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What Makes a Good Retirement?

There is a lot of retirement advice - really a lot. Key that phrase - retirement advice - into Google and you get 350 million returns. That's the exact number – 350,000,000 - meaning there is whole lot more but Dr. Google probably reached her retrieval limit.

And every word of that advice is about money. Just money. From big companies who want some of your money to, if you scroll through enough Google pages, individual money entrepreneurs who want some of your money. They all want your money.

Every one of them, too, will tell you exactly how much money you need to have to retire in comfort and happiness and for most people that number is almost always more than, or damned close to, what they earned in their entire working life.

Nevertheless, each of them promises you can still somehow have the million or two million or other astronomical figure they warn you must have if you just pay them a whole lot of money to give you the secret.

This all came to mind a few days ago when a review of yet another book about what you need to retire happily (the answer, always, is money) was reviewed in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The author is (what else?) a financial planner who says that

”...happy retirees have a liquid net worth of at least $500,000; they have about three activities, hobbies or interests they love to pursue and they have a home value of at least $300,000. They also have an annual retirement income at or near $82,770. Unhappy retirees average about $53,370.”

Oh dear. My net worth and home value are well below this man's happiness quotient for those items and my retirement income is so much lower than his unhappiness average that I guess I might as well shoot myself now.

I wonder if it would surprise this guy to know that as small as my income is (by his standards), I am not unhappy and further, I know plenty of other retired people who live on less than I do and they're not unhappy either.

Generally, day to day, I am satisfied. I am grateful for my continued good health. I enjoy the work that goes into this blog and into helping develop Three Rivers Village in my community.

I take pleasure in good books (and some trashy ones, too), in some movies, music and in following politics and a few other topics that have always engaged me.

Although I did not intend to retire ten years ago when I was forced out of the workplace and would be employed, out of choice, still had that not happened, I enjoy the freedom to order my days differently now, to live on my schedule and experiment with my time.

After four years now in my new home state, I have made some friends but I also treasure my time alone, my solitude – I have always needed lots of that.

Would I like to have more money than I do? Yes. I lost more than a third of my savings in the 2008 crash and am nowhere near getting it back.

Would I like a deeper cushion for any future disasters? Of course. But a whole lot in life, a whole lot of living is uncertain, unpredictable, even precarious for most people. Why should I be any different.

What this guy and all the other 35 million retirement advisers don't get is that barring abject poverty (which they have no interest in helping anyway), happiness has little to do with money.

How's your retirement going?

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Wendl Kornfeld: Everybody Has a Story


Yes, 'happiness has little to do with money.' But it does relieve the mind and heart when there is enough to hold back the worry and anxiousness, when there is enough to have the basic needs and some play dough left over. What's helpful, if not needed, in any case, is an attitude that I will survive, and thrive, REGARDLESS of future uncertainties. A lightness of being, if you will.

Two axioms I learned the hard way . . .

1> Money isn't the most important thing in life, but 'they' won't go out with you if you don't have any.

2> Again, money isn't the most important thing in life, but it's far ahead of whatever is in second place.

(From a circa 1958 Mad Magazine)

Money doesn't always guarantee peace of mind. The minute you figure out that there are no guarantees in this life, you'll be able to find your way and not fear losing your prop (good old money)

You are right on Ronni. I've been retired for 3 years now, I don't have the assets that fella in Atlanta is referring to and my income is well below what he says makes a happy retiree. And yet, I find this the happiest time in my life. I've gotten into wildlife photography. I write a blog and have a website on eating a whole foods, plant-based diet. I live in a great community with a lot of educated people with varied interests and my grandchildren are close by. That guy, and probably most Americans, has a really warped view of what it takes to retire and what it takes to be happy. If it was money, then I guess I would be miserable. Fortunately, it's not money and I'm very happy.

By that man's standards, I should be pretty miserable. But so far I'm not. Maybe I'm doing something wrong.

Ronni, how time has flown. I remember when you left Maine, and it hardly seems like four years ago! So glad things are working out for you. I continue to work a 30-hour/wk job and mostly enjoy my students. I wish my employer were a bit more generous with time off, but even when I offer to take it without pay, I have to get a doctor's excuse. Isn't that silly? Thank you for the heads-up that I don't have to be a millionaire to retire or else I would die in harness like a plough mule.

As a resident of a modest assisted living facility, I am always interested in the amenities that are available at the high end places. You know, the places with suites, pools, gourmet food and pictures of healthy, happy resident seniors frolicking about. While I know that these places exist, and new ones are being built everyday, I am just wondering where people get the money to live in these places with some rents going for as much as $10,000 a month. I worked all my life, had a decent job, a 401k, CD's and an IRA and never amassed anything close to a half a million dollars. Reading that so-called advice from "experts" makes me wonder what I did wrong, which in turn make me depressed which in turn makes me unhappy.

How's my retirement going? I'm happy. I've nowhere near the assets those pie-in-the-sky entrepreneurs would like to help me attain, but live carefully and pretty well. I'd live a little less carefully if what remains of my savings earned more than 0.04% so I could spend interest instead of what I laughingly call 'capital.' And I'd be happier still if my Long term Health Insurance wasn't going to raise its rates some 85% in a year or two.

But on balance, I'm happy in retirement, yes I am!

Due to being in the right place at the right time, I was able to exercise some stock options that were actually worth something, allowing me to retire in 2000. Still, it doesn't mean I'm automatically happy all the time (an impossible state in any circumstances).

What *does* make me happy is that six months ago, at the age of 61, I FINALLY started taking a drawing class! I've been in classes since than, adding a pastels class most recently. Surprisingly, it's made me more interested in the world around me.

Money is a tool, nothing more. It gives you stability and flexibility, no small accomplishments, but happiness and contentment come from elsewhere.

Well I’m proud to say that I planned well for my retirement, executed the plan well and prepared well financially for my retirement. Why I could teach little Ms. Susie Orman a thing or two on the subject. Just one teeny-weeny, itsy-bitsy thing I admittedly seemed to have overlooked - all that cigarette smoking I was doing while confidently working toward that retirement goal….

So here I sit with just about enough lung power to walk from here to the corner and back - maybe. Rather than being able to really enjoy that retirement I just sit around all day writing really stupid stuff like this and posting it on someone’s blog instead of enjoying the end product of all that outstanding planning! :)

Maybe I should get my retirement together, bundle it all up and sell it on Craig’s List!

My husband and I teach a workshop called "Non-financial Retirement Planning: Who Will I Be without my Job?" We try to get people to think about what they want do in retirement, because many people are so deeply identified with their careers.

I've been retired for almost three years. The first year I lived without my pension because I wasn't yet 65 (my husband was still working). The second year I got my pension and Social Security too, after I turned 66. Now, as I'm nearing 67, we've received an unexpected inheritance that has given us more money.

Looking back, I can't say that I've gotten happier with each new shot of income. It's nice to be comfortable, but the big thing for me in retirement is having the time to do what I want to do, without the heavy obligation of 40 hours a week in the office. I have several volunteer gigs, swim three mornings a week, go to a weekly yoga class and have leisurely visits with friends. I also have a small freelance editing business that I find very satisfying.

So, I'd say that having adequate income is important, but having friends and interesting activities that allow you to give back is more important.

I was slow to even begin saving for retirement due to all those predictions of how much money was needed. I think this kind of advice paralyzes good intentions.-- After a late start I worried all the way to age 70, and cautiously retired. Turns out I am doing fine with much less than $500,000, and collecting SS late was the best thing I could have done.

wow Alan G.....that is so sad and "funny"....for I just stopped smoking after a 20 year 1 pack a week habit....I never understood why I started but I don't understand myself anyways and now with no money and a need for an occ. puff or two....I have to pretend on my electronic with no refills left. Funny how life goes.

I must be very stupid because I am happy and my income is among the lowest. I do own my own home or I would probably be miserable.

If you have shelter, enough good food, reasonably good health and are warm in the winter and cool in the summer you have little right to complain about anything. So many don't have that. Like everything else, it's all relative. If you have the basics, whether you are happy or not is up to you.

I live in a condo-community, no age restriction, but most of us are around 50ish & older. Within the past few months 2 women who were fairly active (ages 87 & 89) moved just down the road a piece to a rather nice assisted living facility with a small nursing care unit.

Both of their daughters told me that the reason they were able to do so is because over 25 yrs. ago they purchased insurance that pays for everything at the facility except for some special luxuries. Now that's what I call sound retirement planning.

According to the daughters the premiums were manageable because both women were very good money managers, with only one of them working outside the home. Wish I could afford that insurance now, but it's astronomical today & one large insurance co. I know of dropped it altogether. Dee

@Sheila Halet...

Well I am just a few months away from 73 and I quit smoking at age 57. With smoking... you just never know!

I'm wondering what Thoreau might have commented here. After a sudden and completely unexpected end to my husband's job last year, we are struggling financially and will probably continue to do so for the rest of our lives. He was fortunate to qualify for VA healthcare assistance, being a veteran with low income, so he has continued to be able to see physicians and get his medication after his employer based insurance ended before he turned 65. Yet, we are loving the time together that we didn't have for many of the years we were in the rat race. We both worked ridiculous numbers of hours at very stressful jobs, but still made little money. So now we still have little money, but we have precious time and are able to read, watch documentaries, garden, and simply enjoy life more than we have for years.

I am with Darlene. If you've got the basics, happiness is pretty much up to you.

And Darlene. I still miss your blog!

Health is my number one. With three major surgeries in the past few years, every day with lessened pain is grand stuff. Right now, I am better off than I have ever been before in my life, and that just proves money is useful. What we do with ourselves makes happiness. There's a lot of happiness in this house.

My IRA took the big hit too, wiped out by half. Got the basics covered and a little extra. I'm happy. My worries are for my kids and siblings. I just downsized from a house to a small condo. Easier to care for and cheaper than the house. Miss the back yard but have a nice little private patio and its paid for. I have lots of compatible, loving family here and I consider myself fortunate.

We are happy in retirement. We love scheduling our time and spending most of it together. We watch for inexpensive but interesting entertainment like street fairs and art exhibits outdoors. We consider cable a luxury but we use it to watch some good movies, documentaries and just relaxing "trips" to other places without leaving home. Internet is another luxury we enjoy. We have a very nice one bedroom apartment with a view of a huge grassy hill and lots of woods. We see all kinds of birds, deer, rabbits and other wildlife each day just by looking out our living room windows. We have nice heating and air conditioning and a little fireplace. We are thankful to always have food. We dont have new or fancy furniture and the interior design does not look like it came out of a magazine but it is organized and comfortable for our needs. I am handicapped and my husband is losing much of his mobility too. We just help each other fill in the gaps with what we can do for ourselves and each other. I do so wish that we had paid for assisted living insurance many years ago. The stress would be less knowing that would be a very real option when neither of us can care for ourselves or each other without help. Trying to check into all the possibilities for that situation now. Generally, though, we are very happy and try to live in the moment but of course do some research and planning for future.

Darlene nailed it for me. My husband and I have the basics too, and also excellent, but expensive, health care insurance. We have family near us and have dear friends from Colorado who occasionally come to stay for several days. We love a night or two out while they are here to go hear some of the best jazz groups in the valley. Fun times, happy, and content.

Thanks Alan G.I'll be 71 in aug. That is why ....each day is a present and yes Darlene we have our home ....

I heard so much of that crap about how many millions one needed for a comfortable retirement that it worked on my brain. Even though I had a pension plan as well as Social Security to rely on, still I had visions of ending up as a bag lady like the ones I would see in the park near where I worked. (I'm told that the bag lady fear is not uncommon among single women.)

When I wanted to retire because of a shake-up within my organization, fortunately a "golden handshake" came along and I leaped, but not without fear and trepidation. The happy ending was that my fears were groundless. Not only could I retire in comfort, but I always have money left over and can afford to be very generous with children and grandchildren, including educational provisions for the grandchildren in my Trust.

Those fear-mongers who put out the kind of false information Ronni described should stop with the charts and econo-graphs and do some field research among actual retired people. They will find that we can somehow manage to survive without the regular cruises and country club memberships that these guys must be envisioning as indispensable.

Meg, your bag lady comments gave me a chuckle; I have been a single woman for many years and that has consistently been one of my fears!

I m disabled. VERY poor. $675 month. Paid for mobile home. I am fortunate to have excellent medical coverage with very low payments per month. I haven't had cable TV in 15 years. I don't drink or smoke and can't afford to go out to eat. I still watch VHS tapes on my TV. My internet connection is my splurge.
My parrots intertain me. They were through away pets from people who didn't understand them.
I'm for the most part happy.

Usually I don't comment. Most of the time I read your entry and I nod as I read and usually by the end I think you have really done a good article with a good conclusion. Today was no different. But I am commenting anyway! Those guys...those people who need all that money...their happiness is not the same as mine. I am happy to watch the grass grow and the cucumbers and the beans and I will be very happy tomorrow when I can put a plateful of delicious vegetables from my garden onto the table. And I am very happy to have the time to work in that garden now that I am retired. And to watch the worms crawling in that garden!
And I, too, miss your blog Darlene

Well, I guess I'm the Lone Ranger here. But I'll add my thoughts to the pot all the same. I did NOT plan well financially and though I have a steady job, I would be in huge trouble if I got laid off. Pretty sure I will not receive a huge golden parachute. Haven't been at this company THAT long. I don't even know where the money went. I didn't spend it on big ticket stuff. Have not traveled much at all, don't eat in fancy restaurants, don't go to the theater. I go to a movie 2-3 times a year. I've worked in the arts (interesting but low paying). I worry a lot about having enough money for health issues, health ins.

I do NOT worry about not being able to travel and have luxuries and creature comforts. That part's okay.

I am very able to entertain myself cheaply and in fact just know how to entertain myself. Books, music, friends, good conversation, quiet things. Simple things.

But, yes, I am scared to death about not having enough money for health matters and even for rent.

Perhaps I am the only person in this age bracket who simply screwed up and didn't sock away a decent amount of money for my retirement. But that's the truth. And, yes, I always always feel judged about it.

So that's my lone voice.

I'm feeling very fortunate that I had both SS and a pension, but my income is still only a little higher than what the "unhappy retiree" of these pundits lives on. I admire Debi for her ability to manage on such a small income. But that's really the trick, isn't it? We manage---whatever we end up with. One of the things I learned after retirement is that one's expenses can go WAY down. When I feared retirement I was thinking about another way of life, but after retirement I realized that, among other things, I didn't need a new car every few years. With more attention paid to maintenance, my 26 year old car still suits me just fine. Being at home with no dependents provides time and opportunities to be more frugal and means a much lower budget for all household expenses, including utilities. So Su, you may find that you don't need as much as you think you need to be reasonably comfortable, and I have no doubt that Medicare will somehow be rescued.

I would say that personal health is the most important at our age.

What those retirement gurus seem to forget is that we retirees are not forced into the rat race anymore and can do what we want. Every time I feel a little down, I think of that and it makes me very, very happy.

Meg, I hope you are right about expenses going down and Medicare being rescued. I already live pretty darn frugally. I know thinking creatively will free up more money here and there. But I am in a pretty big hole financially and little fixes here and there will only be small Bandaids. I know this is a problem of my own making and I don't mean to sound self-pitying though I'm sure I must. I'm just trying to say that if you are in a big financial hole, as some people are (I can't be the only one), it makes sense to worry about not having enough money for the retirement (whether forced or otherwise) years.

Not everyone who worries about not having enough money is worrying because of wanting to have an extravagant lifestyle or hobbies.

From reading the comments here in this community, it would seem that most if not everyone here has done a much better job of managing their finances over time than I have. Even the ones who experienced setbacks such as in 2008 when so many lost so much of their retirement savings.
This is what I notice in my real life too: Everyone else seems to have done such a better job than I. I am now trying to "stop the bleeding" and rectify things financially, but it's a long, slow process and time isn't on my side.

I don't have much in common with others my age.

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