For many of us, retirement will be here much more quickly than we might expect. According to a 2015 fact sheet on aging and health from the World Health Organization, the pace of the world’s population is aging much faster than in the past. By 2020, the number of people aged 60 years and older will outnumber children younger than 5 years. Today, WHO reports, 125 million people are aged 80 years or older. By 2050, 120 million aged 80 or older will be living in China alone.
With these statistics in mind, it is never too early to begin planning for retirement. In a recent article for Forbes magazine, Richard Eisenberg recently offered the following nine keys to a happy retirement:
- Spend time with your children and grandchildren if you have them. Eisenberg referencesStan Hinden, author of How to Retire Happy, who suggests one of the best ways to be happy is to find ways to spend time with your children and grandchildren, even though they may be busy. “You need them,” Hinden said. “Whether they realize it or not, they need you.”
What if you don’t have children or grandchildren? We suggest you find a way to connect with younger generations in a way that utilizes your experiences and strengths for their benefit. Tutor a high school student in math or science. Teach a class on investing at your church or community center. Allow kindergarteners at your local elementary school to read to you. The opportunities — and benefits — are endless.
- Keep a schedule, but not like your pre-retirement one. Eisenberg describes a study from Taiwan that asserts the key to a happy retirement isn’t how much free time you have, but how you manage your available time. A schedule helps prevent boredom, depression and loneliness, Eisenberg says. While you may be able to throw your pre-retirement planner away, having a daily or a weekly plan will help organize your activities and maintain control of your schedule.
- Learn new things or pursue your passions. Remember thinking, “When I retire, I’m going to …”? Now you can write that novel, travel, take a cruise, or learn to play the guitar. Retirement is the time to pursue your passions and learn new skills. Laura Ingalls Wilder published her first book, Little House in the Big Woods, when she was 64. The eight-book series that followed has since been translated into 40 languages.
- Get a part-time job. According to Eisenberg, studies show that working in retirement keeps your mind sharp and helps you avoid feeling isolated and lonely. Your current employer may offer a phased-retirement plan, or you could set up your own business as a consultant or contractor. Maybe, it’s time to pursue a part-time job in another field. A semi-retired writer I know now drives a school bus for his local public school system. The job not only provides him additional health insurance benefits, but it also provides him fuel for his stories through his interactions with students. (See #1 above).
- To the extent possible, stay engaged and healthy. According to Eisenberg, career coach Bill Ellermeyer says the happiest retirees are either engaged in meaningful activity or are actively employed. Whether your work is paid or volunteer, finding a way to contribute to society will help you stay engaged. Regular exercise and good nutrition will help you stay healthy.
- Choose when to retire and then follow through. “The authors of The Retirement Maze surveyed 1,477 retirees to see what made the happy ones happy,” Eisenberg writes. “They found that 69 percent of the retirees who retired by choice were satisfied with their lifestyle but only 36 percent pushed into retirement said they were.”
- But what if you had a plan for retirement, and organizational changes either hastened your departure or you were, as Eisenberg describes, “pushed into retirement”? Can you still be happy? A 2012 Forbes article by Margie Warrell references research by psychologist Marty Seligman who found that those most likely to succeed after a setback like involuntary retirement frame the experience differently from those who continue to struggle. Remember that your job status does not define you, Warrell asserts. If you can interpret the unfortunate circumstance as an opportunity to grow and reprioritize, you can look forward to your future with excitement.
- Come up with a retirement income plan. “Figure up how much your 401(k) and other accounts will translate into monthly income; how much you’ll get from Social Security and any pension; how much you can afford to withdraw each year, and which accounts you’ll tap first for withdrawals to keep taxes down,” Eisenberg advises.
Adjusting your housing needs may also factor into your income plan. How much maintenance will your home require? Should you consider downsizing to minimize maintenance and upkeep? Should you consider moving to a one-story home? Should you consider the future possibility of assisted living or healthcare for yourself or your spouse? Seek advice from your financial planner or a retirement counselor as you make these decisions.
- If you have a spouse or partner, talk about your plans together. Much like you did in the early days of your relationship, talking with your spouse or partner about your hopes and dreams for retirement may give you both a sense of excitement and hope for the future. Quoting Neal Frankle, a noted financial planner, Eisenberg suggests that couples discuss their retirement dreams and write them down. Identifying each item as a “must have,” a “want,” or a “wish” will also help clarify your goals and aspirations. Of course, as with every decision in your relationship, be ready to compromise!
- Figure out in advance what you want out of retirement. Whether you want to travel the world or retire to a cabin in the woods, knowing how you want to spend your days, where you’ll spend them, and who you hope to spend them with are key decisions if you hope to make the most of the years ahead. Remember the words of George Burns, “Retirement at 65 is ridiculous. When I was 65, I still had pimples.”