You’ve probably seen them both: the happy retiree and the bored, miserable retiree. And many people claim to know of the guy who retired after working decades for a company, only to die within days or months.
The fact is fewer Americans say they are “very satisfied” in retirement, and increasing numbers are not at all satisfied, according to a report published by the Employee Benefit Research Institute.
In that 2016 report, the share of people reporting “very satisfying” retirements dropped from 60.5 percent in 1998 to 48.6 percent in 2012. Meanwhile, the share of Americans reporting “moderately satisfying” and “not at all satisfying” retirements increased from 31.7 percent to 40.9 percent and from 7.9 percent to 10.5 percent, respectively.
Which leads to the question: What exactly makes the difference between a happy retirement and an unhappy retirement?
Believe it or not, it’s not always about the money. Planning, preparation and state of mind, however, play a huge role, financial planners say.
“It’s rarely about account value,” says David Evans of Evans Financial in Shreveport, La. “They can tell you, ‘Here’s what I’m doing next week’ and ‘This is who I’m spending time with.’ ”
“I do have clients who have retired in their early 60s,” says Scott Moffitt, CEO of the Summit Financial Group in Loveland, Ohio. “Generally speaking, they have a plan and a purpose in retirement. They are not sitting at home watching Oprah and eating bonbons. They are engaged, volunteering, traveling. In some cases, they are doing part-time work or dabbling in what they did before. Those are the people most satisfied in retirement.”
“That’s critical to longevity,” Evans says. “Who wants to work 40 years, retire and be sad because I’m sitting on the porch or watching TV all day? That would depress me.”
There are those who focus solely on the financial aspects of retirement, says Mike Lynch, a vice president at Hartford Funds. That is a mistake.
“The people who haven’t thought about what I will do in the next month, the next year or the next five years about it, go into retirement a little more challenged,” Lynch says.
Those who are happiest have a vision of what their retirement will look like, says John Gajkowski, of Money Managers Financial Group in Oak Brook, Ill.: “They have given it a lot of thought. When they quit work on Friday, on Monday they are not walking into a giant abyss.”
But that’s not to say money plays no role in retirement happiness. The happiest people did not ignore money issues. But besides saving, they did the planning.
“I have clients doing extensive travel,” Gajkowski says. “They’ve taken time to figure out what they want to do and what it will cost to do those things. They have broken down expenses into required expenses and desired expense.”
Still, just because you have a retirement account doesn’t mean you have a retirement plan. “Eighty percent of people who come in say I have 401(k) or maybe a pension,” Evans says. “They haven’t calculated how this will produce an income stream and if this income stream is enough to maintain my lifestyle.”
“Unfortunately, I see people who haven’t saved anything,” Evans says. “They say, ‘I have to work.’ They don’t work because they want to work.”
The thing you must keep in mind is that everybody’s retirement is different, ” Lynch says. “We are seeing more and more responsibility pushed back on the individual. Many clients will spend 20, 30 or 40 years in retirement. If they focus on the quality of life, they will have a successful future.”