Life After Retirement: Is Money Really the Priority?


What do you really want in retirement? Time? Money? Or both? Many people who retire become bored and go back to work. If you spend a little time thinking about your life after retirement now, you might save yourself some second-guessing and dissatisfaction down the line.

For starters, consider the steps you took that put you in a position to leave the workforce and begin life as a retiree.

Consider How You Got Here

Before you retired, you likely had retirement-related goals, many of which had to do with your finances. First, there was the matter of how you would pay living expenses after you no longer received a paycheck.

Whether it was through a pension, 401(k), Social Security, individual retirement account or other savings, you sat down, crunched the numbers and came up with a plan. You may have even created a retirement budget.

Your planning likely included reducing or eliminating debt, creating an emergency fund and buying life insurance and possibly long-term care insurance. (See also Do You Need Life Insurance After You Retire?) You may have written a will and made advance funeral arrangements.

List Retirement Lifestyle Goals

Now that you are officially retired – or very near to it – what do you want to do now? What do you want to achieve? If you haven’t written down a list of retirement lifestyle goals, do so now. Get out a piece of paper and make a “What I want to do now” list.

Your list can include both short-term and long-term goals. It doesn’t have to be detailed. Anything and everything is fair game including sleeping late, travel, gardening, fishing, you name it. It’s your list.

Entertain Other Possibilities

To your original list, add any of the following that interest you but that didn’t occur to you earlier. This list includes input from many sources and suggests some of the most common retirement goals people have.

  • Financial independence
  • Travel/recreation/sports
  • Healthcare
  • A second career
  • Gifts to – and time spent with – family
  • Education/self-improvement
  • Organizations/social interaction
  • Peace of mind
  • Donations of time/money

This additional process allows you to expand your original list, if appropriate, but still ensure the list includes what is important to you.

Divide Your Goals into Groups

Divide your goals into three groups from most to least important. The number of goals in each group is up to you, but for most people the most important group will be the smallest and the least important group the largest.

By grouping your goals, you can focus on what's really most important to you without having to prioritize each goal separately. For thoughts, see Why Working After Retirement Is Good for Your Health, Retirement Travel: Good and Good for You and 15 Mistakes People Make When Planning for Retirement.

Consider the Downside

A recent poll uncovered seven misconceptions people have about retirement. One relates to the common expectation that retirees experience less stress in their lives. Although 55% of respondents age 50 or older expected retirement to be less stressful than working, only 39% found that to be true.

Other misconceptions included the notion that travel and hobbies would fill their days, that they would take better care of themselves and their health would hold up, that their standard of living would remain the same and that their relationships with family members would improve.

Knowing about these potential pitfalls can help you prepare and avoid the disappointment of a retirement that doesn't meet your expectations.

Do a Worst-Case Scenario Test

To that end, consider each retirement lifestyle goal on your list under both a best-case and worst-case scenario. Imagine, for example, whether your goal to travel and see the world would be possible if your health declined or your financial situation deteriorated.

For goals you've deemed least important, the scenarios will not matter so much. For those that are most important you may want to consider alternative goals, adaptations or coping strategies, just in case.

The Bottom Line

After going through this exercise you will have more than just a list of goals. You will have a plan. Your plan will take into account not only your circumstances now, but possible changes to health and wealth in the future.

The more complete your plan, the less chance you will face roadblocks, boredom or worse, depression. In the process, you may discover that all that financial preparation was just that – preparation. The money, it may turn out, was not an end, but a means to an end.

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