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Will Your Retirement Make the Grade?

COLUMBIA, Mo. – A lot of people say they look forward to retiring, but many put off the planning and preparation they need to make the most of their retirement years.

Some might delay retirement planning because thinking about their options leaves them feeling confused or overwhelmed, says Cynthia Crawford, a University of Missouri Extension financial planning specialist and extension professor in MU’s College of Human Environmental Sciences. Others say they aren’t earning enough to set aside money every month, and they tell themselves they’ll get to it when they have more time and money.

But if you wait for the perfect time, you’ll be waiting forever, Crawford says.

To help people jump-start their retirement planning, Crawford and colleagues created the online course “How to Get an A in Retirement.”

“No one wants a C in retirement,” she says.

More than 600 people have taken the course since it launched in 2017 as a pilot project aimed at University of Missouri employees. Crawford says participants have called the course “surprisingly engaging” and “eye-opening.” More than half of those who completed the course report increasing their monthly saving by an average of $260, with amounts ranging from $25 to more than $1,000.

“Retirement planning is becoming more and more a do-it-yourself project as employers shift to employees both the initiative to begin planning and the risk of not having sufficient resources,” says Crawford. “This course helps people replace worry with positive action solutions.”

Crawford says the class is different from most retirement education programs. Some retirement seminars and classes may use people’s anxiety about their financial future to convince them to sign up for a particular investment plan or financial advising service, she says. By contrast, “How to Get an A in Retirement” uses “positive psychology.”

“Positive psychology says that well-being in retirement—and during working years—is about a lot more than money,” she says. “Most retirement education is all about setting aside money for retirement. That’s certainly one aspect of this course, but it’s surrounded by a whole lot more.”

For example, the course prompts participants to consider what kind of retirement they want to have. “You know what you are retiring from. But what do you want to retire to?” Crawford asks. “To sum up my own plan: I want compelling reasons to get out of bed in the morning and enough money to sleep well at night.”

Those compelling reasons vary from one person to another. The first lesson asks people to look back on the past 12 months and identify such things as moments that brought them joy, accomplishments that were most meaningful and personal strengths that have helped them succeed. The answers those questions can help people decide what kind of retirement they want to have. Some want to travel. Others may intend to enjoy time with grandchildren. Still others may look forward to having more time for specific projects, hobbies or volunteer activities.

Each weekly lesson takes two to three hours to complete. Lessons include readings, video presentations and activities. Over eight weeks, the course takes some of the mystery out of pension plans, Social Security, taxes, insurance, estate planning and other topics, dispelling many common misconceptions along the way. The course also provides tools for assessing your financial status, Crawford says.

Participants can interact with instructors and each other by posting on the course website. Instructors and students can also communicate by video or teleconference.

People who are new to online courses shouldn’t worry, Crawford says. “Half of the people taking ‘How to Get an A in Retirement’ are experiencing their first online course and they do just fine. If a person can email and has basic skills navigating the internet, they have the skills necessary to be successful in the course.”

The course will be of use to people at any stage of their careers, she adds. Younger workers will benefit from getting an early start on retirement planning, but the course also offers catch-up strategies for those in the later stages of their careers.

“The best time to start planning for retirement is your first day of work,” she says. “But the second best time is right now.”

Classes start monthly throughout the fall. To learn more or to register, go to