishing the garden. And so on.

Those who haven’t thought much about their retirement beyond this can get to the point where they’re asking, what now?

2. The first year

A year is a good time to create regularity and routine in your life. That includes especially a weekly and, perhaps, monthly routine.

You can ask questions such as these to help in your planning:

  • What will your typical week look like?
  • How do you include the things you know you should do—keeping active, for instance?
  • How often will you visit family—if near or far away? Grandparents are important for grandchildren. Grandchildren are important for grandparents.
  • Will you plan to go away regularly?
  • What clubs or interest groups will you belong to?
  • How will you give back to the community? A proven bonus to giving back is improved physical, mental and cognitive health.
  • How will you use the skills you have?
  • What skills do you want to develop?

3. And the next year

If you work through the kinds of questions in point 2, you probably won’t be able to achieve what you want to in just one year. That doesn’t mean you don’t have new plans as time goes by, but it may be helpful to look at each year as it comes and plan for it.

Warning: This is not about over-planning so every minute is accounted for. Retirement has the freedom to take advantage of opportunities that may arise. That’s part of the retired life.

4. The first five years

It’s worth having a list of things to consider at the end of the first five years. And to do a serious stocktake of your health and situation. For instance, if you live in a big house with a big yard, is it time to downsize? It may not be, but these are the kinds of questions that need to be considered.

5. Repeat

What you’ve done is set up a system that allows you to look at your retirement years in manageable pieces. That makes it easier to handle than attempting to imagine a 20-year period of life. And it will help you make the most of your retirement.

That’s why it’s worth repeating the process. Annually. Five-yearly (quinquennially) too, to reassess your situation for some of the bigger decisions you will need to make.

6. Be flexible 

Being flexible is important because life is complex. There will be times when you have to do something different to what you planned. There could be a family crisis you need to help with. Your health may change suddenly. On the plus side, an opportunity may arise that you want to take up.

Retirement should give the freedom to do that.

7. Couples need to work together

Being part of a couple can be a delightful complication that calls for discussion and negotiation. But remember you’ll not be doing everything together or separately. You’ll have your own lives and interests, but as a couple, you’ll also have joint lives and interests.

Remember this dad joke? Question: How do you eat an elephant? Answer: One spoonful at a time.

The 20-or-so year retirement elephant is also best handled in bite-size pieces.

Bruce Manners is the author of Retirement Ready? and Refusing to Retire, and founder of

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Category: Planning

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