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Everyone’s heard the fable of the ant and the grasshopper. The moral of the story is to work hard and prepare for the future. But when does the ant ever get to have any fun? While there’s a time to work, there’s also a time to play.

The real cost of underliving retirement is not fully enjoying what should be your best years. Whether due to financial constraints or concern over an uncertain future, many retirees are less satisfied and falling short of their expectations.

The past several years has exacerbated the situation. Everything seems topsy-turvy after going through a global pandemic plus all the associated upheaval.

The future is more uncertain than ever before with soaring inflation, rising interest rates and ever-increasing medical costs.

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Retirement Satisfaction Has Declined

It used to be overall life satisfaction increased with each retired year. That was back in the day when company pensions were the norm. Over the past two decades, overall satisfaction during retired years has steadily declined.

According to Employee Benefit Research Institute, the number of retirees who were “very satisfied” dropped from 60.5% in 1998 to 48.6% in 2012. The number who reported “not at all satisfying” increased from 7.9% to 10.5%.

Clearly, financial preparation is key to having a comfortable life. However, even those who have prepared are vulnerable and could underlive their retired years.

What Does Under Living Your Retirement Mean?

Under living retirement means missing out on those activities which make life complete and satisfying. This could include procrastinating on doing something you’ve always wanted, spending time with family / friends or otherwise creating new memories.

One of the most common retiree complaints is boredom. Now, with all the free time in the world, they don’t know how to occupy themselves. Often, they get caught up in unfulfilling tasks and struggle to fill the hours.

This largely comes down to not being open to try new things and retaining a positive mindset. We all know someone fixed in their ways as if they’re already in their mid-nineties.

These folks are under living their retired years. They fail to realize our time on earth is finite and the clock can’t be turned back.

Contributing Factors to Under Living Your Retired Years

As mentioned above, mindset is a major factor. If you believe you’ll be unhappy, chances are, that’s exactly how things will unfold. If a parent or relative went through misery, this can often influence your expectations.

Financial insecurity also plays a major role. Quite bluntly, poverty isn’t conducive to a fulfilling existence. Reviewing a study done by NIRS, they estimate 40% of older Americans depend almost solely upon Social Security.

At the other end of the spectrum are the “ants”. Old habits die hard and after a lifetime of scrimping and saving, spending more freely is an alien concept. In addition, the number one fear of most retirees is overspending and outliving their savings.

According to the National Institute on Retirement Security, 56% of respondents are concerned about financial security. Thus, it feels “safer” not spending any more than absolutely necessary.

Finally, there’s a lack of planning to realistically do those things you want. So many times, I’ve heard someone express they’d like to travel more. 

More often than not, this is nothing more than wishful thinking. They hunker down and never follow through.

Die With Zero

An intriguing book is “Die with Zero” which emphasizes the need to live life to the fullest. The author, Bill Perkins, is a big believer in “life experiences” and doing things while you’re still healthy and able.

One of the stories Bill shares is how his roommate backpacked through Europe in his early twenties. He quit his job and had the experience of a lifetime. On the other hand, Bill chose to keep working and, subsequently, greatly regretted missing out.

Interestingly, my husband also backpacked through Europe in his twenties. 

In his own words, he claims to have learned more in six months than he did after four years of university. That was back in the mid-eighties and everything has since dramatically changed.

He saw and did things which today are no longer possible. His entire adventure cost around $5,000. While it was a lot of money for him at the time, in the grand scheme of things it was but a drop in the bucket.

The theme of the book is meaningful experiences are far more important than material possessions.

Western society equates success with wealth creation. There’s also a heavy emphasis on status symbols such as owning a bigger home or flashy new car.

This can lead to the proverbial “grasshoppers” getting caught trying to keep up with the Joneses. Their lifestyle precludes them from ever saving enough for financial security.

The other extreme are the “ants” who have amassed significant savings, yet are unable or unwilling to enjoy the fruits of their labor.

Obviously, a balanced approach is necessary. The greatest unknowns are how long we’ll live or what health issues will arise. In a perfect world, we’d all have sufficient funds to last our lifetimes.

What About Inheritances?

Some of my friends are insistent on providing an inheritance for their kids. 

While a noble sentiment, they may be robbing themselves of enjoying this next chapter in life. In several situations, their only real assets are their homes which leaves them cash poor.

This is a personal choice which often leads them to underlive their retired years. Also, it can create family discourse over who gets what. It’s particularly true if greed sets in with the involvement of spouses and other extended family.

How to Avoid Under Living Retirement

One of the best things about retiring is the ability to slow down and relax. However, these are also referred to as the “go years” when you’re active and able to do almost anything you want.

These can be the most expensive years which we discuss in our article The Five Stages of Retirement.

As an example, close friends of ours hiked the Inca trail to Machu Picchu in their mid-sixties. Something they always dreamed of doing and it was the adventure of a lifetime. 

While it wasn’t cheap, it likely would have been far more expensive had they delayed. More importantly, they trained for months to complete this extremely grueling trek.

If they had postponed until their mid-seventies, their physical health may have restricted them. This illustrates the need to do things while you’re still able.

To avoid underliving retirement one needs a plan, discover passions and remain socially connected.

Make A Plan for What You Want to Do

I’m not suggesting everyone should hike the Inca trail. In fact, there’s a train which takes you up to Machu Picchu. However, what are the things you’d really like to do? What’s on your bucket list?

This is when so many retirees focus on saving their nickels instead of doing what they really want. Yes, almost everything will cost money. However, the experiences and memories can be priceless.

This is why making a plan and following through is crucial. In the situation of our friends, they set aside funds for over two years. Without a plan, they never could have afforded their grand adventure. It simply wouldn’t have happened!

Discover Your Passions

Common advice for retirees is to find a hobby or something to occupy your time. From a slightly deeper perspective, it’s about doing things you’re interested in. Seldom will this be just one activity, rather a combination of several things.

For instance, my focus is on getting in better shape, learning a new language (Portuguese) and making a difference for others. My interests have evolved over time and, likely, yours will as well.

Some ideas to discover your passions include:

  • Rekindle an old hobby or start a new one
  • Join a club or group
  • Lifelong learning
  • Get an encore career whether it be part time or full time
  • Volunteer or do something which makes a difference in others’ lives

Boredom generally sets in when you’re not doing anything which feels interesting. To address this, our article, The Ultimate Guide of Things to Do When Retired and Bored, offers fresh perspectives to turn this around.

Remain Socially Connected

An acquaintance of mine probably has over a thousand “Facebook friends”. Haven’t seen her in years and doubt she even has time to get together. She’s completely caught up in her online world.

Further to this, it would be an understatement to say her marriage is strained. From what I understand, her partner and her have become no better than roommates. In many respects, her life is devoid of meaningful and supportive relationships.

The quality of our relationships greatly influences our overall happiness and, ultimately, even our health. Our article, The Most Important Ingredient for Happiness During Your Retired Life, includes research findings highlighting how critical this can be.

Primary Relationships

The first priority are our primary relationships such as with a spouse or partner. Some couples have grown distant over the years. After retiring, they’re faced with spending much more time together. In some situations, this can be 24/7.

This isn’t always a good thing and can further strain their relationship. We discuss this in Common Marriage Problems After Retiring. It can lead to a break up or even divorce unless addressed.

On a more positive note, this is also the opportunity to reconnect and deepen their relationship. Our article, Ideas to Rekindle a Marriage in Your Retired Years, provides more thoughts on this.

Secondary Connections

Secondary connections are your friendships and extended family. 

When retired, you now have the time to reconnect with friends or family you haven’t seen in a long time. It’s never been easier to stay in touch especially now that you have more free time.

This could include getting together with other couples or participating in group events with your spouse. 

However, it’s also healthy to have separate interests and friendships. In fact, these interactions are vital to maintaining a sense of social connection.

As someone who is somewhat shy, I can relate to the fact it’s not always easy putting yourself out there. One option is getting involved in your local community. Another is joining a club or other special interest group.

In either situation, you’re sure to be welcomed and meet new people. Plus, you’ll likely have fun doing something you enjoy. Our article, Ways to Make Friends After Retiring, goes into more detail on how to expand your social circle.

Closing Thoughts on Underliving Your Retired Years

Just as outliving your savings is the number one fear of most retirees, not living a full life after retiring is an equally serious risk. To be completely candid, each of us is wholly responsible for how we choose live out our remaining years.

Clearly, we all need to live within our means. The complete unknown is how long we’ll be around and what the future will bring. This means not blowing your savings in the first few years.

This becomes a balancing act of determining what is important and how to afford it. This might mean loosening the purse strings to enjoy those experiences while still healthy and active.

For myself, I never want to look back and regret not doing the things I wanted.

Therefore, the concept of “die with zero” has tremendous appeal for me. I much prefer the idea of living a rich and full life as opposed to fretting over things beyond my control.

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