9 Things That Can Make Retirement Really Stink

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Many middle-class Americans find retirement to be tougher than anticipated. Learn what you can do to prepare for the most common pitfalls.

For millions of people, the shimmering dream of retirement is the primary goal of work. Retirement holds the promise that, finally, you’ll have time to pursue what matters most.

However, retirement is under siege. Here are nine reasons why retirement might not be what you dreamed — and tips for turning things around so you can put a little shine on your golden years.

1. You might have to retire before you’re ready

Forty-nine percent of retirees quit working sooner than they planned, usually because of health problems, according to LIMRA, a worldwide research firm focused on the insurance and financial services industries.

Job loss, burnout and negative work conditions also can force people to retire earlier than expected, reports Mark Miller, publisher of Retirement Revised.

2. It’s no fun hanging out with your spouse 24/7

Financial planners say many couples have trouble getting used to spending more time together. Writes MainStreet.com:

“Everyone gets excited about retirement — they think they’re going to walk out the door and never look back and spend their days relaxing and traveling with their spouse, but then they get home and they find they can’t actually stand the person they’ve been married to for the last 30 years,” says Deana Arnett, senior planning consultant at Rosenthal Wealth Management Group. “I’ve seen it happen more times than I care to tell you.”

To be sure, many couples love 24/7 togetherness. But not everyone. A financial planner I know sees the toll retirement can take on marriages. He observes that husbands who have been extremely focused on their jobs are particularly likely to struggle to adjust.

Relationships can endure this transition. Finding retirement pursuits that give life meaning — philanthropy or volunteering, and not just a life built around golf and travel — will give both spouses a sense of renewal.

For some ideas, check out “12 Ways to Connect and Contribute in Your Community After Retiring.

3. It’s boring

When you hate your boss and feel overwhelmed by work, retirement sounds ideal. But although it may be hard to imagine, retirees often long for the camaraderie, structure and sense of purpose work delivers. Not to mention the money.

The blog Retirement: A Full-Time Job tracks the evolution of former CPA Sydney Lagier, who retired in 2008 at age 44. After two months of retirement, she sounded a little surprised to find that retirement hadn’t changed her much:

What will you spend your time doing after you retire? Whatever you spent your time doing before you retired, minus the job. While I’m sure my interests will evolve over the years (just as they did while I was working), I now spend my time doing exactly what I did before I retired, only more of it.

At The Wall Street Journal, a panel of experts advises taking on new challenges by learning, working, advising, volunteering and experimenting. One aging expert says she learned that saying, “yes” to new experiences opens doors to much-needed variety.

4. Working until age 70 may not be an option

Nearly 75 percent of preretirees surveyed by LIMRA said they expect to work in retirement. But life’s realities often intrude on such plans. Today, three-quarters of retirees are not working, LIMRA says.

In recently published research, the AARP Public Policy Institute says:

Extended unemployment, coupled with age discrimination and other barriers, can add to the challenges older workers face in finding a job. Even older jobseekers who do find work may have trouble recovering financially. Many end up accepting jobs at lower pay, with fewer hours, and with limited benefits.

Depending on your profession, it might be wise to invest in disability insurance. Click here to learn about the costs and considerations.

5. Money’s tight — really tight

Social Security pays only $1,290 a month on average, according to October 2015 figures from the Social Security Administration. In addition, most retirees have very little money in savings. In its annual Retirement Confidence Survey, the Employment Benefit Research Institute looked at the savings of current retirees, not including the value of a primary residence or a defined-benefit pension, reporting that:

  • 26 percent have less than $1,000 in savings
  • 10 percent have between $25,000 and $49,999
  • 10 percent have between $50,000 and $99,999
  • 12 percent have between $100,000 and $249,999
  • 14 percent have $250,000 or more

Such meager savings puts many retirees at risk. According to a report to Congress by the Kaiser Foundation:

With the decline in employer-sponsored pensions and retiree health coverage, fewer retirees in the future will have benefits that have helped keep seniors from falling into poverty.

6. It’s hard to get used to growing old

Growing old is a lot like being a teenager. Your body and your looks change rapidly, and that can be surprising and discomforting. Lagier captures this with humor:

The first phase is where you feel young because you actually are young. The third phase is where you feel old because you actually are old. And the phase in between is where you feel young but everyone thinks you need to sit down.

The inevitability of aging can be tough to deal with, especially if you’ve made plans only for your finances. Before you receive that gold watch for retirement, do some thinking about what you want your retirement life to look like. This website provides a reading list to help you think about the process of aging, finding meaning in retirement and coping with mortality.

7. You might spend a lot of it caring for elderly parents

Taking on the care of elderly parents forces many workers into retirement. Eldercare consultant Carol Bradley Bursack got an earful when she wrote “Should You Quit Your Job to Care for Your Elderly Parent?” at AgingCare.com. More than 100 readers commented, many describing their anguish at having to choose between their financial security and caring full-time for parents. 

One, “Caregiveryes,” tells of managing her own aging and health problems along with those of her parents:

It was sad when Mom passed away, but I was physically and emotionally spent and had to take early retirement. My marriage also suffered. Weekend evenings out with friends dwindled to none. My husband and I have already made arrangements so our children do not even have to consider taking on this responsibility. And, it has nothing to do with love or commitment, for me it was more than I could handle physically and emotionally.

8. You could pick up an STD

Seniors, including 72 percent of men and 45 percent of women ages 57 to 72, are sexually active, says this study from the Journals of Gerontology Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences.

Well, good for them, you might say. But STDs are growing fast among the older set. When you think about retirement communities, think about sex, writes The New York Times:

Combine retirement communities, longer life, unfamiliarity with condoms and Viagra — and what do you get? You get an S.T.D. epidemic among the Social Security generation that rivals what we imagine is happening in those “Animal House” fraternities.

For example the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports a rise in cases of chlamydia, syphilis and HIV infection among Americans 55 and older.

If you’re going to have sex, make sure it’s safe sex.

9. You may outlive your money

Longer lifespans today put the nest eggs of even the most scrupulous retirement savers at risk of being exhausted in their owners’ lifetimes. Six in 10 financial advisers predict their clients could outlive income, LIMRA finds.

What’s worse, just one-quarter of preretirees believe they’re at risk to outlive their income, LIMRA says. In fact, only one-third of people near or in retirement have even tried to calculate how long their assets will last.

For ideas on how to save enough for retirement, and how to invest it, check out:

What’s your idea of an ideal retirement and what are your fears? Share your thoughts and questions in comments below or on our Facebook page.

Stacy Johnson

It's not the usual blah, blah, blah

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