Retirement Phobia is a Real Thing

Man with his hand on his chin staring out the window

At the Cutter household, we don’t mess around on New Year’s Eve. Sure, we may not have dressed up and partied hard all night. No, we didn’t light off fireworks or dance at midnight as the ball drops. And we also didn’t head to the Heights Beach for the polar plunge – nope, not for me. But this New Year’s Eve, like so many others, we partook in our favorite tradition, the Cutter family movie marathon. We stock up on lots of snacks, light the fireplace and cozy up to the TV for an uninterrupted night of classics.

This year with Maeve about to turn 21 and the twins at 18 years old, the girls got better offers to hang out with friends, so it was just Jill and I for the night. We each chose a classic . . . mine was Rocky.  After watching the Italien Stallion, it was Jill’s turn.  We came across an old comedy, Arachnophobia, from the early 90’s and decided it was good enough. The film follows a small California town that becomes invaded by an aggressive and dangerous spider species – hence the name, arachnophobia, which means a fear of spiders. The movie was decent enough, but we weren’t disappointed when it ended and we could turn in for the night, having proven to ourselves that we’re not too old to celebrate the New Year.

But you know, it got me thinking about phobias and fears in general, and just how many different ways they can affect our everyday lives. A phobia is defined as an excessive and irrational fear reaction. If you have a phobia, you may experience a deep sense of dread when faced with the source of your fear. Unlike some general anxiety disorders, a phobia is usually connected to something specific. For example, cynophobia, which is a fear of dogs, or ophidiophobia, a fear of snakes. Or even nyctophobia, which is a fear of the nighttime or darkness. In fact, it’s estimated that as many as 19 million Americans have a phobia that causes difficulty in some area of their lives₁. 

But you know, I see a lot of similarities between phobias and fears like this and the mindset of some folks as they near retirement. You see, retirement can be a scary thing to imagine because it’s unlike anything you’ve ever done before. You’ll one day go from relying on your job for a paycheck to fund your lifestyle and occupy your time to a very new and different reality, and this can create some real anxiety for many. In some cases, the unknown challenges of retirement can become disabling, causing you to avoid taking action because the future seems uncertain. 

Get this folks, according to a recent survey, 44% of men and 36% of women fear retirement more than death itself. That’s a pretty intense fear! And there’s more of a gap when comparing age groups. It turns out that younger people fear retirement more than those who are closer to their retirement years — only 33% of respondents aged 39 and older feared retirement more than death, but 52% of those younger than 39 did. This could be because younger Americans have less confidence that they’ll ever be able to retire — less than half of those who are younger than 39 (46%) said they were confident they’d be able to retire. Meanwhile, 62% of those ages 55 and older were confident that they’d make it to that milestone.

According to the survey, the No. 1 fear Americans have about retirement is having a lack of income, with 87% saying that this scares them. Other fears include losing employment-based healthcare benefits and medical insurance (77%), not keeping mentally active (71%), not keeping physically active (64%) and not having social and friendship networks associated with work (50%). In addition, over half of Americans surveyed (67%) believe that the amount paid out by Social Security will be less by the time they retire, and 85% think the minimum age to collect Social Security will continue to increase₂.

Now, the actual impact of some of our fears can range from annoying to severely disabling. People with phobias often realize their fear is irrational, but they’re unable to do anything about it.  But when you’re preparing for retirement, this is where the guidance and direction from a professional can be invaluable to motivate you to action.

Meeting with a retirement specialist who has helped many folks retire may allow you to benefit from their experience – and calm. After all, this is your first retirement rodeo, but a retirement specialist has likely helped hundreds or even thousands of retirees prepare for life after work.

For starters, they can develop strategies and systems designed specifically towards converting your life savings into an income stream. After years of socking money away in investment and retirement accounts, now’s the time to create a distribution strategy that turns that big pile of money into income you can live on for the rest of your life.

A good distribution system should also incorporate downside risk mitigation strategies with its nucleus using quantatitive data to help preserve your capital in times of market stress. You see folks, a sound distribution stategy should focus on managing the downside risk so the upside may take care of itself. Because the last thing you should worry about in retirement is whether or not you can make rent in times of market stress. 

Talking through your fears with an experienced retirement specialist and then creating a system to tackle them can do wonders for your peace of mind. When famous film critic Leonard Maltin wrote a review of the movie Arachnophobia, he said, “Not recommended for anyone who’s ever covered their eyes during a movie.”

But we don’t have that luxury. Instead, I urge you to uncover your eyes and face your phobia head on. By doing this, you’ll find that irrational fears will slowly fade and be replaced by confidence.

So as always – be vigilant and stay alert, because you deserve more!

Have a great week.

Jeff Cutter offers investment advisory services through Cutter Financial Group, LLC, an SEC Registered Investment Advisor with offices in Falmouth, Duxbury, and Mansfield. Jeff can be reached at

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