The Worst Things No One Tells You About Retirement

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Worst Things About Retirement

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. Finances, of course, are often a big part of what must be adjusted to, but there's much more than money riding on this new chapter of your life. Read on for some ways to make an easier transition to what should be a time of comfort, health, and happiness.

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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, you can avoid it by creating a "retirement road map" that spells out not only where you want to go but, most importantly, 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 desired lifestyle and potential health concerns.

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

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Having Misread the Future

By far the biggest challenge with retiring is "having enough money to even do it, and it turns out most people don't," says personal finance expert Christine DiGangi. "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.

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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," says Gerry Hafer, a certified Social Security adviser at the AMAC Foundation. "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, does it free of charge. 

The Total Combined Penalty Can Be Big

Fear of Running Out of Money

Understanding Social Security as part of the big picture is also key. "If you're at the threshold of retirement and you face the 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," Hafer says. 

This is where understanding the details of Social Security comes into play, since incoming retirees need to understand that the program replaces only about 40% of 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." 

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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," DiGangi says. "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," DiGangi says. "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." 

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Dealing With a New Routine

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," Hafer says.

It doesn't have to be like that: "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," Hafer says. 

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." 

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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." 

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Dealing With Loneliness

Miss your gossipy lunch with coworkers or that sharing of the box of doughnuts every Friday? Retiring means those decades of office routines and perks not (ever) coming back. Those who live alone have the additional adjustment of being "home alone" round the clock. As many have learned during the pandemic, expanding virtual or other social connections, taking up a hobby, or simply reaching out to former colleagues can offer a lift. 

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Having to Work to Stay Active

Workday routine used to give you incentive and you'd be sure to fit in a gym visit or walk after you get home from the office. Maintaining that 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 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." 


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 a desk happened from 9 to 5. At home it's harder to be disciplined, but you have to make healthy eating a priority. If costs are a concern, check out our Tips for Healthy Eating on a Budget.


The Temptation to Procrastinate

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. Why not set deadlines for tasks and specific days for specific chores? Yes, only you will know it — but aren't you worth pleasing?

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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 checkups and healthy habits, but when chatting about liver function preempts talks about literature, you need to act. Steer conversations gently to topics you'd rather discuss. If you're unsure how, check out these tips on gracefully changing the subject

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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 feel 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, you show you deserve it in turn.

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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. 

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Not Having a Forum

If you loved sharing with colleagues, from stories of what you did over the weekend to 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 memories. As history tells us, it's not just famous people that 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 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 And remember: Not everyone is lucky enough to live long enough to retire.

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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 with members who can lend a hand when needed, even if it's to simply suggest a new book to enjoy.

Related: Reasons NOT to Retire Early