Jan Culliane's mug suggests what a planned retirement should look like. and her favorite coffee mug. Photo by Brent Woronoff
Palm Coast Observer
Jan Cullinane wrote, "The New Retirement: The Ultimate Guide to the Rest of Your Life," in 2004, which reached the overall No. 2 ranking on Amazon.com. The third edition of the book will be released May 10.
So much has changed since the previous edition came out in 2007 that this is almost a completely new book, she said.
Cullinane has lived in Hammock Beach for the past 16 years with her husband, Roger, a CPA. Her other books include "Retire Happy" and "The Single Woman's Guide to Retirement." She takes a holistic approach to retirement. A former community college science and health psychology instructor, Cullinane concentrates on well-being while leaning on Roger's financial expertise. Her philosophy is summed up on a coffee mug that says, "Create a life you don't need a vacation from."
Cullinane also has an unusual talent. She speaks backward fluently. For example, "this is what it sounds like," looks and sounds like: "siht si tahw ti sdnuos ekil," when Cullinane turns it around.
In a recent interview with The Observer, Cullinane discussed what people should think about before they retire and what it was like to try out for David Letterman's Stupid Human Tricks.
What is a holistic approach to retirement?
I didn't want it to just be about money, which so often it seems everything is. I wanted it to be about lifestyle. I wanted it to be about relocation, about health, about making friends, about all the other things when you think about retirement.
It's been 15 years since the second edition came out. What has changed since then?
The new book is quite updated with more recent research and with anecdotes from people who have lived very interesting kinds of lives. New kinds of communities are being built now. I mean, there's niche communities for everyone. So for example, Margaritaville, that wasn't around back then. But now, that whole idea of a lifestyle where everything is sort of in one place, they're certainly going after this (showing her coffee mug), about living a life you don't need a vacation from. Vacation may not be the best word, because I think you need to have some sort of a purpose: to make yourself better, to help others be better.
Some people have trouble with not working anymore. Some people never retire. What advice do you have for people struggling to make that transition?
So many people in retirement do work or create their own job or create their own way of making additional money. When you hear the word retirement, you think of over the hill, you think you're done being worthwhile. You don't want to view your life like that. You can reinvent yourself and use (retirement) as an opportunity. I call it the 168 hours a week that people have when they leave their primary job. When you think about how much our job shapes us, and now you have perhaps 168 hours a week stretching out ahead of you, you need to (find) structure. So yes, a lot of people are not financially prepared. But when you think of all the things work provides for you: It does give you a sense of your own self worth, it does give you the something to wake up for every morning, it does give you social support, it does give you a structure to your day. So, you have to replace those in retirement. If you're thinking everyday you're just going to wake up without a plan, I don't think that's kind of a healthy thing to do for most of us. To impose some structure, I think is important. But it's also the opportunity to reinvent yourself to do things that you maybe never have tried before. Go places you've never gone before or start your own business or do something that's been a passion, pick up a new sport. All those wonderful kinds of things.
Can you give three tips, financially and otherwise, for people who are about to retire?
There are a lot of people who are not financially prepared, that is for sure. I would say you should really start planning as early as possible. I'd also suggest that you do get professional help from either a certified financial planner or perhaps a CPA if you don't feel comfortable doing it yourself.
Non-financially, a big thing is location. Your location really drives a lot of your activities. You probably heard that Palm Coast, according to Retirement Living, was ranked the number one city to retire in. I think environment really shapes our behavior. Just speaking of myself, living in a place where the weather is pleasant, I mean I like to ski and things like that, but I have to say I like the nice whether. I can become an avid tennis player, which to me, kind of takes in all those ingredients. It's social, it's exercise. A place like Margaritaville has kind of a club component. A lot of people are extroverts, a lot are introverts. With that kind of club component, if you don't like initiating things, you have somebody who can set up programs for you and you can just sort of go there and attend and not have to make the effort yourself to create social relationships. Because, you might have heard that statistic that being lonely is equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day. We need other people around.
The other thing I'd say is about your house. There's a concept called universal design that your house should be able to age with you. So, that's things like having non-slip flooring. If you're building a house, there's an entire list that you can get that I actually include in the book. Things like, (doorways) wide enough for a wheelchair if you need to get to that point, an entrance on the ground floor or somewhere you could put a ramp in if you needed to. And if you have children, are you going to live close to them? Are they going to be scattered, or are you gonna go where they go, but then they may be transferred? Those are all the kinds of things I think people ought to be thinking about.
"One of our neighbors actually wrote a little booklet for his spouse, and it was entitled, 'If I die.' It had all the passwords and everything in it because she was not interested in that area. But yet he had it all there for her."
What are some common mistakes people should avoid?
I think a lot of people stay in their house beyond the point they should. They may not be able to easily access it as they get older. The other thing is being sure everyone has access to all the financial information. Don't just have the woman doing everything or the man doing everything. Or if you're single and you have children, you need to decide who's going to have access. In fact, one of our neighbors actually wrote a little booklet for his spouse and it was entitled, "If I die." It had all the passwords and everything in it because she was not interested in that area. But yet he had it all there for her.
Thinking about living in your house and making sure you can age in place, because the biggest predictor of going into a nursing home is actually the ability to get up out of a chair, as far as physically needing help. And so, you need to be sure you're able to access the things in your house. And the third I would say is the social aspect. A lot of people may be aging in place and then their friends move away or they pass away or the spouse passes away. And so you need to be involved in things so you always have some sort of a social group to interact with. That's very important for the mind as well as for the body.
What is speaking backward fluently?
It's a crazy thing. I can visualize the word and then say it backwards.
What was the local tryout like for Letterman's Stupid Human Tricks?
I thought, mine won't come across, because it sounds like gobbledygook, right? One woman, she could play the violin very beautifully, but she sat on the floor and she could take her legs and wrap them back around her neck. Now that was visually very cool. Another guy could take his uvula, you know the little thing that hangs down in the back of your throat, and grab it and pull it out. Another person, and I didn't think this one was so great, he took an entire roll of aluminum foil, and he balled it up and stuck it in his mouth. The only thing I was thinking was what if he had cavities. Ever bite on metal with metal fillings?
Did any of these people make it onto the show?
No they didn't. A (reporter) wrote up a little thing for the local newspaper. He did mention me, and I think he liked words, so he was sort of fascinated that I could do that.
Ever make use of this talent?
Yeah, at the University of Maryland. Remember speech class? I had to do the extemporaneous speech. And so I thought, Well, I'm gonna take this ability to talk backwards and use it no matter what (subject) I pick. So I picked out how to be the life of the party. I said, some people will do this or tell jokes, but I can talk backwards.
When did you realize you could do this?
I think it's when my parents made us to to church every Sunday. Looking through those missals. From the time I was a kid, I can just visualize the words. Yeah, it's an odd thing.