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4 Money Moves for a Happier Retirement

Advice from a writer who just combed through the latest retirement surveys

By Bart Astor

How do pre-retirees and retirees feel about retirement these days? Glad you asked.

Since this is “National Retirement Planning Week” (dreamed up by 40-odd financial industry and advocacy groups), a passel of retirement surveys have just been released. I’ve read them — so you don’t have to — and here are the highlights and four action steps to take based on the findings.

Interestingly, the results are somewhat contradictory.

Mixed Messages From Retirement Surveys

On the one hand, 60 percent of Americans worry they won’t ever have enough money to retire, according to a survey from the Insured Retirement Institute (IRI), and 55 percent of boomers told PNC Financial they worry their savings may not hold out for as long as they live. The top financial concern of boomers (cited by 53 percent) in the PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PwC) Employee Financial Wellness 2015 survey was “not being able to retire when I want to.” Yet about half of the New York Life retirees surveyed said they wish they had retired four or five years earlier than they did.

Some of those retirees in the New York Life survey are undoubtedly enjoying their newfound freedom. But others likely wish they’d retired earlier because their failing health has kept them from doing some things they’d planned to do in retirement. Even when you take finances out of the equation, though, about half of the retirees surveyed said they should have taken the plunge earlier. Most of the retired men felt they should have retired between three and five years earlier and most of the retired women would have preferred retiring one to three years earlier.

“Many of the clients we work with didn’t realize until after they retired that they should have done it sooner,” said David Cruz, Senior Managing Director at New York Life.

Survey after survey released this week, however, shows that roughly half of non-retired boomers plan to postpone their retirement, usually because their savings are coming up short. (The boomers PNC surveyed said $1.3 million is the minimum amount they think they need to have saved for retirement.) According to IRI, last year about a quarter of boomers postponed a planned retirement.

One Retirement Worry: Free Time

A second, and important, reason cited by working boomers for postponing retirement was uncertainty about what they’d do with themselves.

In IRI’s survey, about a fifth of the boomers listed not knowing what they’d do with their free time as one of their top two retirement concerns.

While researching my personal finance books, I’ve heard many people worry about retiring, saying they have no hobbies and that they’d go stir crazy without a job and purpose. But as I point out in my book, AARP Roadmap for the Rest of Your Life, chances are, sooner or later in retirement, you’ll decide that there are things you want to do other than veg out on the couch. Then you’ll start filling your days with exciting and rewarding challenges, such as volunteering or continuing your education.


4 Action Steps to Take

Now for four action items based on the latest retirement surveys:

1. Start your retirement planning. Rather than fret, as so many surveyed did, about not having enough money to retire, beef up your savings. That could mean putting more cash into your 401(k) or an IRA; if your company offers a 401(k), try to maximize your contributions and get the full employer match. You could also look for more money to save by taking a scalpel to your expenses. Or you could do both.

2. Meet with a professional adviser. Just make sure that person has experience working with people around your age and in similar circumstances. This AARP article can help you find a pro.

3. Figure out how much the money in your employer-sponsored retirement plan would produce as income for you in retirement. In The Guardian Life Insurance’s Retire Well Study, four-fifths of those with 401(k)s said they’d increase their contributions if they knew how much retirement income the money in the plans would provide. So have an adviser or your 401(k) plan manager help you calculate how much you might receive when you retire.

4. Visualize what you’d do in retirement. Take stock now, before you wake up on that first Monday after quitting your full-time job, whenever that happens. (In the PNC survey, boomers said they expect to retire at age 65 1/2, on average.) Think about what you currently like to do in your spare time and determine how you could do that and other activities when you’ll have more time.

Start dipping your toes into the retirement-life waters. Volunteer. Take a class. Join a gym. Explore what turns you on and begin to make preparations for retirement. Then maybe you’ll become one of those retirees who said they wished they’d retired sooner.

Photograph of Bart Astor
Bart Astor, an expert in life transitions and elder care, is the author of the book AARP Roadmap for the Rest of Your Life: Smart Choices About Money, Health, Work, Lifestyle and Pursuing Your Dreams and Baby Boomer’s Guide to Caring for Aging Parents. His website is and he can be reached at [email protected]. Read More
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