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How to Have a Successful Retirement even if you Didn’t Save Enough

Contrary to popular belief, money does not guarantee retired life will be good! In fact, focusing on it alone may actually hinder you from achieving the best years of life. The question that haunts many, what if I didn’t save enough? What will my golden years look like?

How To Have a Successful Retirement

While finances are important, your health (physical and mental), relationships, fulfilling activities, and attitude are all critical to your happiness and overall success. One size does not fit all and each of our retired years will look somewhat different.

There is so much information (and misinformation) bouncing around out there that it can be overwhelming. You've probably read or heard lots of stuff and may be wondering about the strategy to pull it all together. How to a successful retirement weaves the best information into a cohesive and understandable framework.

Retirement Framework

To start, let’s consider the framework of retirement. Adapting Maslow’s Need Hierarchy, we can better understand what is important to us and what drives our behaviors. And yes, we are all creatures of habit. Most of us tend to act without giving things a great deal of thought. We all possess a comfort level and seldom stray from it.

This framework underscores that everything is interconnected. While finances may be the foundation, it affects every other aspect from our health through to our activities and mindset. The opposite is also true in that your attitude, relationships, etc. all contribute an equal impact throughout - they are all intertwined.

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The Foundational Layer - Finance & Saving

Retiring happy and well requires a base of financial security. More is better, but only up to a certain point. After that, it really does not matter except for more luxury items if wanted.

In Maslow’s model, the physiological layer (foundation) represents the need for food, water, shelter, and rest. This makes sense in 3rd world countries. For us, it's about our income and savings. This becomes the financial backbone and stability that will support the remainder of your retired life.

We all know we should save and invest wisely. Also, there is no doubt that some of us are behind in this respect. This raises the question; how much do you really need to comfortably retire?

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Could it be any vaguer than that?

Seriously though, how to have a successful retirement is going to be different for each one of us. Money will influence almost every aspect including where we will live and the things we might do. Unless we are content with living within our means, the future may appear rather bleak.

Success doesn’t require great wealth. All too often the pursuit of money results in missing out on other critical aspects of life. Such as neglecting your health or missing out on relationships by working too many hours. When it comes time to retire, you’re trying to playing catch-up with all the things you missed out on.

So, why are so many behind?

I suspect this is largely due to consumerism. We’re bombarded with advertising and social pressure to buy more. We’ve become a disposable society where it’s become cheaper to buy a new product than repair it. In effect, we’ve become conditioned to view money as necessary for happiness.

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A second reason is a financial set back such as job loss, poor investments, helping children with education, or health issues. In some instances, it was out of our control or seemed like the right thing to do at the time. The net effect is many of us are fixated on money or lack thereof.

I’m aghast how deeply entrenched these beliefs are rooted. I recall getting together with a group of friends and the topic of retired life came up. Everyone had their own opinion and was quick to share their favorite financial strategy.

One woman, a teacher had even attended several workshops on retiring through her school board. Apparently, a team of financial advisers coached them to ensure they were fully prepared, at least in regards to that one aspect.

Needless to say, I became the bogeyman when I brought up other aspects to consider. Their entire focus was on money and nothing else was important to them.

Outliving our savings will remain a concern for most of us throughout the next phase of life. Most folks will adjust their lifestyle to sustain their financial security. Even those that are well-to-do may find themselves living frugally. All this reinforces human behavior of protecting our basic physical needs.

Health and Safety

Most of us take health for granted, unless it becomes an issue. When you seriously think how to have a successful retirement, health and safety should be top-of-mind! Let’s be blunt, what is your quality of life without these?

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As we grow older, we all become more conscious of various aches and pains. Not much to do about it that other than keep active. What we should be doing is having regular check-ups and living healthy lifestyles. Healthy aging encompasses diet, physical activity, and mental health. Think of them as an investment in your future.

Nutritious Diet for Healthy Aging

Our western diet is a recipe for disaster! Consisting of over-sized servings of high calorie and fatty foods loaded with cholesterol, salt, and sugar. Fast food and highly processed products further contribute to nutritional deficits.

On average, Americans consume about 3600 calories a day. Studies reveal that 30% are overweight and, further, an almost 40% suffer obesity. This increases the risk of coronary heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and a host of other ailments.

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As we age and our metabolism slows down, we require less calories. Yet, our bodies still require the same nutrition. A more balanced diet requires greater amounts of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.

Physical Activity and Exercise

A sedentary lifestyle is like posting an invitation for declining health. Our bodies need to move to maintain muscle tone and flexibility. This alone improves balance and minimizes the risk of a fall in our later years.

Regular exercise boosts our immune system and helps prevent disease. In addition, it feels good and minimizes risk of injury. Activities such as swimming or walking are great ways to start becoming more active.

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Mental Health

In many respects, mental health is every bit as critical as physical health. Perhaps more so when you consider that when cognitive functioning declines, your ability to look after yourself diminishes.

Anything that engages your mind will promote better mental health. Examples might include:

  • Reading a book, crossword puzzles, Sudoku or games such as scrabble.
  • Conversations with family or friends.
  • Social interaction with others.
  • Learning something new.
  • Meditation and focusing your mind.
  • Physical exercise.

The opposite of engagement is lethargy, mindlessness, and ruination.

The lack of social interaction often generates feelings of loneliness. When unchecked, this could initiate the slippery slide into depression.

Equally terrifying is the thought of dementia and cognitive decline. Research reveals maintaining good health may prove the best defense.

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Relationships in Retirement

No one is an island unto themselves. We are not solitary creatures and all need love and acceptance. Your relationships will be a large consideration in how to have a successful retirement.

Research has determined good relationships promote longer healthier lives. The inverse is also true and, in particular, an unhappy marriage has the ability to rob you of your health and years of life. For more information, see Will Your Marriage Survive.

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Family plays a bigger role than most of us realize. In today’s hustle and bustle, geographic separation, family squabbles and dwindling values, many families become estranged. In the ideal situation, happy retirees strive to maintain close knit connections with family members.

Another indicator is a strong social network providing friendships, interesting activities, and a sense of belonging. During our working years, our social network is generally based on threads of common purpose such as work friends, other parents, and community activities.

After retiring, many of these friendships will dissipate and it’s necessary to rebuild our network. This involves getting out of the house and joining in new activities. Many people are in the same boat and looking to expand their circle of friends and socialize.

Meaningful Activity for Retirees

The most common issue for most retirees is what to do. Having a successful retired years requires meaningful and fulfilling activity to avoid boredom.

Who doesn’t look forward to the day they retire from work along with all the pressures and stress? Now they are able to do what they want and partake in their favorite leisure activities. They assume all will be good, at least until they start getting bored. Then they find themselves struggling to fill all those empty hours.

Common advice is to go out and find a hobby or interest. For most of us, we approach it as something fun that we’d like try out. For instance, joining a club or building model trains. If we did it in our spare time, we’d likely love it. Both leisure activities and hobbies are great, yet they grow old fast when that’s all you do.

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What we fail to understand is that work provided purpose for us. It got us out of bed, occupied us throughout the day, and provided a reward for our effort (a paycheck). Many took pride in doing a good job and thereby gained a sense of importance. Without having some of purpose, it’s easy to aimlessly drift and create time filling activities of low importance.

Successful retirees find purpose by involving themselves in something meaningful to them. It not only inspires them, it's challenging, and is often larger than just themselves. Some examples could include:

  • Volunteering in a cause you believe worthwhile such as politics or climate change.
  • Getting involved in a community or church program helping others.
  • Working in a field that is rewarding for you. Perhaps, becoming a tour guide or delivering necessities to the elderly.

Mindset and Attitude

While a positive attitude is important throughout our working years, it becomes even more so if you wonder how to I have a successful retirement. Mindset has remarkable power in shaping our perceptions and satisfaction.

When you think about it, the way we perceive things might be the only thing we've got complete control over. If you truly believe these will be the best years of your life, it’s highly probable they will be. In effect, it becomes self-fulfilling.

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Those that whine about each and every perceived slight or set-back, are stuck in the glass is half empty syndrome. Nothing will ever be good enough and they’ve resigned themselves to suffering a miserable existence. What a waste to live out one’s life always expecting the worst!

Then there are all the self-limiting beliefs. These are like personal anchors that got attached a very long time ago. We’re either oblivious to them or we’ve accepted they are part of who we are. Ironically, they often prevent us from achieving the things we want most. When you look at it that way, can it get anymore screwed up?

And make no mistake about it, almost everyone has something that’s holding them back!

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For example, at a subconscious level, some of us have been conditioned to believe they don’t deserve happiness and success. This might stem from childhood when a parent admonishes them for wanting something they couldn’t afford. Whether spoken or indirect, the child absorbs the message they don’t deserve it. This gets reinforced by teachers, friends, and even society as a whole.

The net effect is that by the time they are adults, the belief is deeply seated. Without even being conscious of it, they will self-sabotage themselves whenever they start feeling fortunate. In some situations, this will spill over in their careers and even relationships. The underlying belief is that they are not worthy.

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When we were kids, who didn’t want to grow up faster?

Not so much anymore! Right now, I bet a lot of us wish we could reverse or at least slow it down. Regardless of all the quotes, getting older does suck!

This will be the greatest transition for most of us. Seeing and feeling ourselves age, yet retaining those crystal-clear memories of years ago. It just doesn’t seem fair.

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Again, a positive attitude makes all the difference. Embracing and accepting yourself is the key.

Closing Thoughts

When you wonder about how to have a successful retirement, you’ll want to view it as a framework of integrated pieces.

  • The foundation layer is financial security and independence.
  • Your health is of paramount importance to enjoy it.
  • High quality relationships are vital to fulfill our social needs.
  • Meaningful activities ensure we are engaged and spending our precious time wisely.
  • Your attitude and mindset are key to finding happiness.

The greatest fallacy of all is that “money buys happiness”. That one falsehood sets you up for hardships or failure. Make no mistake that there will always be set backs and challenges you will need to overcome.

How you deal (or don’t) with life’s ups and downs will affect your overall happiness. It really comes down to being grateful for what you have, striving to be the best person you can be and making the best of each situation.

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