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by Kelsey Erin Shipman

A Woman’s Guide to Meaningful Retirement

Money is perhaps the biggest question women wrestle with when considering retirement. It doesn’t seem to matter how much money you have, there is always the possibility for more. Another year, another project, or another client can always provide a little more umpf to your savings account. However, at some point, you may start wondering if that additional check is really worth it. In addition to finances, there are a lot of lifestyle questions that arise when considering retirement. Depending on your work, it is likely that much of your daily schedule is determined by others. You wake up at a certain time, eat lunch at a certain time, and go on vacation at a certain time, all depending on the specifics of your job. When you retire, you can choose your schedule — it is up to no one else but you. Do you really want to get a part-time job, or start a side business, and lose some of this freedom? Or, will you be more content with some measure of outside influence on your life? You will be happy to hear that there are a lot of ways to generate post-retirement income while maintaining the lifestyle that you want. In fact, several studies show that women report higher levels of happiness when engaged in part-time hours as opposed to full-time work. It may take some trial and error, but that’s one of the greatest benefits of retirement, you have the freedom to explore.

Maintaining a sense of meaning and purpose is also a common concern. Whether you spend your working days saving lives, supporting children, or growing a business, you likely come home at the end of the day with a sense of accomplishment. It can be a challenge to find another post-retirement routine that provides a deep sense of satisfaction, especially if you are leaving your field entirely. This also connects to feeling of self worth and the impending changes to your identity. You might wonder what your time is worth if you are no longer operating at the top of your field, exercising a high-level skill set developed over many years. So many of us define ourselves by our titles, and are unsettled without the words manager, director, department head, or chief next to our name. And, how could it not be this way? We spend the vast majority of our waking hours at work. Most of our friendships are developed at our work places. Some people even meet their spouses at work. It is only natural that a large part of who we feel we are is defined by where we spend so much of our time. But, it is worth asking ourselves how we might understand who we are if we took Maya Shankar’s advice to define ourselves by why we do what we do. The central motivating factors of our work don’t necessarily change after retirement, which means the core of our identities don’t have to either.


Changes in physical and mental health are, to some degree, inevitable as we age. I know I am not the only woman out there who has worried about how those changes may dictate the day to day quality of my life. And depending on where you live, healthcare can be a big factor in your retirement plans. Similarly, your spouses’ health may dictate your arrangements or cause some concern for the future. Most of us want companionship as we age, and regardless of marital status, may need to seek out additional close relationships for this period of our life. Married women often worry that their husbands will die before them (as much of the research shows, especially after the Covid-19 pandemic), or are uncertain how their relationship will weather this huge life change. Single women may fear the isolation of living alone, or be nervous about dating later in life. However, wherever you are in your journey, there are endless creative solutions to health and companionship as we age. It is also possible that you may relish your solitude and thrive without the daily grind. 

Once you commit to retirement, creating a plan is perhaps the most important step. You don’t want to start too early before you are serious about retiring, but you also don’t want to start when it is too late to lay substantial groundwork. Of course, building your savings should start early in life to provide the largest financial cushion possible. But, the details of financial planning (where to put investments, how to access stock dividends, etc) should start three to five years before your expected age of retirement. This is a good opportunity to talk to a financial advisor and make plans for how you'll manage without a regular paycheck. This is also the time to start learning about financial approaches to retirement from experts like Suze Orman or online resources available through places like Ameriprise and Morgan Stanley.

An important step is to schedule an independent evaluation of your finances with a financial planner and/or your financial institution. Not only will this help you set specific financial goals, it will bring to light any overlooked details that could interrupt your retirement plans later on. You may be asked to record and regularly monitor your budget and monthly expenses in order to get a sense of exactly how much you will need to maintain your lifestyle during retirement. Some people even attempt to live on their fixed retirement income for a year to make sure they are satisfied with the lifestyle. Remember, your retirement could last for twenty or thirty years after you stop working. You want to be fully committed to your financial plans before you take the next step. 

Healthcare costs are also essential to consider when planning your post-retirement budget. Depending on your doctor’s recommendations, it may be a good idea to complete major procedures before leaving your regular job while you still have access to employer-provided healthcare. You may also need private health insurance to bridge your access until you qualify for medicare. Of course, you can only plan so much. Emergencies, unforeseen illnesses, and accidents occur without warning. Do your best to research insurance options throughout your retirement process to maintain the best care for you and your family.

The most important piece of advice I can offer women approaching retirement is to seek support. Yes, you should do your research and educate yourself on finances, healthcare options, and employer-provided retirement benefits. But, cold hard facts are not the same as a supportive friend or sympathetic family member. The changes up ahead are big. A robust support system is necessary to develop a new mindset and embrace the opportunity presented by retirement. This is the time to lean into your girlfriends for support through this major life transition. Good friends will talk about the fear and the excitement associated with retirement, and loving partners will be able to hold space for your emotional ups and downs.


Like all major life events, there can be a series of competing feelings when you retire. Many people experience a honeymoon period of a few months or even a few years where the freedom to go and do whatever you wish is intoxicating. But, this period is often followed (or sometimes preceded by) feelings of loss over the end of your working life. A life coach, therapist, or support group can help you develop coping mechanisms and provide emotional stability during a potentially tumultuous time. Organizations like WISER, AARP, The Red Hat Society, Sixty and Me, and Savvy Ladies can help with planning your finances, connecting with other retirement-age women, and accessing retirement-planning resources. As you work to create a new identity outside of work, it will only help to connect with other women on a similar journey.   

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