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What Retirees Say Retirement Is Really Like

A survey of people who’ve quit full-time work finds they’re busy, but have made serious adjustments to their lives

By Bob Lowry | July 8, 2013
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Bob Lowry was a management consultant to several hundred radio stations before retiring in 2001. He writes the Satisfying Retirement blog and is the author of the e-book, Living a Satisfying Retirement.

Writing the blog Satisfying Retirement has provided me with a special insight into the expectations and fears of retirees and those about to begin life after full-time work. Recently, I decided to conduct a survey of my readers to find out what retirement is really like, or going to be like, for them.

I’ve compiled the answers I received from more than 50 retirees and pre-retirees in a new e-book, Living a Satisfying Retirement, and will share the seven key takeaways below.

(MORE: The Secrets of How to ‘Retire Happy’)

The Survey’s Big Surprise

Some of what I heard surprised me — I didn’t expect the retirees to be so overwhelmingly positive because I thought the last several years of economic turmoil would have spoiled some of their plans. That was not the case.

Instead, I found a group of people whose lives are bursting at the seams with activities and newly discovered passions. Granted, my blog readers are solidly middle class and the survey’s sample size was small. So their answers can’t be statistically projected to the retiree or pre-retiree population as a whole. That said, here are the seven big findings:

7 Takeaways from the Survey of Retirees and Pre-Retirees

1. Boredom is not a problem. One of the most common misconceptions about retirement is that people can’t fill up their days, which leads to unhappiness. This was absolutely not the case.

Finding enough time to accomplish what they wanted was a more common situation. "I do not remember being bored anytime in the last 20 years," said longtime retiree Pat W. "I have to remember (repeatedly!) that I cannot do everything I want to do, even in retirement."

Jane P. was on the same page. "I’ve had three boring days in two years," she said.

(MORE: For Your Best Retirement, Know Your Level of Activity)

How do retirees fill their time? The most common responses: writing, biking, hiking, gardening, volunteering, traveling, reading and having lunch with friends.

2. Retirees often downsize and cut their living costs – by choice. The typical respondent is living quite comfortably on about half of his or her pre-retirement income.

By accepting the difference between wants and needs, these retirees have embraced a simpler lifestyle that produces less stress and gives them more time to enjoy their newfound freedom.

"The interesting thing is that as we get older, our desires have decreased so our disposable income has increased," noted Bertha T.

3. Retirement requires some big adjustments for married couples. Many discovered that having a spouse home all day could be challenging. "When my husband retired," one respondent noted, "he had a lot of spare ‘supervising energy’ left to be used up — and only me to use it on. I am not good at being supervised."

(MORE: When Type A Personalities Retire, It Isn’t Pretty)

I also heard that “me” time is essential for couples. "Some of my husband's habits irk me," said one woman, echoing the sentiments of many others. "We need personal space and time away from each other."

4. Strategically planning for retirement pays off. "Creating an effective and satisfying retirement requires just as much energy and thought as building a successful career did," said retiree Tammy P. "But it brings a much greater capacity for true satisfaction and joy."

5. Retirement is also an ongoing process. One thing I heard over and over again from the survey respondents is that retirement rarely unfolds according to plan.

"Don’t think that you can, or have to, figure it all out ahead of time," noted Roger W. "You will become a different person in retirement than you ever imagined."

6. The No. 1 concern for pre-retirees: how their health will hold up. "I worry about some unexpected health problem that could cripple my lifestyle," said Tom S.

Respondents nearing retirement said they’re also worried about running out of money and staying within a budget. Some were anxious that they don’t have firm goals yet. Others feared their retirement dreams won’t match the reality.

7. Pre-retirees often have trepidations. I asked people who are still working what they most want to find out from those who are already retired. "How do you know that it’s time to retire?" was a common response. "Is it a feeling or a whisper in your ear?" Another concern: "Why is it so scary to let go?"
 
As someone who has been retired for a while and blogs on the subject, I advise people getting ready to join me not to worry so much about their total savings, where to live or even how to fill the time. Having a satisfying retirement is more about your attitude toward the opportunities that life gives you.