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Here’s How The 401k Fiduciary Dispels The “This Is Retirement?” Corona-Quarantine Fear

Here’s How The 401k Fiduciary Dispels The “This Is Retirement?” Corona-Quarantine Fear
April 21
00:03 2020

What’s it like to not have to commute? What’s it like to sleep in a little later than normal? What’s it like live a more relaxed, less hectic life?

If this sounds like retirement, you could be right. But it also sounds a lot like coronavirus quarantine.

And that’s spooked a lot of people. Do you know any of them?

As much as self-quarantine has open the eyes of some as to the possibility of retirement (see “Will Coronavirus Quarantine Convince You To Retire Early?, April 19, 2020), it has scared just as many into thinking retirement might not be all it’s made out to be (see “Will ‘Staying Safe At Home’ Boredom Cause You To Avoid Retirement?, April 19, 2020).

From the very beginning, the COVID-19 “stay at home” policy frightens people because it came out of the blue and froze everyone in place. It may seem like retirement, but it’s not. “Even though people are spending all of this time at home and getting a taste of what retirement could be like, there is a permeating fear of the unknown. which is paralyzingly different than the excitement of choosing to retire,” says Sonya Sigler, CEO at PractiGal in Vancouver, Washington.

Retirement is deliberate (or it should be). Progressing towards retirement is like a well-oiled machine (or it should be). Coronavirus seems more like someone has thrown a wrench in those gears. “Retirement is often a planned event, with time to prepare and create a new vision for your life,” says Michelle Sloan Jones, Chief External Affairs Officer at Money Management International, Inc. in Atlanta, Georgia. “The pandemic disrupted that process.”

Besides, it’s not like you’ve really stopped working. “For those who are telecommuting,” says Dr. Guy Baker of Wealth Teams Alliance in Irvine, California, “they have responsibilities to their clients and jobs that would not exist in retirement. It is likely they are not 100% divorced from their job.”

In fact, they may be working even harder.

“Staying safe at home is not the same as retirement. You still have a boss. You still report to someone who controls your work,” says Laura Handrick, a contributing HR Professional at Choosing Therapy in Brooklyn, New York. “Staying safe at home is not the same as retirement. You have deliverables, due dates, projects, meetings that you don’t control. You still have to get dressed (from the waist up anyhow) and brush your hair. You still have to focus on “work” during work times and keep personal activities after hours or between meetings, no different than when you’re working onsite. You still have distractions. Slack notifications, texts, emails, phone calls. In fact, now you have even more – FedEx Deliveries, dogs barking, kids home from school.”

With all the work that goes into retirement, though, this disruption is really like losing your job (which many have). “It is not similar to retirement as COVID-19 was wholly not logistically or emotionally planned for,” says Scott Bishop, Director of Financial Planning for STA Wealth in Houston, Texas. “In retirement, you may have at least initial plans to stay busy. This is more like a layoff than retirement.”

Still, many see the quarantine as a test run for retirement. “’Safe at Home’ policy is similar to retirement because you’re no longer going to an office, you now create structure and focus of your time,” says Michele Lee Fine, President of Cornerstone Wealth Advisory, LLC in Jericho, New York.

Because of this similarity, there are those who view this “test run” and say they never want to retire. “If sheltering in place is making anyone think of how retirement must feel, then I don’t want to EVER retire!” says Kyle Winkfield, President, Finley Alexander, Rockville, Maryland.

If you’re a fiduciary tasked with the responsibility of shepherding people towards a comfortable retirement, how do you dissuade them of this notion that they’re practicing retirement right now? In what ways is the coronavirus quarantine different than retirement?

Perhaps the most anticipated expectation of retirement is the unshackling of those duties and responsibilities that bind you to a job, a career, a profession. “The main hallmark of retirement for most is the ability to spend time how you want to,” says Brandon Renfro, a financial planner at Brandon Renfro, PhD Retirement Planning and Wealth Management in Hallsville, Texas.

Think of what being unbound means to you. This is what retirement represents. “Retirement should be a time of relational freedom,” says Luke Burton, Client Services Associate at Narwhal Capital Management in Marietta, Georgia. “Many retirees look forward to more time with family and current policies do not allow for those liberties.”

If you think this lockdown is like retirement, you are fundamentally mistaken. “Retirement should, ideally, bring more freedom to do what you want (within reason),” says Anna Barker, Founder of LogicalDollar in Oregon. “This policy is, by its very nature, the exact opposite of this.”

Consider how this shelter in place mandate prevents you from doing the very things you expect retirement to embody. “The ‘stay safe at home’ policy is not similar to retirement because in retirement most retirees are going to be active,” says Michael Foguth, founder of Foguth Financial Group in Brighton, Michigan. “They’ll be leaving the house and doing things every day.”

This, then is the biggest differentiator between retirement and quarantine. If a fiduciary comes across someone lamented retirement because they mistakenly assume the quarantine is taste of it, it’s critically to point out the contrast. “It is not similar because it is limiting people’s ability to experience life without work outside their homes,” says Jeffrey Benowitz of Certified Financial Services, LLC in Paramus, New Jersey.

“Retirees can at the minimum get together with friends for coffee, go to the library or mall walk,” says Timothy Hooker, Investment Consultant with Dynamic Wealth Solutions LLC in Southfield, Michigan, “but this policy eliminates all of those options.”

Yet, those option have painted the pictures of so many people’s retirements. The quarantine isn’t retirement. “You can’t leave to go anywhere,” says Ethan Taub, CEO of Goalry and Loanry in Newport Beach, California. “Most retired people travel places, where they can only do this online at the moment.”

But there’s much more to this current experience the mere loss of freedom. “Aside from not getting to leave your home,” says Roger Hewins, President and Founder of Team Hewins in Redwood City, California, “the key difference is the loss of income and fear about the future.”







Ironically, while there might be uncertainty regarding the future, the other aspect of the quarantine is, unlike retirement, it’s not forever. You will not be quarantined for the rest of your years. “The ‘Stay Safe at Home’ policy differs from retirement in that, hopefully, we can go back to our normal, or new normal, routine soon,” says Mike Lynch, Managing Director, Applied Insights Team at Hartford Funds in Wayne, Pennsylvania. “We know that our current situation is not permanent, and that we can eventually get back to going to work.”

And it is this lack of permanence that can give even the most sullen hope. This isn’t retirement. Retirement is tomorrow. And there’s always a tomorrow.

“Retirement is usually final,” says Max Kimmel, owner of One Shot Finance in New York City. “While you may be currently stuck at home, knowing it’s only temporary changes your mindset compared to a permanent change.”

Years from now, when you really do retire, you’ll look back at this last month or so and be surprised at how insignificant it seems. You may even kick yourself for not having the proactive discipline to buy low.

“Retirement is strategic while quarantine is reactive,” says Joanne Cleaver, Charlotte based author of The Career Lattice. “Planning for retirement should be holistic, including financial security, ways to stay healthy and to keep learning. Quarantine is a short-term solution to a societal problem.”

And therein lies the best way you can dispel the quarantine inspired “this is what retirement is like” fear.

“Retirement potentially offers increased options (where to live; how to arrange your schedule; who/how to socially interact),” says Des Moines, Iowa-based Steve Parrish, co-director of the Retirement Income Center at The American College of Financial Services. “‘Stay Safe at Home’ is the opposite. Some people perceive quarantine as a sentence handed down by the State, whereas retirement is a planned for life-stage to be embraced.”

Or, if you don’t want to use such a harsh metaphor, adopt Duncan Rolph’s approach. The Managing Partner at Miracle Mile Advisors in Los Angeles, California, says, “We are confined to our house so it is much more similar to being a grounded teenager than a carefree, retired adult.”

Christopher Carosa is a keynote speaker, journalist, and the author of  401(k) Fiduciary SolutionsHey! What’s My Number? How to Improve the Odds You Will Retire in Comfort, From Cradle to Retirement: The Child IRA, and several other books on innovative retirement solutions, practical business tips, and the history of the wonderful Western New York region. Follow him on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.


Mr. Carosa is available for keynote speaking engagements, especially in venues located in the Northeast, MidAtantic and Midwestern regions of the United States and in the Toronto region of Canada.

About Author

Christopher Carosa, CTFA

Christopher Carosa, CTFA


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