People dream about the joys of retirement when they no longer have to work and every day’s a Saturday. And it indeed can be a great time of life for relaxing, traveling, golfing, dinners with friends, reading, or spending time just hanging out. But the retired years are not without their perils.
Here are four areas that can present problems for retirees who aren’t prepared, along with things you can do to remedy them.
The Peril: Running Out of Money
Most people underestimate how long they’re going to live; life expectancy for a 65-year-old man is about 83, and for a woman, it’s 85. Many people live into their nineties. Depending on when you leave your job, you could need income for 20 or 30 years or even longer.
There’s a rule of thumb that retired folks spend 20 percent less than when they’re working, but it’s smart not to count on that. In the early retirement years, some folks use their newfound free time to travel or take on home remodeling projects and spend even more.
As you age, there can be medical expenses not covered by Medicare or long-term care facilities. Shifts in the financial markets and inflation can take a chunk out of your nest egg.
Some people plan on working part-time, and that’s an option, but the work can be uncertain. Your health might not permit you to work, and part-time jobs can disappear if there’s a recession. According to an EBRI survey, 74 percent of workers plan to work in retirement, but only 27 percent actually do so.
Planning is key. Run the numbers, with a financial advisor if necessary, and see how much you really need. If the dollars don’t seem to add up, here are some actions to consider:
- Retire later. Each year you delay increases your wealth and decreases the years you’ll need to draw on your retirement funds.
- Delay taking Social Security.
- Consider a high-deductible medical insurance plan with a health savings account (HSA).
- Evaluate long-term care insurance.
- Consider buying an annuity with part of your retirement assets. It provides an income stream you can’t outlive. However, be cautious. Not all annuity products are a good deal.
The Peril: Failing Health
So many people draw up wonderful plans for their retirement years then find that they aren’t physically able to fulfill them. There’s not only the expense of medical care; there’s also the disappointment of not being able to do the things you enjoy most. Even if you don’t fall ill, most people lose strength as they age. Activities such as traveling that require lifting and carrying things can be difficult. You may even reach a point where you can’t drive or can’t live alone at home.
In extreme cases, one may deal with the incapacitation or death of a partner. You may be forced to become a full-time caregiver. If the deceased spouse managed the family finances or kept the home maintenance to-do list in their head, the survivor may be at a loss.
While physical fitness is no guarantee you’ll always be healthy, an active lifestyle is one of the best investments you can make in your future well-being. To reduce the burden on your partner (or heirs), make a list of family financial activities, home maintenance tasks and anything else that only you know about. Also, complete an advance directive to ease the decision-making for others when and if you have a terminal illness.
In some cases, you can do nothing about declining health but accept it and enjoy doing what you can with what you have. And be thankful that you no longer have to work.
The Peril: Time On Your Hands
Working people dream of a day when they can spend their time doing whatever they want. When that day finally comes, however, some find that all that time can be weighty. You can play only so many rounds of golf in a week, and you need something to do with the rest of your time.
Also, you have to make a shift in how you define yourself. So many people, when asked what they do, answer with their profession: “I’m an engineer,” or “I’m a carpenter,” or, “I work for the XYZ Company.” It can be disconcerting to say what you used to be or who you used to work for. It can feel like your identity has been taken away.
During your working years, you aren’t only a person who earns a living. You may also be a spouse, a parent, a sibling, a believer, a neighbor, a hobbyist and a volunteer. None of those identities disappear when you retire.
You don’t even have to stop working. After all, just because you don’t draw a paycheck from an activity doesn’t mean it isn’t work. You can work just as hard at playing the clarinet or coordinating volunteers at the local food bank as you would working a nine-to-five job.
Once you retire, there are so many possibilities that it’s hard to know where to start. Go back to school. Learn to paint. Volunteer. Find a young person to mentor. Spend time with grandchildren. Travel. Join clubs and make new friends. Dance.
Too often we value people according to how prestigious their jobs are. In retirement, remind yourself that the value of a person’s contribution to society has little to do with how much money they make.
The Peril: Struggling as a Couple
Some retired couples are happy to be able to spend more time together. Others, however, find that the house seems to shrink and the other person’s constant presence grates on them. They no longer have their working hours to give them time apart.
This can be a particular problem when one individual was a workaholic who never gave much thought to what they’d do when they stopped working. They might spend most of their time annoying the other person.
So-called “gray divorce” is not as common as a split-up between younger couples, but it’s increasing. Some newly single seniors thrive, but others struggle with loneliness and a loss of structure.
If you have separate activities in your working life, continue to pursue them when you retire. Give your partner some space.
Roles and responsibilities should be clarified. If one person mostly worked and the other primarily ran the home, the former worker should pick up a fair share of household tasks.
Some couples find that a weekly date night keeps the relationship fresh and reminds them why they joined forces in the first place.
Finally, marital separation is difficult, but for some, it may be the right answer. Couples considering this might avail themselves of counseling first and take a hard look at whether they want to keep trying to make things work.
The Importance of Planning
The worst thing you can do is look around on your first day of retirement and say, “Now what?” Have a plan. A plan for finances, a plan for health management, a plan for keeping busy.
Life is never certain, and difficulties can arise in retirement as much as at any other time. With proper planning and the right attitude, however, people can deal with whatever some their way and make the golden years truly golden.