8 Surprising Things No One Tells You About Retirement

Surprised retiree
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Most of us spend decades working and dreaming of a day when we can retire. But when we finally arrive at our post-work destination, it’s not unusual to find ourselves in a world of surprises.

Knowing what to expect in advance can help you prepare for — and adjust to — life in your golden years. The following are some key things no one tells you about before you retire.

Housing will remain your biggest expense

Senior couple at home
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Many retirees dream of paying off their mortgage so they will be free to spend money on travel and other activities. But the reality is that housing likely will remain the biggest expense in your budget for as long as you live.

U.S. households led by someone age 65 or older spent an average of $17,472 on housing in 2019, as we detail in “Here’s How Much Retiree Households Spend in a Year.” That is easily more than these households spent in any other expense category.

Work will not end — it will simply change

older worker
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You will probably work in retirement — and not just because you have to. More than 70% of people say they want to work during retirement, according to the findings of “Work in Retirement: Myths and Motivations,” a joint study by Merrill Lynch and Age Wave.

As you age, chances are good that the nature of work will change, though. The study found that 3 in 5 retirees plan to launch a new line of work that differs from what they have done in the past. Working retirees also are three times more likely than pre-retirees to own their own business.

If you’ve never volunteered before, you won’t start in retirement

Senior volunteer
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About 90% of Americans say they would like to do volunteer service for someone or some cause that needs their help, but just 25% actually do so, according to the Stanford Center on Longevity.

When asked why they don’t follow through on the wish to help, Americans most commonly cite a lack of free time. Yet, retirees — with plenty of time on their hands — do not volunteer at rates that are any higher than those of workers.

And among people who did not volunteer during their working years, just one-third finally begin volunteering during retirement.

Retirement can be especially lonely for single men

Sad senior man
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In some ways, retirement is more challenging for women. Because they live longer than men, they will have to stretch the funds from their nest eggs over a longer period. To make matters worse, women generally start with less in retirement savings than men do.

But women who are single have one big advantage over their male counterparts: They are less likely to be lonely.

Just 48% of retired men who live alone say they are very satisfied with the number of friends they have, according to an analysis of Pew Research Center survey findings.

However, a robust 71% of women who live alone are satisfied with the number of friends they have.

Health issues likely will catch you by surprise

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Slightly more than one-third of retirees say health problems have put a damper on their retirement years, according to a survey from the Nationwide Retirement Institute. And 75% of those folks say their health problems emerged sooner in life than they expected.

To make matters worse, about one-quarter say health-related expenses keep them from living the retirement of their dreams. Such sobering numbers underscore why many people planning for retirement would benefit from opening a health savings account and stashing as much cash as possible into that HSA.

As you grow older, you will feel younger

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Everyone has heard the cliche: “You’re only as old as you feel.”

If that is true, here is some good news for retirees: Paradoxically, the older people get, the younger they are likely to feel, according to “Growing Old in America: Expectations vs. Reality,” a paper from the Pew Research Center.

For example, among people ages 18-29, about half say they feel their age, one-quarter feel older than their age and another one-quarter feel younger.

However, among those 65 and older, 60% say they feel younger than their age and 32% say they feel exactly their age. Just a scant 3% say they feel older than their age.

Your early golden years might not gleam as you had hoped

Unhappy senior woman
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Nearly one-third of recent retirees — 28% — say life is worse in retirement than it was during their working years, according to the Nationwide Retirement Institute survey.

What is the source of this gloom and doom? Money — or lack thereof.

Among those who lament post-work life, 78% cite a lack of income and 76% cite a high cost of living as the top factors in giving them the blues during their golden years.

The message to future retirees is obvious: Save early, save often and keep saving. For more tips, check out “9 Ways to Rescue Your Retirement in 2020.”

Initial disappointment will give way to later satisfaction

Happy senior couple
David Tadevosian / Shutterstock.com

If you are among those disappointed with retirement, take heart: As with so many things, retirement is what you make it. You can take steps to boost your overall satisfaction with life during your golden years.

For example, researchers at the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom found that people who volunteer are less likely to be depressed and more likely to be satisfied with life. There is even evidence that volunteers live longer.

So, if retirement has got you down, stop gazing at your navel and start looking outward at ways to help others.

A lot of other research has found that a happy marriage and spending time with close family and friends can greatly boost retirement satisfaction.

Even if you don’t take steps to make yourself happy, you might just end up feeling joyous anyway. The Pew Research Center found that 45% of adults 75 and older believe life has turned out better than they expected.

Just 5% say it has turned out worse.

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.

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