4 Tips for a Meaningful and Successful Retirement

From planning your days to preparing for your health, financial planners and other experts weigh in on how to make the most of your retirement.
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Slightly more than half of retirees (53%) reported strong satisfaction with their life in retirement, according to the Employee Benefit Research Institute’s 2022 Spending in Retirement Survey.

“I firmly believe that one of the ways to be content in retirement or semi-retirement is to stay active and engaged with the world,” says Paul Dillon, a 78-year-old grandfather in Durham, North Carolina.

Since retiring in 2006, Dillon has been an adjunct professor at Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy, a consultant for veterans’ issues, a writer and a conference presenter.

Setting goals and planning ahead can help you handle challenges and prepare for new opportunities as you age.

Here are four tips from experts on aging, retirement and financial management.

1. Test drive your retirement income

Will you have enough money once you’re retired? It’s best to know ahead of time.

“Try a ‘retirement test drive’ before you actually retire to see if your income will be enough,” Scott Jensen, a certified financial planner in Queen Creek, Arizona, said in an email.

Here’s how to try out your retirement income:

  • Identify your income sources after retirement, such as Social Security, 401(k) or IRA plans, pensions, annuities or other savings.

  • Work out your income in retirement based on those sources — NerdWallet’s retirement calculator can help.

  • Live on your estimated retirement income for a while.

If you have trouble living on what you’ll have in retirement, it’s a sign that you might not be ready yet. So you may want to reexamine your budget and plans, potentially with the help of a financial advisor.

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2. Plan for how to spend your days

“Know what you are retiring to do, not just what you are retiring from,” says Patti Black, a CFP in Birmingham, Alabama. Purpose and connection are key, she says. 

Black interviewed her clients about their retirement. She found that people sometimes struggled when they focused on when they would stop working and didn’t have a plan for what would happen next. Conversely, her happiest retired clients were those who took an intentional approach and stayed involved with, for example, community organizations or taking care of grandchildren. 

“Not that they built out a whole week’s schedule, but they at least had a handful of things that they were planning to do,” says Black. Of course, post-retirement plans don’t have to be elaborate or cost anything, but “it really helps to plan ahead.”

3. Prepare for changes to your health

Nearly a third of adults age 65 and older have at least one disability, according to 2021 American Community Survey data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

These health issues only become more common as we age. For example, according to the survey data, disabilities are at least twice as common in people 75 and older as those 65 to 74.

You can prepare in advance to handle changes to your health and abilities.

Medicare will cover some things, but not everything. Additional help is available from programs such as Aging and Disability Resources Centers, or ADRCs, and Area Agencies on Aging, which provide local services and support.

For example, the ADRC of Dane County, Wisconsin, has staff and resources to help older adults with home safety, vision and lighting, social isolation, memory screenings, affording food, medication reviews, falls, transportation and emergency preparation. All of the ADRC’s services are free, and there are no restrictions based on income or assets.

You can use the Eldercare Locator, a national service maintained by the U.S. Administration on Aging, to find programs and services near you.

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4. Use your talents

“Remaining engaged with the world is very important, and there are a lot of ways to do that,” Dillon says.

Retirement isn’t necessarily a sharp cutoff, after which you never work again. Nearly 26% of adults ages 65 to 74 are either working or looking for work, according to 2021 Bureau of Labor Statistics data. That number is expected to grow to almost 31% by 2031. And working a job past age 65 is just one option — there are plenty of formal and informal ways to help your community or try something new.

“No matter what you’ve done in your career, whether it’s working in manufacturing or accounting or retail … you’ve accumulated a lot of talent. Look at the state of the world. Look at what needs to be done,” Dillon says. “Go use these talents. Go use the skills that you’ve gained for the benefit of others.”

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