Living longer means a second chance at those life decisions you now regret


As people live longer in retirement, some might seize the chance to dream fresh dreams. (iStock)

I’ve written quite a lot about the fact that today people can live just as long, or longer, in retirement, as they do in their working lives. The lesson is you can’t scrimp on saving for retirement because it’s likely you will live into your 80’s or 90’s.

Some people are using those active years after their “first” retirement to find encore careers or start businesses — doing things they truly love instead of the things they had to do for the old careers.

Now there’s a new take on those post retirement years. “A Gift of Time,” a new study from Allianz Life Insurance Co. says Americans are embracing the opportunity to make up for those decisions they regret, such as the college they attended or the career they chose.

“As Americans come to terms with the fact that they’ll likely live an extra 30 years, they have the opportunity to look back and evaluate their past decisions and consider the newfound possibilities for the future afforded by time,” said Katie Libbe, Allianz Life vice president for consumer insights.

According to Allianz, 32 percent of Americans say they regret their major life choices. The biggest regrets were not following their dreams (39 percent); not taking more risks with their careers (38 percent) and not taking risks with their lives in general – things like taking new jobs or going back to school – 36 percent.

Thirty five percent also said they wish they had been gutsier in their choices and done things they really wanted to do.

Fifty-six percent said they would travel “extensively” or live in a different place and a quarter said they would “take more risks in life.”

Ninety-three percent say are happy they can live another 30 years. (That 30 years is what the Stanford Center for Longevity says is the average increase in life expectancy in the U.S.) That extra time means more opportunities and different life and career paths, including:

  • Starting a new business, 29 percent
  • Having a second career doing something they really enjoy, 21 percent
  • Volunteering and supporting the environment, 19 percen

And finally, the survey respondents said they realize that a longer life means they have to do a better job with planning in order to fund those new life goals.

Question of the Week

A third of the people in this survey regretted some major life decisions, but the fact that we are living longer gave them hope that they can take more risks in retirement. Are there things you wish you had done earlier, like travel, start a business, new career or volunteer, that you now feel you can do once you retire? Send comments to rodney.brooks@washpost.com. Please include your name, city and state. In the subject line put “Second Chance.”

Last Week’s Question

This new Willis Towers Watson survey says a quarter of us plan to retire at 70 or older. That number is rising. How old do you expect to be when you finally retire? And tell me why.

There was a huge response to last week’s question. We got so many responses I will spread them over the next few weeks.

Jacquelyn Collins wrote:

I plan to retire at 62 and then work part-time or less and volunteer.  I am hoping to spend more time with friends and family and travel.  I have a defined benefit plan and hope to add to it with my savings and Social Security in the future. I was thinking of taking out Social Security at 64.  Prior to retiring I am getting my hip replaced, while I have good health insurance even though it is a bit soon.  My main concern is staying active, but I am working on ways to make that happen.

William Ruf of Wappingers Falls, N.Y., wrote:

If I can make it to 73, so much the better. I feel the need to maximize my Social Security and build up my retiring savings as much as I can because of what I feel is an uncertain economic future. I don’t have a pension to fall back on, and I don’t know where Social Security is going. Between the recession in 1990, and this last recession, and frequent layoffs in the past 15 years, I lost most of my retirement savings. My health is not the greatest, but I’m stable and that will probably be the determining factor as to when I retire.

Rich Grimm of Tampa, Fla., wrote:

My plan is to retire at 67 years and 4 months — January 2024. At that time I will have 20 years of civil service with the Federal Govt. Combined with my military retirement (25 years in the Marines) and my thrift savings plan and Social Security, my wife and I should be well positioned in retirement. Our nest egg should last at least 30 years. The remainder will be a nice legacy for our two adult children.

Alan O. Bornmueller wrote:

I made the decision in my early 30’s to NOT count on Social Security in retirement. This was confirmation that my early life decision on investing helped me meet my goal.  I stuck to my investing plan (401(k), IRA, Roth) and was able to retire at 60.  In the past 8 years my portfolio has grown.  This success was due mostly to early savings and planning on an early retirement. It also helps that the Quicken budget I use helped to keep spending in retirement on check. I know this is not what you were looking for in the response to your article, but I wanted you to know that some of us did plan for success.

Garrett Hornsby of Guttenberg, N.J., wrote:

I plan to retire at 62.  I hope!!  I want to be able to enjoy life before the inevitable aches and pains of age begin to take their toll.  I’m 11 years away from 62 and much can change in the interim.  However, my retirement plan (savings) is pointed at the 62 yo goal!

My most recent retirement column: After you’ve saved for retirement, annuities can help put your nest egg to work

Michelle Singletary’s last column: Want to avoid fighting in your marriage? Try this first.

Write Brooks at The Washington Post, 1301 K St. NW, Washington, D.C., 20071, or rodney.brooks@washpost.com. On Twitter @Perfiguy. Personal responses may not be possible, and comments or questions may be used in a future column, with the writer’s name, unless otherwise requested. To read more, go to washingtonpost.com/business
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Last Updated:5:04 PM 07/18/2019

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