5 Years Out: Planning for Life after Retirement

An illustration of a woman with a balanced mindset

Too often, people retire and then wonder, “Now what?” For years, work has shaped their days, months, and years. They plan vacations when things will be slow or schedule family events around their practice’s needs.

When they retire, they have nothing but time — and no meaningful way to fill that time. Sometimes this can lead to depression or frustration.

So how do you avoid this trap?

Here are some ways to start cultivating your retirement lifestyle before you stop working.

(See also: How to Sell Now and Retire Later)

Think — and talk — about your interests

Think about the things you enjoy doing, in every realm of your life. Travel, golf, woodworking, painting, spending time with your family. Is there a cause you wholeheartedly support that you wish you could spend more time with? Or maybe you’ve always dreamed of visiting every single national park.

Talk to your spouse and family. What do they want to do with retirement? Your partner may remind you that you absolutely loved your annual summer trips to the lake, before life got too busy. Maybe it’s time to take another visit. You may even think about living there a few months of the year once you retire!

In the years before retirement, start testing out some of these interests to see what holds your attention. Take a class at the local community college or park district. Try volunteering a day or two a month to find like-minded people. Doing so now will give you even more reasons to look forward to retirement.

Talk to a financial expert

Make sure you know what your finances can support, with or without your practice sale. Consult with a financial planner or advisor to talk about how your finances stack up against your dreams and plans. Build a budget so that you understand how much money you will need to live your preferred lifestyle long after you retire. A good advisor can help you understand the implications of retiring at various ages, such as Medicare timing and investment withdrawals.

Think about questions such as:

  • Am I truly ready to retire, or should I wait a couple more years?
  • What are my insurance needs?
  • How much do I need from the sale of my practice to live a comfortable lifestyle?
  • What does a “comfortable” lifestyle entail?
  • If I want to do something expensive (such as travel extensively, buy a second home, pay for a grandchild’s education, etc.), how does that affect my overall needs?
  • Will I need to supplement my income? What are my options?
  • If something happened and I had to retire immediately, would I be prepared?

Share your knowledge and expertise

Many people would benefit from the skills and expertise you’ve spent decades building. And you will finally have the flexibility to attend the conferences you wish you had time for! Go one step further and consider speaking or presenting on a topic that you are passionate about.

Next, think about passing on the knowledge you have accumulated throughout your career to dental students or even high schools or colleges. If you live near a dental school, you might consider volunteering or becoming part-time faculty. Many schools have extramural rotation sites that are always looking for adjunct faculty to work with their students. Especially if you are interested in supplementing your retirement income, you could work as clinical faculty at a residency program. Passing your knowledge to the next generation can be incredibly rewarding.

Alternatively, you could mentor a local dentist through a study club or other arrangements. Many local ADA components have mentorship opportunities.

You might also join a peer review committee or other groups. Look at product evaluation groups, such as the ADA Clinical Evaluators (ACE) Panel, which evaluates new dental products and techniques.

Help solve access to care challenges

Programs like Dental Lifeline Network, Give Kids a Smile, and others can help improve access to care, whether right in your community or in another country.

Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs) and Community Health Centers (CHCs) are constantly seeking volunteers who can provide care within their clinics. The beauty of this model is that after you have been approved, you can typically let the clinic know what days you are available and what procedures you prefer to do. Then they will schedule the patients and you just show up and do dentistry! The clinic staff handles any follow-up care so you really do only what you want on your own terms. In most cases, because you are covered under sovereign immunity, you do not need to carry any malpractice insurance; the only cost is time out of your day. Search your local area for “free dental clinics'' or talk to your local component to learn what might be nearby. And, if you are interested in a full-time opportunity, many FQHCs offer reasonable compensation with comprehensive benefits.

The ADA Foundation organizes dental Mission of Mercy clinics throughout the United States, with unlimited opportunities for dentists to practice dentistry or work with their state association to organize free dental care events.

Farther afield, some dentists elect to go to underserved countries and provide care in either a clinic setting or in rural locations. (Picture tooth extractions done in folding chairs on the side of a mountain!) There are many opportunities through organizations such as Doctors Without Borders or Haiti Outreach Ministries that organize these types of trips.

Take a leadership role

Get involved with your local or state component. You can start small. Just go to a local meeting and think about running for office or becoming a delegate. Many state components offer leadership training that will give you the skills you need – you just need the time. And if you are particularly passionate about an issue, you could join the ADA’s advocacy efforts and work with officials at the local, state, or federal level.

You can also consider taking leadership in another area of your life: a civic committee or council, church, charitable organization — anything you’re passionate about!

Both personal and professional development can open new doors. As you look to retirement, you will free up time and energy to pursue these very rewarding avenues. The earlier you start, the more you will have to look forward to.