Years ago, we ran across this little poem: “Of all the words of tongue or pen/The saddest are these: ‘It might have been.’” Many of us go through life with regrets. When we’re younger, we usually have more time and energy to revisit those old “might-have-beens” and redeem the situation. However, once we enter our retirement years, the older we grow, the less time we have, and that’s when those regrets can pile up. So, we ask the question, is it possible to avoid those regrets? Can we have a “no regrets” retirement?
No Regrets Retirement: It’s About Much More Than Money
To answer that question we turn to a columnist we like, author and financial planner Liz Weston and her recent NerdWallet article called “How to Have a ‘No Regrets’ Retirement.” Weston makes it clear from the outset that the kind of regrets she’s writing about concern much more than money. While it’s certainly true that most retirees (nearly three-quarters, says Transamerica) regret not saving more, “retirement is about more than the balance in your 401(k).” Weston adds, “Even people with sizable nest eggs can wish they handled certain aspects of retirement differently.”
In researching this topic, Weston surveyed financial planners nationwide, asking them to describe their clients’ biggest retirement-related regrets. She received a total of thirty-one responses and discovered some common themes.
No Regrets Retirement: Take Those Trips While You Still Can
The first regret cited by NerdWallet respondents is, “I wish we had traveled more while we could.” Many planners observed that health issues can derail travel plans, leaving retirees unable to enjoy those dream trips (or even trips closer to home). This also applies to people who may not think of themselves as travel bugs, because “even homebodies regret missed chances to see loved ones,” says Weston. What’s more, some of those loved ones are also aging, and the window of time to enjoy a visit together might be closing faster than we realize.
There are plenty of reasons why retirees postpone travel, but financial uncertainty is probably the biggest one. “Financial planners can help people get clarity about how much money they can safely spend in retirement,” says Weston. Most of her respondents said their clients who had traveled were very glad they did, even if it meant they had to cut back in later years, because they had done the things they wanted to do while they could still enjoy them.
No Regrets Retirement: Retire with Purpose
“I wish I’d had something to retire to.” That’s the second most-common retirement regret from the NerdWallet article. “People can be so tired of working, or sick of their particular job, that they retire at the first opportunity without thinking through how they will spend their time,” Weston writes. As a result, they may find it hard to replace “the structure, meaning and purpose their work provided.” One planner told Weston, “They look back five or six years after they have retired to realize the time has flown by and they have not done anything.”
It’s advice we’ve shared countless times here on the AgingOptions blog and on the radio, but it bears repeating: be intentional when you retire about spending your days with meaning. “That could mean a part-time job, consulting gigs, volunteering or spending more time with friends and family,” said another respondent quoted in NerdWallet. Find significance to fill your days.
No Regrets Retirement: Cultivate Healthy Relationships
These days it’s a commonly-heard lament: “I wish I had more friends.” That’s the third “retirement regret” cited by Liz Weston, and it relates in large part to the loss of workplace sociability. “People often don’t realize how much social interaction their workplace provides,” one planner from Alabama told Weston. Retirement leaves many feeling out of the loop and completely disconnected from their former circle of acquaintances. Sadly, this lack of healthy relationships can lead to isolation, which in turn can trigger a whole host of psychological, emotional, and physical problems.
Building new relationships takes time and effort, but often the very activities that provide a sense of purpose also can generate a new web of friendships. Volunteer groups and service clubs provide a built-in network, and even a class at the local community college or senior center can be a potential source of new friends. No matter what, the experts say, don’t retreat into your shell. Seek out new human connections.
No Regrets Retirement: Don’t Buy That “Dream House” Too Hastily
“I wish we hadn’t bought that house.” Some of the financial planners who wrote to Liz Weston for her NerdWallet article reported serious buyer’s remorse among some of their clients who had purchased retirement homes. “The clients hadn’t spent enough time in the community before buying,” Weston writes, “and now wish they lived somewhere else.” Moving is stressful and expensive, and it gets harder as we get older. No one should buy a retirement home in haste. Instead, rent for a long enough period that y0u truly know what you’re getting into. Moving too soon to the wrong location is one retirement regret that can be extremely costly to fix.
No Regrets Retirement: Discuss Your Expectations Openly and Honestly
It’s sad to hear a retired couple say, “I wish we’d talked more about our expectations for retirement,” but that’s how many retirees feel. “It’s not uncommon for spouses to have dramatically different visions of retirement,” says Weston. “Different expectations can cause serious ruptures in relationships, and they may be among the reasons why divorce rates for people 55 and older have more than doubled since 1990.”
Couples anticipating retirement need to have honest, on-going dialogue about several key topics: how they’ll spend their time, how they’ll divide household chores, “even whether they’ll have lunch together every day,” Weston writes. As the article reminds us, “The willingness to talk through disagreements and find compromises is essential,” particularly because retirement is such a profound life transition. Spouses have to practice plenty of patience with themselves and each other.
No Regrets Retirement: Don’t Start Your Journey Without a Proper Plan
Rajiv Nagaich of AgingOptions wants to remind you that the right retirement plan can help minimize retirement regrets and maximize retirement satisfaction. When you attend one of his free LifePlanning Seminars, you’ll discover that you can protect your assets in retirement, avoid becoming a burden to those you love, and escape the trap of unplanned institutional care. Invest a few hours with Rajiv and change the way you think about and plan for the rest of your life. Visit our Live Events page and register for the LifePlanning Seminar of your choice, and Rajiv will show you the real meaning of a no regrets retirement. Until then, “Age on!”
(originally reported at www.nerdwallet.com