When you think about retirement planning, the first thing that comes to mind is probably your finances.
So many retirees are asking, “Do I have enough to retire?” when they should be asking, “Do I have enough to do in retirement?”
The average retiree spends 43 hours each week watching TV. That’s because so many of us are anticipating the “big day” when we can officially retire, but don’t bother to plan what we want our lives to look like after that.
“Don’t simply retire from something; have something to retire to.” - Harry Emerson Fosdick
There’s no doubt that retirement is a major life transition. You want to be psychologically prepared to switch from living the day in and day out grind of the working world to having more time on your hands. Retirement can be the best time in your life because you’re freed up to pursue your passions. You have the time, energy, and resources you may not have had while working and building your family.
Living a happy and fulfilling retirement is about so much more than whether or not you have enough money to live off from. In fact, a study from Consumer Reports showed that over 50% of retirees in the lowest net worth category (less than $250,000) reported being completely or very satisfied with retirement. This goes to show that, while having an adequate retirement savings certainly makes living the way you want to during your years as a retiree much more possible, it’s not the only thing to focus on.
Find Your Purpose
During your working years, your purpose is often very practical. You work to put food on the table, you spend time with your friends and family, and you fulfill any other obligations you may have in the time that’s left over. But when you retire you have to ask yourself: What am I getting up for in the morning?
To put it simply: you need to find your purpose. Many retirees find that after a few months of retirement, emptiness and boredom set in. Finding something to keep you motivated to grow, try, learn, and find happiness can completely change this narrative.
When you start to search for your purpose, it can help to ask yourself (and write down) the things in life that are most important to you.
Think about what brings you the greatest sense of satisfaction, joy, or contentment. If you can, I recommend working through this exercise before you actually retire. But if you haven’t thought about it (and are already retired) it’s never too late to break out the pen and paper to see what you come up with.
When you uncover the things in life that give you purpose - whether it’s a hobby or cause you’re passionate about, your family, giving back to the community, etc. - you can structure your time around those activities. And don’t stop there!
Retirement is an incredible time to discover new passions.
Try taking up a Saturday morning fitness class, join (or start your own) book club, test your DIY skills by refinishing an old piece of furniture, get involved in volunteering at your local church’s nursery during the week. Whatever you choose to do, immerse yourself in it! If you don’t love it, that’s okay. Sometimes purpose can be as simple as trying something new and discovering something about yourself in the process.
Keep an Active (and Open) Mind
Numerous studies have shown that retirement can lead to cognitive decline. Other studies still have associated early retirement with the onset of dementia. It makes sense - your daily life is less stimulating than going to work everyday used to be. The mind is a muscle, and without a regular workout - it gets out of shape. One way to find fulfillment as a retiree is to find ways to stay mentally active outside of the workplace.
Here in Topeka, we have so many options for retirees looking to challenge themselves, learn, or try something new. Washburn University (and several other colleges and universities both locally and online) offer free college courses to seniors aged 60 and older. The Topeka & Shawnee County Public Library offers a variety of free classes and red carpet services to seniors, as well.
Not interested in going back to school? That’s okay. Try engaging in a mentally stimulating activity, like learning an instrument, solving puzzles, or playing pitch.
Over the course of your career, you made so many valuable connections with people. Retiring might make you feel as though you’ve lost all of those relationships overnight. At the same time, you’re going to adjust to spending a significantly increased amount of time with your partner and other family members - which can be difficult.
To find fulfillment during retirement, it’s important that you stay connected socially to someone other than the person staring back at you in the mirror. Consider working part time or volunteering at a local community organization - like an animal shelter - to stay connected and build relationships. And don’t forget to stay in contact with all of your old friends from work! Just because you’re retired doesn’t mean the connection you shared is gone.
Personally, I’m a Christian man. I take the Bible at face value when it says, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). But even if you’re not a religious person by nature, the scientific research to back up this point abounds. Happiness truly does come from giving. And more importantly? The sense of joy you get from giving back is long-lasting (unlike the sense of joy we get from receiving from others).
Less than 4% of retirees spend over four hours a week helping others. And only 27% of retirees do community service! I think this is crazy, because there are so many great ways to get involved with your local community through volunteering - and it’s a sure-fire way to lift your spirits and bring you a sense of purpose in your days as a retiree. So, pick a cause that’s important to you and get out there. You’ll feel so much better than if you just sit at home watching TV.
Your health is both a financial and a non-financial issue when it comes to your retirement. Staying healthy can help you shave off hefty medical expenses that put stress on an otherwise airtight financial plan. And do you really want to spend your retirement sitting in the doctor’s waiting room? Or would you rather be hitting the golf course, or playing on the beach with your grandkids? Yeah, I thought so.
While it’s impossible to completely predict health problems, you can get active during retirement to lead a happier (and less medically expensive) lifestyle. 90% of Americans get less than 30 minutes of exercise per day - which is way below what's recommended by the Department of Health and Human Services.To maximize your retirement, find an exercise routine you like and keep at it. It may even help to get a membership at a local gym - you’ll be socializing and getting fit!
The key to retirement is finding enjoyment in life. So - figure out what you think is fun and go for it! Think about the retirement you’ve always dreamed of. What did it include? You could travel, tackle a new project, spend every afternoon fishing, invite friends and family to come stay with you, get outside more - whatever your idea of a good time is, do more of that. You’ll be thrilled that your retirement is exactly what you always wanted it to be - and then some.
You might notice that these ideas are all key for anyone to live a fulfilling life - at any given age.
One of the top three regrets people have when nearing the end of their life is that they didn’t take more risk to go after their dreams.
Retirement is the time to really pull down on the throttle and enjoy each and every day in an exciting, new way. This is your time to lean in and focus on the people and activities you truly love. You never know what tomorrow is going to bring, so don’t wait to act on what’s important to you.
Desmond Henry is a fee-only CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional and founder of Afflora Financial Life Planning in Topeka, Kansas. He helps the retiring/retired plan their finances and invest their money. CLICK HERE to learn more.