Five questions for Bart Astor on retirement roadmaps

Roadmap to the rest of your lifeBart Astor is a recognized expert in life’s transitions and eldercare. His new book, AARP Roadmap for the Rest of Your Life: Smart Choices about Money, Health, Work, Lifestyle, and Pursuing Your Dreams, was released in May. He recently agreed to answer a few questions about the key themes of the book for RetirementRevised.com’s readers.

Q: In your book, Roadmap for the Rest of Your Life you introduce the Level of Activity scale. What is that and how does it affect your life?

A: We have so many preconceived notions of age. Yet we all know people who play ball, ski, run marathons and work out regularly well into their 70’s and 80’s. We also know people who are not so active, either by choice or because of health problems, injuries, or other limitations. These folks may be high intensity just like the Type A’s but they have different interests. When we think about how we plan to live the rest of our lives, one of the key factors, and one that shapes many decisions we make, is the degree to which we want and can be active.

So I developed the Level of Activity scale to help guide people in their decision making. It ranges from ‘extremely high,’ essentially the type A person, down to ‘very limited,’ someone who has difficulty with mobility and leads a very sedentary life. Your personal LOA is important in making choices.

Q: You talk about a successful and rewarding “second adulthood.” What is the second adulthood and what are some of the common challenges we face?

A: At 50+ we’ve gone through childhood and we’ve established that we’re adults. But we’re not yet into that “third age” a term that some people have used to label older folks. Rather, in our second adulthood, we’ve entered the back nine. Our kids are mostly grown, our careers are at their peak or close to it, and we’re thinking more about our legacy.

Bart Astor

Bart Astor

I think there are some big challenges we face at this point in our lives. First, we probably don’t have or don’t know what our goals are. We’ve always had goals: What we want to be when we grow up. Getting into college. Getting a job. Getting a better job. Having a family, etc. But now what? Setting goals is a challenge, particularly in our 50+ years. In addition, we probably don’t have any role models. Certainly we’re not like our parents. Their choices were fewer and they lived shorter lives. As we think about slowing down at work or retiring, or moving, or determining our lifestyle, we have to be planning long term, that is, for another 20, 30 or more years. That’s a bit overwhelming to grasp. But thinking long range affects our choices: lifestyle, health, legal issues, and finances.

Q: In discussing the transition from full time work you discuss living on a reduced income. What are some of the ways to accomplish that?

A: There’s no way around having to crunch numbers. When your income is less, you either reduce your expenses or start to take money out of your assets. While that’s why you were saving, you don’t want to outlive your money.

But I view budgets not as a diet, but as an opportunity to set priorities. When I budget I don’t use fixed and variable expenses like most analysts. Rather, I look at mandatory versus discretionary spending. And the really great thing is, as adults, we get to decide what’s mandatory.

The second thing I want to say about budgeting, and I’ve written a blog for AARP about this, is that I think the income we need to live on in our later years is about 82% of our current budget. That’s quite a bit higher than the number most planners use—they use 70%. But there are a number of reasons I got to this 82% and I refer you to the AARP blog for my reasoning.

Q: Many people say that they have no idea how they’ll fill their time when they’re no longer working full time. They say they have no hobbies or outside interests and fear they’ll waste their time. What’s your reaction to that?

A: Of course we have hobbies. We may not call it that, but there are things we like to do in our spare time. If you enjoy watching TV, it may not be a “hobby” in the strict sense, but it’s what you like to do—that is, it’s what you like to do now. Not forever. Now. It may be because you work hard and just need to clear your mind. But whatever the reason, it’s what you like to do. So first I invite everyone to stop judging what they like to do. There’s nothing wrong with it. You’re not bad if you veg out on the couch watching mindless reality shows. How different is it than reading a trashy novel?

I go through a lot of exercises to help you figure out what you’d like to do with your leisure time and I discuss the biggies like travel, education, and volunteering. Figuring out what’s on your bucket list is very similar to figuring out your goals. You observe yourself and what you do, you brainstorm, you observe others, and mostly, you don’t judge yourself or your ideas.

Q: You discuss ways you can accomplish leaving a legacy. What do you mean by a legacy and what are some ways you can leave a lasting one?.

A: The most fun part of writing this book was writing the last chapter where I discussed relationships with family and friends and leaving a legacy. We all want to be remembered and we all want to feel we have contributed something to the world. For some this can be a driving force leading to great accomplishments. I think that what pushes many of us to achieve is the desire to leave a legacy. And there are so many ways we can do that. We can provide a family history, we can contribute to a cause that’s important to us, the more wealthy among us can start a charity.

My wife and I, both of us having worked in student financial aid and believing strongly in need-based aid, have set up scholarships at our alma maters. The money will come from our estate after we die, assuming there’s any left. What all of us can do is write “the letter.”

You think about everything you would want to tell your loved ones and your survivors if you knew you didn’t have long to live. This isn’t like your last will and testament. It’s more like an ethical will where you share your values, your beliefs, and your life’s lessons. Here’s where you get your chance to speak directly to your loved ones and say all those personal things you wished you could have said earlier.

You can tell your grandson what it meant to you to be at his birth and to hold him just moments after he took his first breath. And how sad you would be if you won’t be able to watch him grow. You tell your partner about the joys your relationship brought to you and how you hope that after you’re gone, he or she carries on and finds happiness, even if it means with another partner.

Sometimes life brings the unexpected—illness, injury, or lottery winnings. But more often than not we see the ball coming at us right off the bat. As it heads our way we generally don’t have time enough to consider all the options. We needed to have thought about them before the ball was pitched. If I bobble the ball, that’s an error. Errors happen. If I don’t know what to do with the ball when it comes to me, that was preventable. That’s me letting down my whole team.

That would be my life’s lesson to share with my loved ones.