How to Prepare in Advance for a Great Retirement

When I wrote My Experience at a Direct Mail Retirement Seminar I promised that I would do a separate post on the main presentation they gave us at the seminar.

This is that post.

In between arriving at the event and the Q & A at the end, the majority of our meeting time was a presentation titled “Retire on Purpose.”

Basically it’s a summary of what you need to think about before you retire to help ensure you have a great retirement.

It was a pretty good presentation IMO and a topic that many struggle and need help with. So for those reasons I’m going to hit the highlights of their presentation as well as share my thoughts on it.

The Retirement “Problem”

I’m calling this section the retirement “problem” because they started by outlining the retirement issues that many people face.

Here’s their overview of the “problem”:

1. The Sugar Rush

“A study from the Journal of Happiness Studies found that retirees experience what’s known as a ‘sugar rush’ of well-being and satisfaction directly after retirement. But like any sugar rush, there’s a crash. The study found that the initial rush is often followed by a sharp decline in happiness.”

Wait, there’s a Journal of Happiness Studies? Wow, there actually is a publication for everything these days.

I have experienced this retirement sugar rush myself. I think that’s why I bounded out of bed at 5:30 am or earlier in the first days of retirement — I was just so happy not to work. Today I sleep in to a more-respectable 6 am to 6:30 am.

The sugar rush lasted quite a while for me — maybe a year to a year and a half. It was like Christmas morning when you were a kid — fun and joy lay ahead of me so why not get up early?

If there’s a sharp decline in happiness after it, I haven’t experienced that yet. Maybe because I’ve done some of the other things they note later in the presentation.

In addition to the quote above the presenter said that his firm had done a study and found that many people failed at retirement. He said the numbers who had problems making retirement work were “much more than one might think.” I asked what percentage their study found had failed at retirement and he didn’t have a number. So I guess I’ll never know if it actually is more than I might think.

They also shared video testimonies of those who had tried to retire and failed at it. It was at this point that I thought how sad it must be to have so little in your life that you miss work (which is what the “failers” did). It seemed like they had zero outside interests so when they left work, their lives crashed in on them. Yikes!

2. The Problem: Too Much Time on My Hands

Their next point was highlighted by two pie charts showing the following:

  • Time Allocation Pre-Retirement: 8.8 hours working and related activities, 7.8 hours sleeping, and 7.4 hours everything else
  • Time Allocation Post-Retirement: 7.8 hours sleeping and 16.2 hours everything else

The problem (according to the presenter) is that in retirement people have a lot more free time. This is good for almost everyone initially, but for many it becomes a big issue as they seek to replace many of the personal fulfillment benefits that work provided for them.

The presenter said that time was a frenemy in retirement. It’s a friend because we have our freedom, but can be an enemy if we don’t have a fulfilling way to spend that time.

The basic problem here is that people have too much time on their hands created by the fact that they no longer work. And because they haven’t thought of/planned for what to do with their time plus they don’t have enough built-in interests, they become unhappy and stuck.

I have never had this problem. Then again, I also have a lot of interests and have developed new ones (like pickleball) to enjoy my free time.

I can see how it’s an issue for many though. I know so many people whose lives are completely tied up in work. Those who retire have problems. And I can see the same future for those who are thinking about retiring — what are they going to do with all their free time?

3. If You Retire “On Purpose”, You Can Avoid These Issues and Have a Great Retirement

“The people who figure out [what to do purposefully with their retirement hours] are not only happier — they’re healthier. They simply live better lives. And the path to that better life — according to experts in countless fields — is through Purpose.”

“Scientific studies from medical doctors, neuroscientists, psychologists and medical researchers show that living purposefully has a measurable impact on health outcomes.”

So basically, if you retire without purpose (i.e. things you want to do), you’re going to have a terrible retirement.

If you retire with purpose, you’re probably going to have a great retirement.

We’ve said this several times here, but all this goes back to the old adage: If you retire from something, your retirement probably won’t go well. If you retire to something, it will.

Your purpose is what you’re retiring to. This was the focus of the rest of the presentation — how to find your purpose in retirement.

Before we move on, there are a couple things I want to share:

  • The presenter mentioned What Color Is Your Parachute for Retirement as a good book to help plan for retirement. I may check it out.
  • I was struck by the fact that the person talking about retirement (the presenter), the “experts” on the videos talking about it, and those conducting the research were not retired. I thought this was interesting…

How to Find Your Purpose in Retirement

The presentation went on to detail how to find your purpose. Some of the main points from both the handouts (a presentation book and a workbook) and the presenter are as follows:

1. Three Keys to Living with Purpose

The presentation book noted that “there’s no magic formula for living with purpose but there are some great ways to start.”

They offered these three:

  • Surround yourself with the right people.
  • Be in the right place.
  • Pursue things you are passionate about.

Related to these three, they said that many retirees don’t consider:

  • That they lose a vast network of social connection when they leave their job.
  • That the place they live was closely tied to their job and family — things that might not apply to their retirement lives.
  • That many have lost sight of their true passions — or haven’t yet discovered new passions that they’d love.

In other words, these people retired without thinking things through in advance and now they are unhappy.

At this point the presentation switched to the small workbook they gave us with this summary:

“Of course, having enough money to fund retirement is important. But if you haven’t thought about what enjoying your life in retirement looks like, you could be in for a big surprise. The exercises in this booklet are designed to get you thinking about the people, places, and passions that are most important to you and how you can make sure you are creating a meaningful retirement surrounded by the people you love, doing the things you love.”

Notice that the “people, places, and passions” correspond with the three bulletpoints above.

2. Finding Your People in Retirement

The workbook started with a couple pages on finding people to connect with in retirement. This is important for more than just having someone to join you for coffee. The presenter said that having a strong social network is related to lower blood pressure, improved cognitive function, and a stronger immune system.

The workbook featured an exercise where you were to list the names of people you interact with at least a couple times a week, then cross out those who are connected to you by work.

The idea then is that you need to replace the work connections with new contacts.

I have a few thoughts on this:

  • I realize how important a social network is for most people and if you lose a large part of yours then you need to replace at least a good portion of it.
  • Personally, I have never needed a big personal network (my work network, by contrast, was huge), preferring a few close friendships to a ga-zillion acquaintances. This was probably formed early in me as I was an only child.
  • My closest relationships (wife, kids, parents) have gotten closer since I retired, something I thought would happen and wanted to happen.
  • While I lost my work connections, it wasn’t like I had close, personal friends at work. Yes, I had friends and liked the people I worked with, but they were work friends, a category much different in my book from simply “friends”.
  • That said, I have been surprised at how many friendships I have developed since retiring. I have replaced those work connections (plus a good bit more) with friends from pickleball, church (more involved now that I’m retired), the gym, and online (through ESI Money and Rockstar Finance (for a time)).
  • I have more than enough connections, though many of them happened by accident. That said, I think I would have been fine without them as I have a low need in this area.

If you’re retired and are looking to make connections, here are a few suggestions from me:

  • Go to a gym regularly. Exercise is important and if you go regularly you will make friends. I have a handful of trainers and fellow members that I see and talk to quite frequently.
  • Get involved in a club/organization that interests you. I am active in a couple non-profit ministries (as a donor now — they have regular events for us) and am looking for a time-based volunteer position. You could join a chess club, take local trips with a travel group, or something similar.
  • Volunteer. There are tons of non-profits who could use your expertise.
  • Take up a sport. Have I mentioned pickleball enough? 😉 Cycling, swimming, golf, tennis, and the like are all activities that can be done well into retirement.
  • Travel. Go on a cruise and you’ll meet a ton of people (if you want to). Most people love to sit around and chat on a ship!

Those are a few ideas and I’m sure ESI Money readers can add more.

3. Finding Your Place in Retirement

The second step is to find the place you want to retire.

The presenter listed several living-related choices to be considered:

  • Why do you live where you live?
  • Should you downsize?
  • If you stay put should you renovate?
  • Should you move completely?

He then noted that while “most people will not make a geographic move at retirement”, it’s still something you should consider.

The workbook helps with this by listing 30 or so qualities that could be important in a place to live. Some of them are:

  • Close to family
  • Good restaurants
  • Near the mountains
  • Low taxes
  • Age diversity
  • Walkable neighborhood
  • Four seasons

It then asks you to pick your top five in order of importance. Have your spouse do the same (if married). Then let the conversation begin — where should you live in retirement?

Some thoughts from me:

  • It’s great to dream, of course, but you also need to factor in the finances. Can you afford to move — especially to the place that meets your top five criteria?
  • We have batted around a ton of options/ideas and for now have settled on staying in Colorado Springs (it’s beautiful here!) most of the year and traveling to a warmer climate for a month or so (probably two or three shorter trips) in the colder, winter months. We lucked out this last October when we went to Ft. Myers Beach and missed three early snowstorms at home! Ha!
  • If our daughter and son-in-law move back here (their plan is to do so near the end of 2020), that would probably solidify us in Colorado Springs for a long time. If they don’t, then we’d need to reconsider our options.
  • In fact, moving to Colorado Springs for a job was one of the things that brought on my early retirement — I finally lived in a place worthy of retiring in.
  • We are now renovating our current house a bit. Not much so far, but we may step it up. If we’re going to be here for some time yet, I want to be sure we enjoy the house to its fullest.

How about you? Have you thought about where you might live when you retire?

4. Finding Your Passion in Retirement

In this section, the workbook asks three questions to help you find your passion:

  • What’s on your dream list? (Anything you’ve always wanted to do.)
  • What’s on your curiosity list? (Something that has always fascinated you.)
  • What’s on your mastery list? (Something you’ve always wanted to get good at.)

The idea is that you list thoughts under each of these, then select the ones you are really passionate about.

Doing so, according to the speaker, “can make for a great retirement.”

I haven’t really been good at this. I’ve tried creating lists of what I may like to do, but when compared to doing what I’ve already been doing, they often fall flat.

For instance, I always thought I wanted to travel a lot. So I started making a list of where I might like to go.

How about Asia? No.

How about Africa? No.

How about Europe? No.

Turns out the only places I really want to visit are in the Caribbean, Hawaii, or the continental U.S.

And even with that list I 1) hate flying since the airport/plane travel is so nasty these days and 2) really love simply being at home. So why go anywhere?

In fact, one of the things I like best about retirement is the freedom — not having to do anything at any given time. So do I really want to create a list for myself of things to do? The truth is, I prefer doing what I’m doing now to most things — being at home, exercising, playing pickleball, writing, enjoying my family and new cat, and that’s about it.

Yes, I’d like to add a volunteer position to the mix as long as it wasn’t too taxing, but that will cover it. I can’t really think of much that I’d rather do than what I’m doing.

Is that lame? Or does it just make me content?

5. Finding Your Purpose in Retirement

The workbook ends by listing a page of values, a page of strengths, and a page of groups, then asking you to fill in the following:

Because I value ____________, ____________, and ____________, I will use my strengths for ____________, ____________, and ___________ to positively impact the lives of ____________, ____________, and ____________.

An example of how this might be filled out is:

Because I value creativity, social justice, and love, I will use my strengths for designing things, empowering others, and making connections to positively impact the lives of my friends, the marginalized, and my fellow citizens.

This exercise is meant to help someone identify activities that would make their retirement fulfilling. Or, in other words, give it purpose.

Not sure I buy that, but it can’t hurt, right?

The presenter ended this section with the following two quotes:

“The intersection of people, place, and passions is purpose.”

“People with purpose live longer, are less likely to develop a disability, have a stroke, get Alzheimer’s, or experience cognitive decline.”

6. Wrapping It Up

As I noted in the first post, there was zero hard sell associated with the presentation. In fact the presentation ended here with the following summary from the presenter:

  • You’re a person, not a portfolio.
  • The goal isn’t a number. The goal is to live the life you want.
  • Your advisor should tailor a plan to help you achieve that goal.

And with that the planner sponsoring the event got up and started taking questions.

Shifting to Retirement Finances

That said, in both the presentation material and the workbook there were a few pages that transitioned the conversation from having a great retirement to retirement financial issues.

We’ll begin with the presentation booklet which ended with this:

Once you can demystify the concept of purpose, and begin learning how to unlock your own — then you can begin to reconcile your vision of the good life with your finances.

You have goals. But it’s important to keep asking the question: What’s the money for? It’s to help you live a satisfying, fulfilling life.

Creating a plan that merges your finances with your vision of personal fulfillment is the only way to create a truly successful retirement plan. The What — a bucket of money, a number on a balance sheet — isn’t enough. It’s the Why that truly matters.

Nothing wrong with this IMO. In fact, it’s something I might have written myself.

This was at the end of the presentation book but the workbook built upon it with the following:

To live the life you want in retirement, you’ll need to consider whether your financial situation aligns with the lifestyle you envision. Answer the following questions to determine if you’re on the right path.

1. Are you planning to retire on a specific date, or at a specific age?
2. Do you want or need to continue working past the date you planned for retirement?
3. Do you think you have the financial resources to live in the place you envision?
4. How much yearly income will you need to support your lifestyle in the future compared to your current income?
5. How many years would it take to earn enough to stop working entirely — if you want to?
6. Do you have an advisor who asks about your life goals and attempts to create a financial strategy specifically tailored to those goals?

These questions seem “fine” to me. A few specific comments:

  • Question 4 seems like the heart of step 1 in retirement planning — how much do you need annually to retire?
  • Question 3 seems like it should be a follow-up to question 4 — start with “what do you need?” and then get to “do you have what you need?”
  • I like the “if you want to” in question 5. The retirement police might hate these guys as much as they do me. LOL!

To wrap things up, the final page has a form where you can leave your name, phone number, and email address in case you want to talk to the planner.

Overall Thoughts

Here’s my take on the presentation:

  • It’s a great topic that people need to consider. IMO most people do not think much about what they’ll do in retirement before they take the leap. That is a mistake that sets them up for a potentially disastrous retirement.
  • The key issues were covered. You could argue with the people-places-passions line of thinking. I’m sure there are alternatives that are just as good or better. But at least considering these three is worthwhile and I think made presentation valuable.
  • It was a great representation for the planner. I think the planner had a big win by focusing on a non-financial topic related to retirement and going the soft-sell route. I wouldn’t be surprised if he go several new clients from this event (plus the one he held the night before).
  • The presentation was much better than what I expected. I thought I was going to get a hard sell on whole life insurance or annuities, but actually received something of value without the hard push to buy something. This made the event a success IMO.

I may or may not contact the planner (as noted in the first post, I do have some questions) but I would certainly recommend him to someone in Colorado Springs who wanted a planner.

I have a similar event coming up (another retirement seminar meal invite) and will compare and contrast it to this one — which set the bar pretty high. Stay tuned for that post.


Originally posted at

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