From hero to zero: Non-financial retirement planning

Editor's Note

This article was sponsored by Hall O'Brien Wealth Counsel.

After the question “How much money will I need for my retirement?”, the next most common question I hear from clients is “What am I going to do in retirement?”.

Many with successful careers are the “go-to” people at work and struggle with how they will identify themselves in retirement if they are no longer the VP of HR at Work, the Executive Director of Charity or the Senior Analyst of Government. With a defined identity at work they were a “hero” — in retirement and without a job title many feel like a “zero”.

A successful retirement, therefore, requires some planning not only for the financial aspects but for the non-financial aspects. Further, planning or envisioning your retirement lifestyle can, not only, help improve the odds of achieving successful retirement but also better budgeting for that retirement by having thought through the specifics of, say, traveling in retirement. Will it be bikepacking in different regions of Canada or flying first-class to Europe staying in boutique hotels?

A Harvard Business School study on goal setting found that 10 years following graduation, the 13% of the class that had set written goals but had not created plans, were making twice as much money as the 84% of the class that had set no goals at all. And the 3% of the class that had both written goals and a plan, were making ten times as much as the rest of the 97% of the class. 

While we may not be talking about earning money in retirement, having a “successful” retirement depends on envisioning and planning for it.

The 5 Cs for a Successful Retirement


You have a business card for your employed role, what would your retirement business card say? Are you Club Tennis Champ? Are you Knitting Queen? Book Club CEO? Home Improvement Handyman?

How do you like to spend your free time and how can you become the local expert in a new domain. With 40 hours of week freed up, there’s plenty of time to dig into your hobbies and create a new identity for yourself. However, if you are not spending any time doing these things before retirement, experts say it’s unlikely you will spend much time on them in retirement.

Maybe you had to give up an earlier passion because of the time constraints for family/work commitments? What hobbies ca you re-connect with?


Who do you love? Who do you enjoy being with? Who values you and your presence? Where do you like to connect with others?

If you are currently spending more of your time with people you know through work, will you still be spending as much time with them when you retire?

Make some new friends. Show up somewhere on a routine basis: the gym, local coffee shop, the library, outdoors store. Chances are there may be others with whom your schedule intersects. After a few nods of recognition, you may find a conversation or two ensues and before you know it, you have a new friend.

Those new friends, made independently of your spouse, are valuable as we age: widows and widowers aren’t often invited on couples’ trips. You’ll need some single, independent friends to spend time with as an individual to maintain social connection if you lose your spouse early.

Plus, by having separate friends, you’ll have more to talk about over the breakfast or dinner table with your spouse – so you’ll only have to endure the same conversation about the neighbour’s cat scaring all the birds away from your feeder once a week, not every night.


Be proactive about your wellness: keep physically fit. Get your heartrate up on a regular basis and get into the habit of stretching to help circulation and mobility. The “best” exercise is the one you’ll actually do. Start with 10 minutes a day and work your way up to the recommended 150 minutes a week.

What health challenges have your family members experienced, and are they hereditary? Consider what steps you could be taking now to prevent or delay some of those health challenges.


How are you going to keep your mind active? Will you read? Play bridge? Do the (cryptic) crossword or sudoku?

Will you travel? Make a list of the destinations you’d like to go to, the activities you’d like to do and cuisines you might want to try. Consider attending concerts or sporting events outside your hometown. Think, too, about how you will travel. Will you be on a bus tour, visiting a different city every day or will you spend a month is a central location, live like a local and take frequent day trips?


Retirees have reported that volunteer work can make retirement more fulfilling. Whether you choose to volunteer based on your skills and expertise or based on the nature and impact of the organization is irrelevant. You may have great financial skills given your CPA designation but if you’re looking for a change in retirement, you could drive a truck for an organization that helps victims of domestic violence relocate because you like driving and you want to help victims like your beloved aunt. Volunteer opportunities abound. Pick something that is meaningful to you.

There will be plenty of ways to “fill’ your time in retirement. Requests to look after the grandkids, help with the bake sale for the local seniors’ centre or dog-sit for your neighbour. Know your boundaries and commit to saying “no” if the activity isn’t fulfilling to you. This will be much easier if you’ve been specific and have written down your goals.

Plan with purpose

Make lists, find a “workbook”, create an excel file: do something concrete to meaningfully consider the above. Don’t merely passively ponder the questions but make a real effort to actively write down your down your thoughts.

When you’ve put some thought into it, share your non-financial retirement plans with your advisor. A Wealth Management advisor can help ensure you will be able to spend the time doing things you enjoy with the people you care about.

Maximize Your Wealth. Live the Life You Want.

If you have questions about wealth management strategies, you can reach me at

This article is supplied by Joelle Hall of Hall O’Brien Wealth Counsel, Director, Wealth Management, Portfolio Manager, and Investment Advisor with Richardson Wealth.

Hall O’Brien Wealth Counsel specialize in tax-efficient portfolios and planning. We speak your language, so you feel confident in the plan we implement together.

The opinions expressed in this report are the opinions of the author and readers should not assume they reflect the opinions or recommendations of Richardson Wealth Limited or its affiliates. Assumptions, opinions and estimates constitute the author’s judgment as of the date of this material and are subject to change without notice. We do not warrant the completeness or accuracy of this material, and it should not be relied upon as such. Before acting on any recommendation, you should consider whether it is suitable for your particular circumstances and, if necessary, seek professional advice. Past performance is not indicative of future results.

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