7 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Retired
written by Mike Ballew January 30, 2022

Life is full of surprises and retirement is no exception. From the perspective of someone on the other side, here are 7 things I wish I knew before I retired.

1. Unexpected Costs Can Wreak Havoc on your Finances

No matter how much you plan, things happen in retirement that you never expected. A loved one falls ill, inflation rears its ugly head, or Social Security goes bankrupt. That is why it’s so important to prepare for the things you can predict.

Houses and automobiles need repairs and maintenance. These costs are fairly easy to plan, it’s a matter of estimating the costs and setting aside enough money to deal with them. You can learn more about the mechanics in this article entitled Emergency Fund.

2. Family Matters

Don’t work so hard that you lose sight of what you’re working for. It’s a scenario that plays out far too often, and with disastrous results. You dive headfirst into your career with good intentions: to provide a better life for your family. Then one day you look around and your family is nowhere to be found. They’ve found other ways to meet their needs for love and attention. 

There’s a lot of free time in retirement, but it’s no fun if you don’t have anyone to spend it with. Make family a priority – it’s not just a bumper sticker. Putting family first pays better returns than any job or investment ever could.

3. Retirement is Boring

Did I mention you have a lot of free time in retirement? Sure, it’s a blast at first. No alarm, no commute, and you can do anything you want. That wears off in about a month, then you are faced with a harsh reality. What lies before you is a soul-sucking expanse of nothingness that seems to stretch out into eternity. If you are not prepared for it, your life can quickly devolve into a meaningless existence. There are not enough television programs and books and podcasts in the world to fill the gaping hole of a poorly-planned retirement. 

When you leave your hectic work life behind, you go from being so busy that you can’t believe where the time has gone, to wondering if you can make it through another day. The boredom can become a whirlpool of depression that drags you down into the slough of despair. You’ll find yourself in a dark place where you don’t want to go anywhere or do anything and you certainly don’t have the strength to try anything new.

What you need is a little preparation. Take the time before you retire to find age-appropriate activities that you enjoy doing. Depending on how you feel about being around other people, some of your pastimes should involve interacting with others. If you can barely tolerate people, then choose at least one activity with a social element so you don’t become a hermit.

There are any number of things that you can do to keep busy in retirement. Develop good habits like going for a walk every day. If you need some ideas, check out Start a New Hobby or What's on your Bucket List?.

4. Healthcare Costs Will Eat You Alive

According to Fidelity a healthy 65-year-old couple will spend an estimated $300,000 in today’s after-tax dollars on healthcare in retirement. That’s more than the average 65-year-old couple’s entire nest egg.

Medicare helps, but it doesn’t cover everything, and it’s not free. On top of that it can be very confusing. You’ll have lots of time to figure it out in retirement, but if you’d like a primer there’s a wealth of information in Medicare Explained.

5. No One Gets Out Alive

Our secular world makes it easy to go through life without ever pondering life’s most basic questions, like: Why am I here? Where did I come from? Where am I going? Retirement is the last chapter of your life. If ever there was a time to start thinking about where you are going, this is it.

It has been said that we are one-third mental, one-third physical, and one-third spiritual. If that is true, is it wise to go through life ignoring one-third of who we are? Be open to exploring matters of a spiritual nature. It only gets harder as you age.

6. Social Security is Not All It’s Cracked Up to Be

Social Security was never meant to be a retiree’s sole source of income, yet for many that is the case. A full 40% of retired Americans have no other income besides Social Security. Despite the fact that you pay into it for all of your working life, there is no guarantee that it will be there when you need it. At present, the Social Security fund is in danger of becoming insolvent. You can read more in Will Social Security Run Out of Money?.

7. You Can Save Too Much for Retirement

Finally, we’ve reached the last in our list of 7 things I wish I knew before I retired. Though it may sound crazy, you can save too much for retirement. How can anyone save too much for retirement? It’s not really a matter of having too much money, it’s more an issue of how you allocate a finite amount of money over the course of a lifetime. 

Throughout our working lives it’s up to us to decide how much to save for retirement. We can save a little or a lot. If it’s a lot, it likely comes at the expense of your pre-retirement lifestyle. You won’t be able to do much because you are saving so much for retirement.

Come retirement age you have all this money but nowhere to spend it. You could go on vacation, but sitting on an airplane becomes less tolerable as you age. Then there’s the hassle of dealing with hotels and rental car companies and finding your way in unfamiliar surroundings. It sounds like more trouble than it’s worth.

It wasn’t always this way. Back when the kids were little you used to love taking them on vacation. Everyone had a blast and you couldn’t wait until the next one. Only there weren't as many as you would have liked because the monkey of retirement savings was always on your back. 

That’s what saving too much for retirement looks like. It's regretting that you didn't do more when you were young enough to enjoy it. It stems from not knowing how much to save for retirement. The way to avoid it is to have a real retirement plan. Don’t guess at how much you need to save and hope for the best, look at your anticipated living expenses and save only as much as you need. 

The first step is to say NO to retirement rules of thumb. Surely you have seen the Are You on Track? chart on your 401(k) plan’s website. Those charts and most every retirement calculator on the internet are based on retirement rules of thumb. Those one-size-fits-all solutions don’t consider anything about your unique situation. 

Do they ask if your house will be paid off by the time you retire? How about whether your state has income taxes? Do you have an annuity or whole life insurance? Are you married or single? Factors such as these play an important role in determining how much retirement savings you need.

Your best bet is to sit down with a financial advisor or avail yourself to sophisticated retirement planning software that can tell you how much you need to save. Financial modeling software performs year-by-year simulation to deliver results tailored to your unique situation. To learn more, check out this article entitled Best Retirement Planning Software. It may take some effort, but isn’t it worth it? We’re talking about roughly 20% of your life.

Life is full of regrets. Don’t make one of them failing to properly plan for retirement.

Photo credit: Pixabay Eggstack News will never post an article influenced by an outside company or advertiser. Our mission is to help you overcome uncertainty about retirement planning and inspire confidence in your financial future.
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