Bob Moore and Mary Ann Chiulli, a retired married couple from New York City, had just returned home in March 2020 from a weeklong volunteer trip to Belize when the pandemic shut down broad swaths of the U.S. and world. The jet-setting couple had lots of retirement plans—international vacations and more volunteer work, visits with their three grandchildren and other relatives scattered around the country and globe—but Covid-19 put those plans mostly on hold.
For the better part of two years, they hunkered down, ordered in meals and groceries, and tried to avoid indoor settings and crowds. When vaccines became available in early 2021, they began to venture back out, visiting family in upstate New York and Europe. Then he caught a mild case of Covid in early May while visiting his daughter and three grandchildren in the U.K., and the couple’s travel outlook changed again.
“Travel was our sort of raison d’être for retirement,” says Moore, 78, a former vice president of operations at a steamship company. The 70-year-old Chiulli, who formerly worked as executive officer of conference services at the United Nations, adds: “There was the realization that time was passing and we weren’t able to do anything that we really loved.”
Whether it’s to travel or attend local cultural events or something else, millions of retirees like Moore and Chiulli are ready to reclaim their prepandemic lives. Many are flush, even after accounting for inflation and recent market tumult, as stockholdings and real estate surged over the past two years. And many of these people in the age cohort most susceptible to catching Covid are now vaccinated and have multiple booster shots, giving them some confidence to re-emerge despite the variants that are likely to continue disrupting life.
“We witnessed a lot of retirees whose expenses went down tremendously—they weren’t eating out or traveling—and they may have accumulated more assets along the way,” says Heather Osborn, senior vice president and manager of financial planning for Baird.
But money can’t buy back lost time. And that’s what many retirees and older Americans say has been the pandemic’s unspoken toll—the missed memories and milestones. Still, financial planners say retirees with the means to spend shouldn’t hold back, and time-management professionals say there are strategies to help people get the most out of their remaining healthy years.
Prioritize and Hurry Up
Time management expert Laura Vanderkam suggests thinking through what it is you most want to do, then making a slightly accelerated timeline for making those things happen.
“If you had those last two years, what are the things you feel you had missed?” she says. “If normally you would have done two big trips a year, maybe you might want to try three or four.”
Consider, too, the people you enjoy spending time with and how you can make those visits happen, Vanderkam says.
“That may mean making a weekend trip, driving three hours; it may seem like a bother, but what are we saving time for?” she asks. “Realize it’s OK for life to be a little more full now, given that it was a little less full over the past two years.”
Karl Wagner III, a partner and senior wealth advisor at Biondo Investment Advisors in Milford, Pa., is advising clients with the means: Don’t hold back.
He encouraged one retired client to buy his dream car, a BMW convertible. “If Covid has taught us anything, it’s that life is fragile,” says Wagner. “We still want to be responsible, but if there’s something you’ve been waiting to do, don’t wait.”
”I haven’t had to tell anybody to tap the brakes yet,” he adds.
Making memories doesn’t have to mean going on a trip or showering someone with gifts, says Grant Gallagher, head of financial wellbeing and brand communication at Affinity Federal Credit Union. It could be something as simple as going to a park or a zoo. A Gallup survey of Affinity credit union members showed that experiences are more impactful to one’s well-being than tangible items, he says.
Given how much time was lost to doing nothing during the pandemic, making the most of your healthiest years in retirement may mean being “a bit more judicious about how you use your time,” says Vanderkam.
“If you’re just doing [something] because you’ve always done it or because you think it’s expected of you, you should re-evaluate it. If it’s not meaningful and it’s not enjoyable, then what are you doing?” she asks.
That needn’t mean shying away from commitments that give your life meaning, she says. Instead, try to build in some flexibility. For example, if you enjoy being a reading tutor, do it during the school year and keep the rest of the year free for other leisure activities, she says. Or retirees who care for their grandchildren may be able to help their children find backup caregivers for some weeks so they can travel, she says.
And spouses or couples don’t need to do everything together, and in fact splitting up can be a good way to use time most efficiently. “You want to spend time together, but you don’t have to do everything together. “If one party is a homebody and one likes to travel, you can travel alone.”
Play the Clock
When trying to make up for lost time, it’s crucial to take a moment to plan. After all, no one wants to arrive at a destination and waste time waiting in long lines or spend hours in traffic and miss all or part of an event.
Chuck Failla, a certified financial planner and principal at Sovereign Financial Group, and an advisor to Moore and Chiulli, advises clients to plan their trips as far as a year in advance when possible and to explore alternatives when their usual transportation or hotels aren’t available for the days you want. He suggests using online rental marketplaces such as Airbnb or Vrbo, and choosing hosts with the highest ratings.
He also suggests waiting another full year to see how the pandemic develops before booking international travel as any shutdowns could lead to last-minute cancellations or trap travelers abroad—costing retirees even more time.
As for Moore and Chiulli, they’re back on the move, though they know they’re trying to cram in a lot. “We’ve done quite a bit,” says Moore, but there are a lot of other places they plan to see—Australia, China, Japan, and Madagascar among them. “We do feel that what we want to do has now been compressed into a rather shorter period than we had originally planned prior to Covid.”
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