Throughout your career, you’ve taken a vow to protect and serve your community. And as you near retirement, you want to know you’ll be able to relax and enjoy the benefits you’ve worked hard to earn. In fact, 88 percent of public sector employees find their retirement benefits to be extremely important to them, compared to only 65 percent of private-sector employees.1 But in an effort to find success in retirement, there are a few things you’ll want to consider doing beforehand to make the most out of it.
Tip #1: Prepare For an Emotional Transition
The camaraderie and sense of family public safety employees like police officers, firefighters and paramedics feel is often unparalleled in the private job sector. From years of working 12+ hour shifts together, having each other’s backs in the face of danger and serving passionately for the community, public safety employees often find that their identity is strongly tied into what they do and who they work with.
While “crisis” may be too strong of a strong word, it doesn’t hurt to start preparing yourself for the unexpected emotional journey transitioning into retirement may bring. If you worked alongside a partner or a team, you likely saw them five or six days a week, for eight, 10, 12 hours at a time. As excited as you are for retirement, you’ll likely miss their company.
The good news? The bond you’ve created with your fellow public safety employees is likely not going to break just because you’ve retired. Make a game plan to keep in touch before you leave for retirement, whether it’s dinner once a month, check-ins every few weeks or a yearly weekend trip.
Tip #2: Determine What Retirement Will Cost & How Much You’ll Have
One of the big draws of working in public safety is the likelihood that you’ll be retiring with a pension plan. But in the years leading up to retirement, it’s important to start discussing with your financial advisor exactly how much you can expect to receive versus how much you’ll be spending on average and how you can make up the difference.
For example, the average retiree will spend around $4,274 in out-of-pocket healthcare costs, not including long-term care.2 While there’s still plenty of time to prepare, take the time to look into your retirement income options to see if you’re taking full advantage of every opportunity you have. If you served in the military, you could be entitled to additional benefits, for example.
Don’t just enter into retirement expecting your money is taken care of and waiting for you. Be sure to check in on your pension plan once a year, or on a regular basis, to make sure everything is still on track and no mistakes or oversights have been made.
Tip #3: Start Planning Your Next Move
Public safety employees, such as police officers, tend to retire earlier than the average age of 65. Depending on the state and department, pension plans can start kicking in after 20 or 25 years of duty. In fact, the average age of retirement for police officers is 57.1 years old.3
While you may be daydreaming about days of sleeping in, relaxing and traveling, it’s important to remember that you’re going to have a lot of time to fill (10 to 15 more years than usual) - and “typical” retirement activities may not cut it for you. If you’re retiring at 50, you may still have plenty of energy and drive to do more than leisurely activities like reading or hanging around the house. Instead, you very well may want to continue enjoying an active lifestyle, meaning you need to find something fulfilling to spend your time doing.
Before retirement hits, start thinking about what makes you happy - perhaps you could turn a hobby into a part-time job, pursue an activity you’ve always wanted to try or head back to school to study for a new career path.
Tip #4: Maintain (Or Develop) Healthy Habits
It’s no secret that as a public safety employee, you’ve put your life on the line for years. And with that amount of stress, strain and physical impact, the damage isn’t done just because the job’s over. Trauma felt while on the job can often leave a lasting impact on employees’ health, both mentally and physically.
As you near retirement, start thinking about ways to incorporate healthy habits into your new routine. Pick up an exercise routine, join a fitness class, learn how to meditate or do whatever it is you feel keeps your mental and physical health in good standing. You’ve worked hard to reach retirement, you deserve to be healthy enough to enjoy it.
Retiring is both an exciting and emotional time for everyone, and public safety employees are no exception. But with a career of serving the community behind you, retirement should be a well-deserved time of enjoyment, exploration and relaxation. Take these tips into consideration as you prepare for your own retirement ahead.
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