October 10, 2011 — How is your retirement going? Is it the dream you looked forward to for so many years – with plenty of time and resources to do the things you have always wanted to? Or is it disappointing – are you scraping by financially, plagued by poor health, bored and feeling unfulfilled?
A new poll by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard School of Public Health found a startling contrast between the attitudes of pre-retirees and those who have already retired. Sadly, pre-retirees are much more optimistic about their overall happiness and well-being than people who have already retired. As Robert Blendon of the Harvard School of Public Health commented on an NPR program, “Retirement Reality Not As Rosy as Expectations”, the bad news is that people are unrealistic about how hard it is to successfully retire: “People thinking about retirement don’t envision any of the potential problems that they could face,” he says. “But you have to face up to them, because otherwise it’s very hard just when events start happening to respond.”
NPR posted a question on its Facebook page recently asking retirees about their retirement preparations: “How are you preparing for retirement? If you’re already retired, what kind of changes have you had to make? Do you think you’ll ever be able to afford to retire?” . The post resulted in an amazing 803 comments in just a few days.
As you might expect, there was a range of responses. Here were some of the main themes we found:
– Quite a few people are really unhappy. Some barely have enough to eat, while others are just scraping by
– Cynicism is rampant, as is anger and disappointment. The stock market has dealt most retirees a very serious and depressing blow. Many feel they will never be able to retire, or if they do they will live in poverty. The government is blamed for a lot of this
– Many people retired before age 65, which is now coming back to bite them (they didn’t save enough, and feel they are too old to land a job)
– Unexpected health issues have derailed many a retirement
– There are those who are very happy in their retirements. Many of these folks appear to have prepared well – they have enough money to do the things they want, and they have escaped serious health issues
– Several of the people who felt the best prepared had careers in the public sector and have good pension plans. Others saved and scrimped to prepare
– Younger people have different reactions than baby boomers. Some are worried and blame baby boomers for ruining their retirement. One thing that is striking about the younger folks who posted is that they have gotten the message about the need to prepare for retirement; many of them are saving, saving, saving. Unfortunately there are also younger people who haven’t been able to find meaningful work; they fear that they will not have enough good earning years to realize a comfortable retirement.
Here are some snippets from comments at Facebook as well as those made in earlier Topretirements blog posts about this issue. You can read all of the NPR Facebook comments here:
The Really Unhappy:
jP. “Preparing for retirement” = “pray I don’t live that long” for many people, I fear.
Lydia. I will not retire till it’s time for me to drop dead
Kathryn. Don’t see myself as being able to retire. When I can no longer work I will be in no position to maintain my present life.
Cara. Seeing people in their 70’s still working full time to get by is disheartening. Of all the things I worry about, this is probably at the top of my list.
Susan. Our retirement “plan” and retirement reality are two very different things. All it took was one little fall from a bicycle at the age of 66…
?? I will never be able to stop working
Jesse. Die young!
Sara. I’m 32 and currently in graduate school. I probably won’t be able to start my career until about 40 at the earliest. When you figure in another 10-20 years to pay off student loans, *if* I am able to get a job in my field and not just be an…
Don’t Plan on Retiring
Zalina. I love my job (physician). I hope I never *have* to retire. Intend to work until I no longer can.
Struggling with retirement:
Sylvia. We are thankful that we still have part time jobs to supplement our social security and hope we will stay healthy enough to continue working a few more years
Carol. I thought I was, until two things happened: the housing bubble burst and my work hours were reduced. Now my mortgage is under water and my job is ending in December.
Lynn. My husband & I both retired this past year; it’s a lot crazier than we thought. Trimmed the cable bill, frequenting restaurants less often. Not buying warranties or extension plans or renewing annual termite inspections, etc. the cost of food, gas, & utilities, not to mention helping 2 college educated adult kids who are w/o jobs, is putting a strain on us. We live in DC so instead of going to the Kennedy Center we stay home & play games or rent movies.
Feeling very confident:
Michael. I am 60 and a public worker in Wyoming. I can retire in three years and my wife will follow a year later. We will sell our house and move to warmer climes. I am pleased that the State of Wyoming kept its well-funded defined retirement plan
Kathy. I retired early because I had no mortgage, no bills. My time is my own, and though sometimes I miss the “structure” of work, I now can expand my mind, pursue my interests in my own individual way
Barbara. My husband and I are both retired. He, in 1986 and me in 1996. We never felt Social Security or our state pensions would be enough to live on, so we have scraped and saved all our married lives. We’ve invested in real estate rentals sufficient to amount to second jobs for both of us.
Kathy. You can’t beat retirement with a stick. Best thing that ever happened to me. Even without a large income my days are filled with so much to do.
The best advice about retirement preparation/attitude came from Rich:
“Retirement is fantastic and there are really no negatives if preparation has been made. Some may just love work — maybe they SHOULDN’T retire. Those who have no choice have the biggest preparation tasks.
I think the difficulty most people have with retirement is that they are (maybe for the first time) fully responsible for themselves. YOU have to make decisions about your life, your activities, your finances, and everything else. YOU have to prepare — whether you spend 5, 10, 20 or 50 years saving or planning financially, YOU need to be aware what your resources and your costs will be. YOU need to be responsible for yourself — YOU can’t overspend if you want your money to last your lifetime. YOU have to think about what will make you happy or content (hobbies, more work, charities, travel, grandkids) and act to do these things within your means.
Whether you are prepared or not, the responsibility is YOURS to do something about it. That’s really what retirement is.”
So How Is Your Retirement Going? Please share with us your experiences in the Comments section below!