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The Worst Things About Retirement — and What to Do About Them

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Silver Linings Playbook

Ah, the golden years … nothing to do and all day to do it. Retirement is what you make of it, and everyone wants to make it rewarding. Sometimes, though, the early days prove a bit shocking, signaling a need to adjust a few things. Finances, of course, are often a big part of those things, but there's much more than money riding on this new chapter of your life. Read on for our "troubleshooting guide" on coping with some of the ways to make an easier transition to what should be a time of comfort, health and happiness.

Related: 18 Things You Should Do If You Want to Retire Early

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The Post-Party Letdown

The retirement party is now a memory. You're suddenly on your own, but the reality of your new life doesn't have to come as a sudden jolt. According to AARP, avoid such a scenario by creating a "retirement road map," which not only spells out where you want to go, but most important, how to get there. With fewer seniors having pensions and people overall living longer, financial concerns are always a focus but the map also addresses topics such as your desired lifestyle and potential health concerns.

Related: How Many Seniors Still Work Past Retirement Age in Every State

Social Security
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Not Understanding Social Security

"Without question, Social Security is one of the most complex programs and one of the most all-encompassing programs involving America's seniors," Gerry Hafer, a certified Social Security adviser at the AMAC Foundation, tells Cheapism. "With over 2,700 separate rules and regulations governing the financial benefit seniors have earned, and with thousands of pages of supporting documentation explaining these rules, it can be mind-boggling for those aging into eligibility." Hafer suggests contacting an organization that can "provide credible answers to questions about each individual's circumstances." AMAC, dedicated to "supporting and educating America's seniors," he says, is one organization that does just that, free of charge.

Related: 19 Surprising Facts About Social Security 

The Total Combined Penalty Can Be Big
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Fear of Running Out of Money

Understanding Social Security as part of the big picture is also key, Hafer adds. "If you're at the threshold of retirement and you face realization that you're falling way short of what it will cost to have a comfortable lifestyle, it may be too late to anything but seriously cut back on expenses and seek ways to generate income through part-time work to make ends meet. This is where understanding the details of Social Security comes into play as well, since incoming retirees need to understand that the program only replaces about 40% of one's pre-retirement income. Given this, it becomes critical to understand that retiring before one's full retirement age results in a lower monthly benefit from Social Security, while deferring benefits beyond one's full retirement age adds substantially (as much as 24% to 32%) to monthly benefits. Given the potential of many years in retirement, the higher monthly benefit is critical."

Related: Why Future Retirees Might Get Less Social Security Money

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Having Misread the Future

Personal finance expert Christine DiGangi, senior editorial director of The Balance, says: "By far the biggest challenge with retiring is having enough money to even do it, and it turns out most people don't." She notes that, "according to the Economic Policy Institute, the median retirement savings of people closest to retirement age is only $21,000. Compare that to Fidelity recommending having 10 times your annual salary saved by age 67. For the average American, this means a total closer to $500,000 needed for retirement." Find ways to supplement your income such as part-time or consulting work.

Related: 35 Great Jobs for Retirees

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Living on a Fixed Income

"Many new retirees struggle with adjusting to a fixed income, meaning spending too much one month can't be made up for with an increase in income the following month," adds DiGangi at The Balance. "This can become a huge problem down the line if the money they've planned to use over 10-plus years of retirement gets exhausted early. If you're not used to living by a strict monthly spending limit, this can come as a shock." Again, planning — and adjusting your lifestyle to accommodate needs versus wants — is key.

Related: No Pension. No 401(k). How to Get by on Social Security

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Realizing You Need Help

"Retirement saving, spending and budgeting is best done with some help, which can be hard to adjust for anyone used to managing their finances themselves," says DiGangi. "Use budgeting tools, spreadsheets, or better yet, a financial adviser to keep on top of your spending, even if you've done it yourself prior to retirement. The stakes are much higher after you quit the workforce, and making up for financial missteps will be difficult if not impossible. Set time to go over your budget regularly so you can make adjustments as necessary, and if you have a financial planner, make regular appointments with them, too. Prioritizing staying organized will make things easier for you and anyone else who might help you later on."

Related: 13 Retirement Mistakes to Avoid

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Dealing With a New Routine

Hafer at the AMAC Foundation tells us that a new routine can be jarring: "Many folks heading into retirement have had long careers that created for them a sense of self-identity. These careers have also provided a steady routine and a daily structure that gave purpose to their lives. In retirement, and especially for those who made an abrupt transition, this disconnect from routine can be stressful."

It doesn't have to be like that, Hafer adds: "It's important, therefore, to plan for activities and a life structure that will minimize idle time and that will continue to stimulate one's thinking. Ideally, a phased approach through which one gradually steps out of the former life and into a new and different change of pace is best for some. Likewise, adopting a new habit, or expanding an existing habit, can help absorb the shock of a new life phase."

Related: 12 Retirement Dreams That Are Threatened by COVID-19

Suicide Risk for Seniors
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No Longer Feeling Productive

The Holiday Retirement Community of West Hartford, Connecticut, shares that research has proven "most retirees have a difficult time adjusting to what they may perceive as a life without purpose. While you may have been waiting for this moment, the actual change can affect both your physical and mental health. No longer feeling productive or useful is difficult to come to terms with. Whether it is volunteer work or getting involved in your hobbies, you need to find ways to keep yourself occupied."

Related: 15 Best Work-From-Home Jobs for Retirees

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Home, Crabby Home

Some would certainly consider more time with their significant other one of the best parts of retirement, but others might cringe. Changes to the daily routine combined with sorting through psychological changes make some households the site of quite a bit of bickering. Make time to truly address the issues, from changing roles to time management, as explored by U.S. News & World Report's "10 Tips to Help Your Marriage Survive Retirement."

Related: 20 Ways a Relationship Can Hurt Your Mental Health

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Dealing With Loneliness

Miss your gossipy lunch with coworkers or that sharing of the box of doughnuts every Friday? Sure, the pandemic may have changed the work environment for many but retiring means those decades of office routines and perks are not (ever) coming back for you. Those who live alone also have the additional adjustment of being "home alone" round the clock. As many have learned through this pandemic, expand your (virtual) social connections, take up a hobby or simply reach out to former colleagues for a lift.

Related: 28 Ways to Beat Loneliness in Retirement

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Having to Work to Stay Active

Your workday routine used to give you incentive. You'd be sure to fit in a gym visit or walk after you get home from the office. Maintaining a well-rounded approach to life may seem harder to do once you're retired. Take the advice of the Holiday Retirement Community of West Hartford, Connecticut, to maintain a healthy routine: "Engaging in regular exercises can help boost your energy, improve your heart function, manage your weight, and maintain your independence. It is also beneficial for your mind and memory."

Related: 20 Essential Exercises for Older Adults

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Making Sure to Eat Well

When you were working, mealtimes were pretty much set. Sure, you might skip a meal here or there, but it's not likely that munching on chips at your desk happened from 9 to 5. At home, though, it's harder to be disciplined, but you have to make healthy eating a priority. If costs are a concern, check out our 26 Tips for Healthy Eating on a Budget.

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The Temptation to Procrastinate

So, are your leaves still not raked? Is your clothing hamper overflowing? Some retirees wonder how they did it all when still working. Well, it's been shown that a lack of deadline is the perfect fuel for those who tend to procrastinate. So why not set up deadlines for tasks and specific days for specific chores. Yes, only you will know it — but aren't you worth pleasing?

Related: 10 Tips and Tools to Fight Procrastination

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The Sudden Focus on Medical Talk

Once you reach a certain age, conversations tend to touch on not only families and plans but also aches and pains. Yes, everyone needs to keep up on his or her medical check-ups and healthy habits, but when chatting about liver function preempts talks about literature, you need to act. Gently steer conversations to topics you'd rather discuss. And if you're unsure, check out these tips on gracefully changing the subject.

Related: Simple Ways Seniors Can Save on Health Care

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The Lack of Respect

It's hard to realize a bit of gray hair is often equated with a loss of intelligence or importance, but ScienceDaily is one of many outlets that's reported on age-related prejudice and discrimination. In a culture that doesn't always revere its elders, it's easy to get insulted by young store clerks who treat you with indifference or receptionists who assume you can wait longer than that executive in a business suit. Speak up if you feel slighted — but remember to keep the tone civil. After all, if you show respect then you show you deserve it in turn.

Related: How to Deal with Age Discrimination at Work

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The Temptation to Complain

If you think everyone is doing a poor job and "in my day" is one of your favorite phrases, think about how you used to feel when someone said that to you. Rather than give in to the feeling of superiority — or simple frustration in the way things are now done — offer a bit of help. Find a way to become a mentor, share your expertise either of a professional or more "homespun" nature. Perhaps things are done a certain way because another option was never demonstrated.

Related: 25 Pieces of Advice from Seniors to Millennials

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The Loss of 'Your Team'

For many people, going from a team of co-workers to being on your own is another jarring aspect of retirement. Join a senior group or cultivate a neighborhood group where members can lend a hand when needed, even if it's to simply suggest a new book to enjoy.

Related: 12 Reasons NOT to Retire Early

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Not Having a Forum

If you loved sharing your stories with colleagues, from what you did over the weekend to your favorite photos of the grandkids, find a way to keep up the tradition. Start a blog, join a senior club or begin scrapbooks of your special memories. As history tells us, memories of people, not just famous people, help tell our collective story.

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Comparing Yourself to Others

It's hard to ignore the "haves," when you're a have not (or have less). If your former boss is having a retirement, pre-pandemic of course, that includes extensive travel, luxury meals and more while you are struggling, try to realize that — let's be harsh — life isn't always fair. But you can also be grateful for what you do have, an approach encouraged by PositivePsychology.com. And always remember: Not everyone is lucky enough to live long enough to retire.