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For Retirement Planning Help, Try These Weekend Workshops

They address queries from Who Will I Be? to Where Should I Live?

Traditionally, retirement planning has been synonymous with financial planning. Yet a financial plan, no matter how comprehensive, is not a life plan. And with retirements now often lasting 20 to 30 years or longer, it’s essential to incorporate lifestyle issues — like where you want to live and what you want to do — into your retirement plans.

But where can you turn for help figuring out the non-financial side of this equation?

One excellent option to consider is a weekend retirement-planning retreat at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) on the University of North Carolina at Asheville campus (formerly known as the North Carolina Center for Creative Retirement). I just spent some time there, speaking with its Executive Director, Catherine Frank. Highlights of our conversation are below, but first let me give you a rundown of the OLLI-Asheville programs.

The Institute offers a comprehensive three-day workshop as well as a two-day program focused on where to live in retirement.

The workshops let him “feel confident about choosing to retire and then identifying a community likely to meet my needs.”

Paths to Creative Retirement, the three-day workshop ($850 per person including meals, but not lodging), is designed to help you explore questions like: “Who will I be when I’m not defined by my career?” and “How will I spend my time productively after I retire?” It’s offered twice a year and the next one is coming up fast — August 28 to 30 (there are a few spots remaining if you want to sign up). The next one will be in April 2016 and registration is open.

The two-day Creative Retirement Exploration Weekend, known as CREW, centers on relocation in retirement. It’s run once a year and the next one will be June 3-5, 2016. Cost: $400 per person; $50 extra if you want to tack on the Sunday program to explore charming Asheville. Registration is open now, too.

People who’ve participated in these workshops have found them hugely helpful.

Anne Sayers, 68, who attended a 2013 Paths workshop after retiring from a career as a consultant and social worker, calls the experience life changing. “The weekend allowed for reflection, learning and insight as to what I needed to do to make this chapter of my life really meaningful and full of new adventures,” Sayers said. After the workshop, she decided to move from Raleigh, N.C. to Asheville.

Bill O’Connell, 68, a former CEO of a national physicians’ group, attended both workshops three years ago and said they allowed him “to feel confident about choosing to retire and then identifying a community likely to meet my needs in retirement.” Like Sayers, O’Connell moved to Asheville (from Washington, D.C.). He has since begun a research study on how to improve health services for the area’s older adults.

Now, here’s what Frank told me about her retirement programs:

Next Avenue: Who should attend your workshops?

Catherine Frank: We draw people from around the country. Most people are in their 50’s and 60’s, but we do get a few people in their 70’s. Some are already retired, but many are still working and typically two to three years away from retirement. Both singles and couples attend. There are no entrance requirements, but you do need a sense of intellectual curiosity and a willingness to participate fully in the workshops and activities.

Who leads the workshops?

The sessions are facilitated by our own OLLI members who function as both peer mentors and facilitators. We’ve found it’s tremendously beneficial to have a variety of people — married, single, men and women — leading the sessions. Different people relate to different instructors, personalities, life experiences and teaching styles. This way we ensure there is someone for everyone.

Let’s talk about each of the two programs. What can participants get out of Paths to Creative Retirement?

It’s a chance to take a deep dive into the full gamut of lifestyle issues like when to retire, how to balance work and leisure and how to adjust to changing relationships with family and friends.

The Paths workshop is limited to 35 participants and we use lots of small-group facilitated discussions ensuring that you’ll have plenty of opportunities to share your thoughts and receive feedback from the group. And you get to learn from others — there is a tremendous diversity of life experiences and points of view exchanged both inside and outside our classes.

How is CREW different from Paths?

CREW is open to 75 people. Historically, CREW was designed as a vehicle to showcase Asheville as a retirement destination. But over time, it’s evolved away from being Asheville-centric to include questions like: Should I start over in a new location? How will a move impact my relationships with family and friends? How do I want to remain productive in a new community?

So CREW is now for anyone considering relocation anywhere with an optional third day to explore and learn more about relocation options in Western North Carolina.

What issues do you discuss during CREW?

Deciding where, and whether, to relocate is no simple matter. There are many considerations beyond simply finding a sunny spot or a pretty beach. Issues such as tax considerations, affordability, easy access to quality healthcare and safety must all be taken into account.

Over the two days, we explore and discuss the many different aspects of relocation. Our goal is to help you gain confidence in making choices about whether, where and when to move, regardless of where you relocate.

What makes your workshops unique?

Planning for retirement is often such a lonely process. But here, people get to share their concerns and learn from other people going through the same transition at the same time.

You get to see that you’re not alone and that there is no one right answer. The chance to hear stories and learn from others is what makes this experience so rich. It’s a pretty unique opportunity to hit the pause button and dive into issues that can be hard to figure out at home on your own.

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