Portrait of smiling senior female friends drinking coffee at patio

Retirement should be a transitional but joyous time in your life. But for many Americans who aren’t prepared for it, retiring can be a difficult transition and a trigger for anxiety and stress. According to a 2014 Federal Reserve survey, 31% of working adult Americans have no retirement savings or pension, and about 38% of respondents have no intention of retiring and plan to work as long as possible for a variety of reasons.

After learning about this study, I thought it would be valuable to talk to a recent retiree who could share some first-hand knowledge of the retirement process. I was fortunate to get to talk to Marilyn Keller in February, just a month after her retirement from her career as a Detroit public school teacher. I wanted to learn about how she prepared for retirement and find out if the process was as scary as it sometimes seems. Check out what she had to say:

MarilynKellerQ: Were you ready to retire?

A: On one side, I never thought retirement day would come. But then when it comes, you aren’t ready. For me, all of these emotions came up. I’ve been a teacher most of my life – 27 years – and I’m leaving the job market early at age 56, and not at 62.

I think I was ready; I had to wake up at 5 a.m. every day, so retirement is a nice change. When I started working in Detroit Public Schools, things were good. Then the system started having problems later on.

Q: What are your retirement priorities?

A: I’m really focused on my health right now. I’ve thought about it before, but now I have more time to focus on losing some weight and maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

I also plan to take care of my mom, who is 81 now. She doesn’t drive and lives alone, so I’ll have more time for her, too.

Q: What’s your biggest fear?

A: Feeling financially insecure. I hope that I stay within my budget and don’t overspend from month to month. I also want to stay busy so that I don’t end up sitting around.
Q: Financially speaking, how did you prepare for retirement?

A: Luckily, I had a great financial advisor. Thank goodness for him! With his advice, I started socking money away every month. I invested in the stock market and put money away in my 403(B).

I also opened a Roth IRA account that really helped me save for retirement. I met with my financial advisor at least once a year to make sure I was on track with my savings plan. He sometimes made adjustments, which was a great thing.

Q: When did you secure your financial advisor?

A: I connected with my advisor as soon as I started my teaching career. At first, I thought, “I don’t need this guy’s help.” But I needed a professional perspective to think things through on my behalf. Securing him was the best thing I ever did.

I’ve always been good with my personal finances. My mom was an accountant, so I’ve always been one to regularly check my accounts. I told my advisor I wanted to put more money in savings than I needed to, and he did that.

Q: What’s the best thing about retirement?

A: I LOVE having more freedom just to be able to do what I want to do. I don’t have to get up every day, and I have more time to visit my friends.

Q: What’s the worst thing about retirement?

A: I think everyone wants to feel useful, so I think the hardest part is redefining your life’s purpose.

Q: How does Social Security factor into your retirement plan?

A: I will start receiving Social Security when I’m 62. But everyone’s financial situation is different, so some people delay receiving benefits.

Q: What exciting changes come with retirement?

A: My husband and I decided to downsize, but we wanted to be on some water. So we thought, “Why not get a cottage or something? That way, maybe down the road, we can fully retire there.”

We just purchased a house in Fair Haven, Mich. (about 40 miles outside of Detroit), with an amazing view of Lake Saint Claire. But the cottage needs some work done to it.

Q: Do you plan to work again?

A: I may get a part-time job down the road, but it won’t be in education. I’ll have to see how I’m feeling.

Q: What else are you planning to do in retirement?

A: I like the arts, and I like to write. I’ve already started writing a children’s book about a superhero. I have a few projects that I’m thinking about.

Q: What’s your advice to someone who is nearing retirement?

A: Well, before retiring, consider taking financial risks. Sometimes there’s value in investing in property and looking for other long-term investments. Prior to retirement, sit down and evaluate how much money will be coming in when you’re retired, what your expenses are and how much you’ll want to travel. If you haven’t secured a good financial advisor, definitely find one.

About six months prior to my retirement, I thought, “Every day is going be great! I’ll feel like I’m on vacation every day.” And now that I’m retired, at times it can get a little lonely.

You can’t just sit around and watch TV all the time. I think it’s important to have some things going on even in retirement. It’s also good to stay connected with your friends.

Q: Is there anything else you’d like to share?

A: As you get closer to retirement, start thinking about what your life interests are. Consider what you always have wanted to do. Find something new, take a course or volunteer to help people. Think about ways you can leave a positive impact on the world!

Marilyn says she knows many people who aren’t financially ready to retire. We can learn a lot from Marilyn, as she’s put a lot of effort into her retirement preparation. Her valuable advice can help soon-to-be retirees take the next step with more awareness and confidence. If you’re a retiree and would like to share some advice on how others can prepare for retirement, share it below.

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