How to Be a Happy Retiree!
By Laura F. Redfern, CFP®
Fidelity conducted a survey of recent retirees and found that, while a majority of seniors reported that they were enjoying retirement, a whopping 57% said they “wished they had done more planning” in preparation for retirement. Sounds like a learning opportunity to me!
What can we learn? How about asking Happy Retirees what they did to make their retirement years a success? After all, if you want to know the “secret to success,” ask successful people! Here are the TOP 5 common factors that recent retirees say contribute to happiness after retirement:
This tip doesn’t mean just financially. This means planning your lifestyle. Have something to retire TO, not just FROM. Retirement is a new life chapter, just like graduation, or marriage – it’s a great big step into a new lifestyle. And, just like graduation or marriage, “winging it” probably isn’t the best idea. It takes thoughtful planning to make that your transition a success.
One suggestion I read was to have “3 core pursuits” to fill your time. Another suggestion was to “clarify your life’s purpose.” If that sounds too lofty, you can start with imagining the perfect day in retirement: who are you with? What are you doing? How does it sound, smell, feel? Make it as real and concrete and detailed as you can. Write down your vision in a journal, or post visual images on an “inspiration board” and place it where you can see it often as a reminder.
Happy Retiree Tip #2: TAKE CARE OF YOUR HEALTH
Having a healthy lifestyle isn’t just about setting goals and moving towards them. It’s also about taking care of yourself physically. Let’s face it: travel and recreation are fun, but you enjoy fun activities even more when you are feeling good, health-wise.
If that’s not enough to convince you to eat right and exercise, here’s another thought: taking care of yourself now costs money, but addressing issues after the fact costs even more. An ING study that showed that retirees far underestimate healthcare costs that they will encounter after retirement. You can help to mitigate this hole in financial planning by practicing basic healthy habits like exercising, choosing healthy foods like vegetables and fruits, and getting enough sleep. Regardless of where your healthcare comes from (Medicare, a private plan, or Retiree health benefits from your previous employer), what you do NOW to take care of yourself is one of the best ways to SAVE money. (And prepare to be able to have fun later!)
Now that we’re talking about money, let’s turn to where that retirement income is coming from. Happy retirees reported that they have multiple streams of income: not just Social Security, not just an employee pension, but also an IRA, investments, real estate, or a part time job. The lesson here is the old adage “don’t put all your eggs in one basket.” Having access to at least 2-3 different sources of income helps to create a happier, more secure retirement.
If you only have 1-2 retirement savings sources now, or if you aren’t sure, you may want to look into developing another resource. This is true no matter how near or far you are from retirement. If you have multiple streams that you are currently building, good for you! Challenge yourself to “max out” each source as much as you can. (If you are unsure of what the “max” is, just ask!)
Happy Retiree Tip #4: UNDERSTAND YOUR INVESTMENTS
Recent retirees said they wished they had understood asset allocation and distribution strategies better. That doesn’t mean you have to be a financial expert to be happy in retirement. It just means that you should be asking questions. Not all investments are created equal, and there’s no “one size fits all” solution. Risk-averse retirees can get caught in expensive “guaranteed” products because they don’t realize that there are other options.
Also realize that what worked for your friend or relative may or may not be the best strategy for you and your financial situation. A professional can help you analyze this. Bottom line, your money needs to continue to be protected, and to grow, when you are living off it, so it needs to be invested wisely. It also needs to be distributed wisely. To do this is possible, but it requires PLANNING.
Finally: you have probably heard it before, but it’s true, and it’s BIG: pay off debt, including your mortgage, before you retire. Here’s what is interesting about this tip: it is about so much more than cash flow. Yes, the cash flow part is extremely important, because for most people, the mortgage payment is the biggest bill they pay each month. Eliminating that payment sets you up in a good position for your cash flow in retirement. But dumping debt is about more than that. It’s also about psychology: retirement should be a time of freedom, of a new life chapter, of freeing yourself (as much as possible!) from old obligations hanging over your head. The happiest retirees that I work with have their mortgage paid off – if not the day when they retire, then within the first 2-3 years after they retire. And let me tell you, the mental and financial weight off their shoulders is palpable.
The key to retiring happily requires a balance of both smart financial choices and personal behaviors. There will be certain life issues that are beyond our control such as health, changes in life circumstances and the economy. However, the key is to control what you can and to start as early as you can – not just saving money, but also planning your life beyond retirement day.
We hope this “Top 5” list has been valuable to you and even inspired some thought. If we can help with your retirement planning or questions, please give us a shout via email or phone. We’re here to help!