The most successful retirees seem to have it all: not just financial security but also health, happiness and peace of mind.
How do they do it? Here are habits, approaches and characteristics that can help put you on track to success in retirement.
1. They’ve made end-of-life plans
Did you know that only 32% of retirees have designated someone they trust as their medical power of attorney (or medical proxy) in case they can’t make medical decisions for themselves? The rest of us who don’t have someone named are leaving our loved ones’ hands tied when it comes to carrying out our wishes if we can’t communicate.
Likewise, just 30% of retirees have a living will (or advance directive) telling family and health care providers what end-of-life care they do and don’t want. Fewer still — 28% — have assigned someone they trust to have financial power of attorney for them if (and only if) they can’t make financial decisions for themselves.
Caring for family and close friends means not requiring them to make difficult decisions without your guidance. Make such decisions for yourself now, while you are able.
If you’re unsure where to start, check out “8 Documents That Are Essential to Planning Your Estate.”
2. They spend time with loved ones
Time spent with those you love is the top way people find fulfillment in their later years, a study commissioned by financial services company Edward Jones finds.
As we reported:
“A whopping 61% of pre-retirees and a full two-thirds (67%) of retirees name spending time with loved ones as a source of purpose and meaning in retirement.”
3. They’ve planned ahead for health care costs
To sleep better at night in retirement, you’ll need a solid plan for meeting the high cost of health care.
Financial services company Fidelity says that a couple who retired in 2022, both at the age of 65, would need $315,000 in assets to cover their medical costs in retirement.
How can you plan for this big hit? A few proven tactics:
- Buy long-term care insurance and time the purchase so you don’t spend too much. Money Talks News founder Stacy Johnson discusses who can benefit from the purchase in “Should I Buy Long-Term Care Insurance?“
- Amassing a fat health savings account before retiring is smart. You save the money tax-free while you’re working and spend it tax-free on medical costs in retirement. Find out more in “3 Ways a Health Savings Account Can Improve Your Finances.”
- Simply saving enough to cover health care costs in retirement is the most basic approach.
4. They spend less than they earn
Retirees typically have no choice but to learn to live on a fixed income. That can mean getting tough about being frugal.
Fortunately, at this stage, you’ve been around the block a few times by now. Experience can make it easier to rein in the impulse to spend.
Here’s help with planning and managing costs in retirement: “8 Tips to Retire Comfortably on Social Security Alone.”
5. They have a Social Security claiming strategy
Studies have shown Americans’ ignorance about basic aspects of Social Security — like when to claim it and how much you’ll receive — is pretty scary.
Squeezing the most possible from Social Security requires getting help or understanding basics about how the system works. When you claim your benefits often makes a big difference.
For help, read: “7 Things You Should Do Before Claiming Social Security.”
6. They have a plan to minimize taxes in retirement
Taxes often become more complex, not less so, for retirees.
You may have new types of income to report: Social Security, pension payments and retirement account withdrawals. These can be taxed differently than your familiar paycheck income.
One example: If your money is in a tax-deferred retirement plan, like a traditional 401(k) or IRA, you must withdraw a minimum amount each year (a required minimum distribution, or RMD) beginning the year you turn 72, 73, 74 or 75, depending on when you were born. Miss taking an RMD, and you can face a penalty.
These factors can increase or lower your tax bill so planning matters. Get help if you’re unclear about any of it. Failing to plan for taxes in retirement is one of “8 Mistakes That Can Sabotage Your Retirement.”
In the Money Talks News Solutions Center, you’ll find financial advisers to help craft your strategy, taking taxable retirement income into account. When hiring advisers, be sure to learn if they have expertise in tax planning.
7. They exercise
One looming fear of aging is a loss of independence. We’ve all seen elders lose the ability to perform basic functions like eating, walking, dressing and bathing. They become reliant on others’ help.
Some of that may come with the territory, of course. But there’s a cheap, simple habit that helps seniors stay active and independent: exercise. It also helps us feel happier, think clearly and reduce bone and muscle loss that’s common with aging.
Seniors on limited incomes will be happy to know that exercise also drives down retirees’ spending on medical care. Even life insurance rates can be affected since maintaining a healthy weight may help keep premiums lower.
Learn more in “7 Surprising Benefits of Staying Fit in Retirement.”
8. They keep learning
Continuing to learn well into old age has payoffs beyond acquiring new information. Among them: a better ability to stave off the onset of cognitive decline, according to the University of Washington’s Memory & Brain Wellness Center.
Other benefits of continuing to learn include social engagement as well as the personal satisfaction that comes from expanding one’s horizons.
Many colleges and universities invite seniors to audit classes tuition-free, which could even lead to a college degree. You will find a few in “9 Colleges That Offer Free Tuition for Seniors.”
9. They adapt to change
You’ve surely heard some version of the saying (widely attributed to film legend Bette Davis), “Getting old ain’t for sissies.” It’s true. Retirement is a life stage when losses — of status, income, friends, family, a spouse or physical or cognitive ability, to name just a few — are all but guaranteed.
How to endure and enjoy despite that? Resilience — the ability to recover from difficulties — is key. One part of that is the willingness to adapt to change. Successful retirees typically dust themselves off and try a new approach after hitting one of the obstacles that inevitably arise with aging.
You will find ideas for how to cope in “Regret Retiring? Try These 7 Things.”
10. They are generous
The slower pace of life in retirement often gives retirees a chance to look deeper and find meaning. Helping others by sharing their time or money brings tremendous fulfillment, many retirees learn.
Being generous is a source of purpose and fulfillment for 40% of retirees and 31% of pre-retirees, the Edward Jones survey found.
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