Recently the Wall Street Journal polled their readers regarding their biggest retirement surprises. The responses were varied and expressed more joy than pain, and more satisfaction than frustration. In Parts I and II of this series I recounted a number of the good surprises. In the final post of the series I want to share some of the bad surprises.
- Most common among the bad surprises experienced by the retirees was that it was painful leaving work. And in fact, more so than expected. This idea was expressed by many and in many different ways. Several expressed missing being a part of a team at work. One expressed it this way. “It was very surprising to encounter the depth of the loss of not being part of a team doing important work.”
Others expressed the fact that their self value and identity was entirely driven by their position. “I used to define myself by my title. I had flashy business cards, a company car, and a generous expense account. Without these, I didn’t know who I was. I felt naked.” I believe this woman from California describes beautifully what many of us felt upon leaving our careers behind.
- One simply said that his biggest surprise was the challenge of figuring out “the Second Act.”
- Some missed the pay aspect of work once they had retired. One in particular struck me. He filled his retired life with time with grandchildren, church activities, exercise, academic studies, reading, and walks on the beach. As perfect a picture as this is, he still really misses being paid for work.
On this same subject, one indicated that finding a rewarding post-retirement occupation had been problematic. He expressed surprise that in spite of his very impressive resume and a somewhat aggressive search for an interesting position, there was no interest shown by the companies he approached. He assumed his age (70) was the main obstacle preventing at least some interviews.
- Some responded that their biggest surprise in retirement was mortality. They went on to say that they had looked forward to many wonderful retirement years with their spouse. Unfortunately, however, one spouse or the other passed away far sooner than expected. One person’s advice as a result was: do not wait until retirement to enjoy life. How sad and tragic that would be!
- One person whose health surprisingly began to slip early in retirement advised as follows. Appreciate that every day you are probably as healthy as you will ever again be.
- The bad surprise faced by many had to do with the cost of living. Many have been caught off guard and surprised. Different expense categories were cited. Some mentioned the cost of healthcare, more specifically the cost of medicare premiums for Part B, D, and F. Premiums in many cases are increasing by 20% or more annually. Some indicated that household expenses in general were quite a bit higher than expected.
One respondent claimed that his living expenses in retirement were tracking at 100% of his pre-retirement expenses. For most this would be entirely unsustainable. He listed his expenses that were higher than expected: healthcare, travel, recreation, vehicle expenses, and fuel and energy. In this same vein, another individual suggested adding 10% to any expense budget you prepare because there will surely be expenses you underestimate.
- “Negative Dan” from Portland, Oregon reported that he has become a charter member of the over-the-hill club. He is now unattached to the business world, a retiree with a gold whatchamacallit signifying his long-term service. In his words, “sadly (he) spends his days striving to create the perception that he still has intrinsic value.” Hopefully there are only a scant few who share his view.
On a lighter note, Arthur believed that in retirement he would play golf all the time. But upon retirement he came to realize that he used to play golf to reduce the stress from work. But now in retirement he finds golf to be stressful in and of itself.
In conclusion, the content for these last three posts came from the Wall Street Journal of February 10, 2017 – “Readers’ Biggest Retirement Surprises.” Clearly for most the biggest surprises they experienced in retirement were positive ones. There are the wonderful gifts of friends and family, and better yet, the time to enjoy them. In addition there is time to focus on exercise and health, travel, and new activities or causes. For most, all of this make retirement a precious gift… even in trying times!