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How To Be A Success At The Hard Work Of Retirement

A longtime reader once told me he appreciates that I remind people that retirement is hard work. It’s a lesson that many people haven’t learned when they retire, but they need to learn it early if the want successful retirements.

There aren’t too many places where you’ll learn about the hard work of retirement. Much of the real estate industry and the media would have us believe retirement is an extended vacation or college without the class work. Or as some people put it, every day is Saturday.

You can approach retirement that way, but it isn’t likely to be a successful retirement. I know that I usually plan my Saturdays so that they won’t be wasted, and most people I know do the same. We might plan mostly leisurely and fun activities, but by Friday evening we have a good idea of what we’ll be doing most of Saturday.

Your retirement plan needs to be about a lot more than finances and health care.

I always say that the first step in a retirement plan is deciding how you want to spend your time. That has two benefits. One benefit is that you can make a reasonable estimate of how much retirement will cost. You don’t know if you have enough money saved for retirement until you know how much your desired lifestyle will cost.

The other benefit is you develop a plan for filling all that time spent working in the pre-retirement years. Most people approach retirement thinking that it will be easy to fill the days with activities. In the first months of retirement that’s often the case. But soon most of the back log of home improvement projects are completed. It’s time to settle into a routine of regular activities.

Your retirement plan should include an idea of how you’ll spend the typical day, week, and month. You should have an idea how the activities will change with the seasons.

As with your financial plan, review this plan throughout retirement and definitely at least annually. A retirement plan is only a plan, not a roadmap or blueprint. It’s based on assumptions, and a good number of those assumptions will need to be altered over time. You’ll be wrong about some things. People often find that the activity they thought would be really enjoyable in retirement isn’t as fulfilling as expected. Your needs, wants and preferences also are likely to vary over time, as are your family, health and more.

You want activities you both enjoy and that give you purpose. As I’ve written before, there’s a high rate of anxiety, depression, and suicide among retirees. It’s apparent that a cause of these conditions is a lack of purpose in people’s lives. You need to develop activities and interests that make you want to get up in the morning and provide a sense of accomplishment and purpose.

Managing your finances and ensuring financial independence are part of the hard work of retirement. But they are only part of it. Planning your activities to that you’re active, socially engaged and purposeful are at least as important. Work provided a lot of the structure, social engagement and purpose for many people during much of their adult decades. The real hard work of retirement is finding substitutes.

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