How To Plan For A Happier, More Enjoyable Retirement

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By Walter Updegrave, RealDealRetirement @RealDealRetire

Ask Real Deal Retirement

I’m in my mid-60s, retired and financially secure—but bored. Any suggestions for what I can do to have a more enjoyable retirement?

—J.P., California

Sometimes we put so much time and effort into the financial aspects of retirement planning—saving the right amount, creating a viable investing strategy, assuring we’ll have adequate income after the paychecks stop, etc.—that we don’t pay enough attention to translating all that financial planning into a more enjoyable and gratifying retirement.

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Which is why I’ve long recommended that as people get within five to 10 years of calling it a career—and then again periodically during retirement—they engage in some “lifestyle planning,” or thinking seriously about how they to spend the last 30 or so years of their lives so those years will be more satisfying and rewarding.

There are plenty of specific things you can do to enhance your post-career life, but along with good health and sound finances the key to a satisfying retirement is finding ways to stay engaged with the world. And the most effective way to do that is to cultivate a strong social network.

For most of us, family is the foundation of such a network. Indeed, a Pew Research Center study titled “Growing Old In America: Expectations Vs. Reality” found that 70% of people 65 and older consider spending more time with family one of the top benefits of growing older. But a broad circle of friends is also important if you want to boost retirement satisfaction. In the same study, 38% of those 65 and up who said they were very satisfied with their number of friends also reported they were very happy with their lives overall, while only 14% who said they were less satisfied with their number of friends claimed to be very happy. That’s hardly surprising, as all the financial security in the world doesn’t amount to much if you don’t have people you can participate in activities with, rely on for support in difficult times and just share the simple joys of life.

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You’ll obviously have a much better chance at maintaining social connections in retirement if you’ve kept in touch with family and friends over the years. But if for whatever reason that’s not the case, you can always rekindle relationships with relatives or friends from whom you may have drifted apart. Of course, there’s also the option of making new friends. In fact, 45% of retirees queried in MassMutual’s “Hopes, Fears, And Reality” survey said that they had made new friends or reconnected with old ones before retiring, while roughly 20% of those planning to retire within the next 10 years had already done so.

One way to do forge new social connections in retirement is to take on occasional or part-time work, which many retirees do through online sites that specifically target older job seekers, such as RetiredBrains and RetirementJobs.com. And while making extra money is certainly a valid motivation for working in retirement, when retirees were asked as part of Merrill Lynch’s “Work In Retirement: Myths and Motivations” study why they decided seek work, they were more likely to point to reasons like building social connections and staying mentally and physically active. If returning to the workforce doesn’t appeal, you can reap similar benefits by volunteering for a nonprofit agency or group that’s dedicated to a cause you’re simpatico with. Sites such as Encore.org and Idealist.org provide a variety of resources for connecting with nonprofits with a variety of missions.

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There are plenty of other ways to expand your network of friends and acquaintances and, in so doing, develop a retirement lifestyle that can be both fun and rewarding: sports, travel, hobbies, starting a blog or small business, taking courses at a local college, just to name a few. (By the way, research also shows that retirees who have sex more frequently also tend to be happier in retirement.) And if you feel there aren’t enough opportunities where you’re living now, you can always consider relocating to a city or town that has a more active social scene and a broader array of work, recreational and cultural activities. You should have no trouble coming up with a list of candidates; the internet is chock-a-block with Best Places To Retire lists.

Bottom line: Financial planning is important. But if you want the next chapter of your life to be meaningful and fulfilling, you’ve also got to engage in some lifestyle planning, whether on your own with the help of an online tool like Ready-2-Retire or attending a retirement seminar or workshop such as the ones offered by the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at the University of North Carolina-Asheville. After all, it would be a shame to do all that saving, investing and planning only to spend the last phase of your life marking time.    (10/6/15)

Walter Updegrave is the editor of RealDealRetirement.comIf you have a question on retirement or investing that you would like Walter to answer online, send it to him at walter@realdealretirement.com. You can tweet Walter at @RealDealRetire.

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