Key Takeaways:

  • Thinking ahead about what you will do in retirement can make it more rewarding
  • People are living longer, so you need to prepare for a retirement that may last more than two decades
  • There are 5 key things to consider when planning for retirement

After years of hard work, you may be looking forward to the freedom that retirement affords. But with independence comes unique challenges, including deciding how to make your retirement years fulfilling and meaningful, and ensuring that you have the necessary financial resources to realize your dreams.

The Retirement Journey

According to research conducted by the MIT AgeLab for the Hartford Funds, a longer lifespan means retirement can last about twenty-two years, or roughly 8,000 days.1 We spend years planning to ensure we can afford our days in retirement. When the time comes, what will your retirement look like?

In bygone years, retirement typically began promptly at age 65 with a nice sendoff party and gold watch. Retirees left the firm with a company pension, medical coverage, and the hopes of enjoying a few years as a snowbird or golfer, traveling, or spending time with the grandchildren to round out daily life. However, we are now living longer, and at least one partner in a couple who reaches age 65 has a 50% chance of reaching age 92.2

The typical retirement experience, which can last many years, evolves in four phases over time.

The Honeymoon Phase finds retirees ironing out their income needs and changing family dynamics, and deciding whether to pursue a second act or ‘encore career.’ The decision to keep working, post-retirement, may stem from a desire to stay active, cover expenses, purchase ‘toys and travel’, or provide financial assistance to adult children or grandchildren, or maintain healthcare coverage. In addition, for many people, a big part of who they are stems from their career identity, and some retirees may find themselves mourning this loss. If you decide you want to return to work after taking a break, you will not be alone. According to one study, about one-third of retirees choose to re-enter the workforce after recovering from career burn-out.3 Another option is to tiptoe, rather than launch, into retirement, by choosing a part-time or consulting assignment that gives you more control over the hours you work and projects you pursue.

Once you have left the job market for good, and are ready to embrace your free time, you have entered The Big Decision Phase, characterized by the important choices you need to make. For example, assuming your children have left the nest and you are no longer tethered to an office, you can reconsider where to live. Would you like to downsize? Stay close to the family to help with the grandchildren? Or would you prefer to stay put, but remodel your home to meet your current needs?

You’ve reached phase three when you begin Navigating Longevity, and you are confronting the health issues and related responsibilities and paperwork, that may come with aging for you and your partner. At this time, your healthcare spending is likely to increase, and it’s time to make sure you have your healthcare proxy, power of attorney, and supportive resources in place.

When you are living alone, you have reached The Solo Phase of your journey. Oftentimes it is a woman who enters this phase because she is widowed, divorced, or never married. In fact, about 42% of women, age 75 or over currently live alone.4

Social networks become even more critical. Both women and men can benefit from a social network because a community helps us thrive in retirement and can slow the aging process. One study demonstrated an association between social activity and motor functioning. Less frequent socializing correlates with faster aging and equated to about a 5-year difference in motor skills.5

So…what’s your plan for enjoying retirement?

Make Your Retirement Rewarding

To get a leg up on a happy retirement, start planning what you’d like to do several years before leaving your job. Explore activities that interest you and can give your life meaning. Here are some ideas for making the most of your golden years:

  • Share your knowledge.  Ease out of retirement by starting a blog based on your interests or experiences, write your memoir, cookbook, or a novel. You can find many ‘how-to’ guides or take a continuing education class for direction. In addition, there may be opportunities to teach, such as supporting small business owners through the SCORE mentoring program.
  • Give back to organizations that matter to you. Volunteering is a great way to support organizations and causes you believe in, and to better the world. It can feel good to contribute to another’s success. There are programs all over the world that need volunteers, so you can make meaningful contributions while expanding your horizons. Consider including them in the philanthropic part of your estate planning.
  • Stay fit. Do you like to garden, play a musical instrument, go hiking or have you always wanted to learn to dance? Staying physically active is great for your health, and there are many activities you can do with your friends to stay fit and social. See if you are eligible for the Silver Sneakers program at local fitness centers.
  • Pursue old (or new) hobbies. Keep your mind active and get some fulfillment by developing a new skill, learning a new language, or taking up a new hobby. Enjoy activities such as bird watching, photography, woodworking, needlepoint, or up-cycling furniture. You can usually find affordable local classes (on almost any subject) taught by your city’s parks and recreation department, a local community college, a local business, or hobby store.
  • Travel the world. Get a jump-start on planning your bucket list vacation. Road Scholar is a popular program that offers educational trips for adult learners, and AARP offers small group tours. Traveling off season and senior discounts can help make travel more affordable. And after a year of social distancing, traveling may offer more appeal than ever. If you’re not yet comfortable traveling, you can participate in a virtual adventure, or learn about a museum’s collection, such as Frick Madison, from the comfort of your own home.

How We Can Help

We can help you with planning throughout your retirement journey, from the pre-retirement years through the later stages of full retirement. Just as you leveraged a strategy for growing your assets in your earlier years, you’ll need an effective distribution strategy.

Just like the preretirement planning you’ll do for your free time, we’ll help you evaluate:

  • What are my social security options?
  • Do I have enough healthcare insurance?
  • How will I pay for long term care?
  • Do I need a new or revised estate plan?
  • What is the legacy I hope to leave behind?

We’ll help you hit the ground running (literally, if that’s your thing) with a detailed plan for fun in your golden years.

John Hannigan, CFP®, CDFA®

1 8,000 Days: An entire phase of your life waiting to be invented, Joseph F. Coughlin, Ph.D., HartfordFunds and MIT AgeLab;
2 You may live longer than you think, © 2019 Society of Actuaries.
3 Labor Force Transitions at Older Ages: Burnout, Recovery, and Reverse Retirement, Jacobs, Lindsay, and Suphanit Piyapromdee (2016). Finance and Economics Discussion Series 2016-053. Washington: Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System.
4 Historical Living Arrangements of Adults, Table AD-3, by Age Group 75 and Over,, December 2020.
5 Association between late-life social activity and motor decline in older adults, Aron S. Buchman, Patricia A. Boyle, Robert S. Wilson, Debra A. Fleischman, Sue Leurgans, David A. Bennett, June 2009.