By William Evans

Retirement can be many things, a heaven you long for or a terror you flee, the beginning of a new adventure or the end of everything you value. Regardless, unless death calls you earlier, it’s coming so you better get ready.

Remember the advice on how to eat an elephant—one bite at a time. Preparing for retirement is similar. Divide the process into manageable bites and deal with the pieces.

Retirement needs seem to logically fall into two big areas, the physical things (money, housing, food, health care) and the mental things (how to manage and react to everything including people and the physical things). Then divide these two into smaller bites.

Since most of us have to deal with physical things, start there. Begin by asking the following questions.

Where Am I Now?

The easiest way to answer this question is to create a realistic net worth statement. A net worth statement is simply a list of all the things you own minus all the debts you owe. It does not need to be precise to the penny, but it should be close. Don’t over-value things like cars, home furnishings and personal property items.

You should do this annually. Year end is a good time since the necessary information is already available from tax calculations. Life and retirement are about more than things, but things can be comforting, helpful or even necessary.

Where Am I Going?

By comparing two years’ net worth statements, you can determine if you are making progress toward your goals. The first step to financial success is spending less than you make. The second step is making money work for you through savings and investments. By reviewing your net worth statements over a period of years, you will get a clear picture of your progress.

How Long Do I Have?

This is simply the number of working years to retirement. Certainly some will face unforeseen events such as disability or even an early death. These unknowns should be managed as much as possible through wise use of insurance. Health coverage, term life and disability coverage are all important to protect your family during your working years. However, the vast majority of us will live a full life. Your planning should plan for that.

How Much Will I Need?

No one can know for sure, but there are some good guidelines. Look at your spending habits now; this is the best gage. Financial advisors suggest you will need from 65% to 100%+ of your final year’s income to feel comfortable. Somewhere in that range should be your target. If you own your own home and enter retirement with no debts, you will be at the lower range. If you plan to do a lot of traveling or have high health demands, you may be in the upper range.

Where will you get your retirement income? Most will count on something from Social Security. Remember it is only designed to replace about 45% of the income for the lowest wage earners, down to 23% for those with maximum taxable earnings. Where will you get the remainder to sustain you and your spouse?

There are many possibilities:

A formal retirement plan provided by or through your employer should be used when possible. Our Free Will Baptist program is available to all paid employees of a Free Will Baptist church or agency.

Personal savings and investments including traditional and Roth IRAs are an integral part of every successful plan.

You may receive an inheritance or help from your children or other family members.

Supplemental Security Income and state welfare programs may be available if you have none of the above and are in great need.

Your lifestyle will make a big difference in what you need for retirement. If you are accustomed to spending a lot during your earning years, you will find that cutting back drastically makes retirement difficult.

Now for the Big Question, How Do I Get There From Here?

Determine as best you can how much you will need at retirement, how much you can save each year, and what those savings will earn compounded to retirement. Accumulating sufficient retirement assets requires just three things: savings, earnings and time. Pardon the parody, but the greatest of these is time.

Here is the retirement savings good news: time is your greatest ally in accumulating assets . . . when you are young. If you aren’t it can be a terrible foe.

About now some of you are saying, “Well, I will trust the Lord to provide for me.” I remind you that He may have already been providing during the working years.

Should a Christian really be concerned about his personal retirement years? Our earthly future is uncertain and we are instructed to live by faith. Besides, retirement has only been possible for ordinary folks during the last 100 years or so anyway.

Although the Bible addresses retirement only briefly or indirectly, it does deal with greed. There is a short reference to the retirement age of priests as 50 in Numbers 8. Consider the ant in Proverbs 6:6, the admonishment to provide in I Timothy 5 and, of course, the classic picture of Joseph’s gathering for seven years in Egypt to distribute during the famine. Read especially Genesis 45:5, 7. In light of these, preparing for the future—retirement if you will—does not seem anti-Bible, anti-God, or anti-faith.

God should control our savings and accumulation as much as our present income. He urges us to be generous and willing to share whether we have little or much. By restraining ourselves during the earning years there will be some for the yearning years. Having more than we require at retirement is much more desirable than having too little. A generous soul can always redistribute the excess.

If the things are being taken care of, then we need to consider our emotional preparation.

Start considering now when your retirement day will come.

No matter what you can offer the church today, there is coming a time when either you or the church will feel you can no longer meet the demands. Let me suggest that you begin now to accept the fact that one day you will need to retire.

Look at your personality today.

You are building each day the person you will be down the road. Be sure you are putting into your life the things you will enjoy for years. Retirement will not increase your interest in anything. It will give you more time to be what you are becoming. Make sure you will be the kind of person your spouse will enjoy, appreciate and respect.

Continue, or begin, developing interest in a number of things. Learn about your community and the people where you live. Get acquainted with your local library. Check on the needs-area ministries or social services. Take up a hobby.

Remember you are a social creature. You need to be involved with other people. Remember that pet owners generally out-live people who live alone.

Start some type of exercise program. Check with your doctor and remember that walking is one of the least stressful and most beneficial exercises. Those who can’t do anything else can do isometric exercises. I recently read that just tensing the muscles while seated on a long flight will help eliminate blood clots in the legs. Do something.

You are more important than the work you do.

Regardless of the pressures and frustration you feel in your work, your job often becomes a significant part of who you are. Leaving your job is often threatening to more than just the loss of your income.

Retirement is not the end of life. New federal figures indicate the average 65-year-old can expect to live another 25 years or more.

Retirement is the transition from doing what you must do to earn a living (even when you enjoy it so much you would do it for free) to doing what you want to for fulfillment. It may also include working for pay to sustain or supplement income.

Preparing for retirement requires allowing Christ to mold you inside so that you can enjoy who you are. When that is achieved, others will enjoy being in your company and the image of Christ will be clearly seen. Retirement will be full and complete regardless of whether it is short or long, well financed or not.

Christian workers should look for areas to serve where they are wanted, needed and are comfortable. When that work is rendered without the need for reimbursement, it qualifies in the Lord’s more blessed category. It adds a special flavor to the golden years.

Retirement is an Opportunity

What does a retired Christian worker do? Those who love fishing will fish, golfers will golf, travelers travel, readers read—but no one does any of those things all the time. It is important for each of us to develop an interest in a number of things. Try several things and find those that are right for you.

Some retired pastors have said to me, “I’m having a hard time in retirement. I’m not important to anyone anymore.” Well, there are many smaller churches that could and would use a retired man if he were available. But to pastor after reaching retirement age simply from the need for income or emotional addiction is not good.

The post-retirement pastor may not be able to provide the shepherding he desires or the church may reach a point where it wants and needs a change. Part of life is to have some significance and retirement should not diminish that. However, it will require some changes in the way we use our time and how we are gratified. How should Christians, especially those who have given their lives in service, approach retirement? There are so many questions. How much will I need in retirement? Where will I live? What will I do with all that time? Will I maintain my health? Will I need to get a part-time job? How will I relate to my church? . . .denomination?

Article adapted from Contact magazine, August 2001.