Have you imagined the first day you get to wake up and not worry about work or your career? Imagining this magical day, known as the “first day of retirement”, elicits all sorts of emotions for future retirees. Images of sleeping in, going on extended vacations, and spending time with family are some of the first to appear, but if you’ve spent all this time following your financial plan to get to retirement, shouldn’t you spend some time planning your retired life as well?
There is ample research showing that a happy retirement hinges on much more than having your finances and cash flow in order. Without adequate preparation, it can be jarring to get up one day and find yourself lacking the work responsibilities that may have defined your routine for so long. It’s easy to dream about moving away from something, especially if it’s stressful or draining, it’s another to retire to something. This is even harder if your job was a significant part of your identity. All of a sudden Jill the medical doctor is just Jill! Even if your career didn’t define a large part of who you are you still have to think about how to find value, purpose, and direction in this next stage of life, a stage without the office water cooler, the business travel, or the interesting clients. The good news is that we know a fair amount about what leads to happier, more successful retirements.
First, many retirees end up, wait for it…going back to work! This doesn’t usually mean going back full time, but instead doing part-time work to keep up the social interactions and sense of purpose that often make up the best part of work. Or maybe this manifests itself by turning your hobby into a side business, or taking on a paid teaching or mentoring role in your area of expertise. Volunteering serves much the same purpose, and allows you to devote more time to the causes you care about. Churches, charities, and other nonprofits are always looking for passionate members of the community to help them reach their goals. Judging by the amount of charitable donations we see clients make, we know the drive to contribute to something bigger than oneself is strong for those in or near retirement.
The second often-cited factor for a happier retirement is exercise. Building up the nest egg to retire is one thing, but so is taking care of yourself to enjoy it. From a purely financial standpoint a sedentary retirement is more likely to lead to increased medical bills that may derail your retirement plans.
It may seem paradoxical but often it’s the busiest retirees that end up being the happiest. Now, this isn’t the type of busy where you’re binge-watching several hours of Netflix each day, but rather being intentional about setting time to socialize and engage with friends and family.
Before COVID my own grandmother had an ongoing bridge game with members of her church and spent a few days volunteering in the local hospital giftshop each week. This, combined with visits from family, provided the opportunity to maintain or grow the relationships that lead to better health outcomes. Social isolation for retirees (especially older seniors) is a serious problem in the United States, with increased isolation leading to poorer health, increased cognitive impairment, etc. The phrase “your network is your net-worth” doesn’t just apply to your career, it also applies to a long, successful retirement.
At Johnson Bixby we’re proud of the work we do to help clients get in the position to retire without worrying about whether their money will last. But having sufficient funds is only one part of the equation. By taking time to think about how you’ll be transitioning from being “time poor” to “time rich” you’ll maximize the chances of a happy, fulfilling retirement.