10 Things Successful Retirees Do Differently

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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 the track to success in retirement.

1. They’ve made end-of-life plans

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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 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 their own financial decisions for themselves.

Caring for family and close friends includes not requiring them to make these difficult decisions for you. 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

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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.

Of 9,000 people surveyed, 76% say that time spent with family and friends fulfills their lives and gives it meaning. The poll also finds that:

“Retirees with a strong sense of purpose are happier and healthier, more active and more socially engaged, and they live longer.”

3. They’ve planned ahead for health care costs

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To sleep better at night in retirement, you’ll need a solid plan for meeting the high cost of health care.

Households headed by someone 65 or older spent an average of $6,833 on health care in 2019, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics finds. Financial services company Fidelity says that a couple retiring in 2020 needed $295,000 in assets to cover their medical costs in retirement.

How can you plan for this big hit? A few proven tactics:

4. They spend less than they earn

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Retirees typically have no choice but to learn to live on a fixed income. That can mean getting tough about being frugal.

If you haven’t retired yet, plan on spending 100% of your working income in retirement, so you have a buffer, rather than the 80% often suggested by retirement experts, writers personal finance columnist Richard Quinn, at MarketWatch. Quinn, a retiree, writes from personal experience.

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 for Retiring Comfortably on Social Security Alone

5. They use a Social Security claiming strategy

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Americans’ ignorance about basic aspects of Social Security (like when to claim it and how much you’ll receive) is impressive — and scary. A recent survey by Nationwide Insurance finds that 69% of baby boomers wrongly believe that, “If adults claim benefits early, their benefits will go up automatically when they reach full retirement age.”

No, not true. But 45% of millennials and 49% of those in Generation X also share in that misconception.

Squeezing the most possible from Social Security requires getting help or understanding basics about how the system works. When you claim the benefit often makes a big difference. Here’s help:

6. They have a plan to minimize taxes in retirement

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Taxes often become more complex, not less, for retirees.

You may have new types of income to report: Social Security, pension income 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 401(k) or IRA, you must withdraw a minimum amount each year (a required minimum distribution, or RMD) beginning the year you turn 72. 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 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

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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: “7 Surprising Benefits of Staying Fit in Retirement.”

8. They keep learning

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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 satisfaction of learning and growing.

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 “10 Colleges That Offer Free Tuition for Seniors.”

9. They adapt to change


You’ve surely heard 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

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The slower pace of life in retirement often gives retirees a chance to look deeper and find meaning. Helping others by sharing your time or money brings tremendous fulfillment, many retirees learn.

Nearly half of retirees say that generosity gives them a sense of purpose, the Edward Jones survey found.

Women (55%), even more than men (41%), report that giving is important to them.

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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