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Don’t fall for the great retirement hoax

In his job as a financial planner, Michael Jones helps people prepare for retirement. More and more, he is doing it by exposing what he calls a great hoax: the “coast and play” mentality that a successful retirement means having a stash of money and leisure-filled life.

Instead, Jones said he finds himself on a mission to promote retirement with a purpose.

“People concentrate on the financial aspects of retirement, and that’s about it,” said Jones, 48, president of Lifetime Financial Solutions in Louisville, Ky.

Most Americans, he said, “don’t have a really clear idea of what they would like to do in retirement and very few spend any time seriously planning” this important part of their lives.

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But then, consider the images of retirement we are bombarded with. Look at the cover of magazines when they run stories about retirement, or brochures for retirement communities or retirement-related financial products. Although things are slowly changing, the typical image remains one of happy - and obviously well-to-do - seniors traveling to exotic places, lounging by the water’s edge or swinging a golf club.

Result: The myth persists that without tons of money and leisure time, you will have failed at retirement.

“The financial media and financial planners sometimes are the culprit in perpetuating this idea, which is not realistic and may not be very healthy,” said Jones, who has been giving talks and writing about this issue.

We caught one of his articles, “Retirement With a Cause,” in last month’s issue of Journal of Financial Planning, a trade publication.

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The magazine editors actually changed the title. Jones told us his original was “The Great Retirement Hoax,” his way of saying that a retirement that’s all about money and good times is not what it’s cracked up to be. We wish the magazine had kept his original headline.

“Will a retirement of leisure and relaxation add value to the world around us? ... What about those who will never be able to completely quit work because they must keep working to make ends meet? Should they feel like failures?” Jones wrote.

“What I am proposing is the development of a retirement vision that encourages clients not only to dream about the home, car or leisure activity they desire but to clearly envision how they will continue to contribute to their family and community for as long as they can, physically and mentally.”

Want some ideas? Here are just a sampling from Jones, who is active in his church and the Boy Scouts:

  • Participate in reading programs for children in underprivileged neighborhoods.
  • Contact a local church or synagogue to help the sick, elderly or disabled. Perhaps these people need transportation to doctors’ appointments or other medical treatments.
  • Use skills you developed in your prime career years to help mentor young people.
  • Develop seminars and workshops in your areas of interest or expertise that could be delivered in community centers, churches, colleges or other venues.
  • Contact local elementary, middle and high schools to see if they could use “foster grandparents” to tutor students or assist teachers.
  • Recruit friends and neighbors to visit local nursing homes, bringing along pets or giving manicures. “I participated in one of these events and took my then 11-year-old beagle, Shadow,” Jones said. “Two of the residents, who almost never responded to human interaction, engaged me and Shadow. Talk about touching - these contacts may seem trivial to the common daily grind, but think of what could happen if this were repeated many times over.

“Of course, the individuals making these kinds of contributions will personally benefit from their activities, too,” Jones said. “All one has to do is recall the last time they did something constructive or charitable without seeking reward. The usual memory is that they came away feeling more content and blessed than perhaps those who were assisted.”