9 Key Ingredients for a Happy Retirement

Before you go, we thought you'd like these...
Mature couple on tour bus, smiling
Getty Images
By Dave Bernard

Most of us would like to at least have the option to retire at some point. There are those who may choose to keep working in some capacity, but working by choice (rather than necessity) can be considered part of the desired retirement mix. Other people plan to get as far from the working world as possible. What our retirement will look like depends on our personal preferences and priorities. Here are some of the most important ingredients for retirement happiness:

Having something on the calendar. Once finished with the working world, whatever is on the calendar becomes our personal responsibility. Having something to look forward to –- a trip, a dinner party or a concert –- can help sustain an expectation of good things to be. An empty calendar does not bode well for the excitement and variety we look for in our second act.

Being healthy. The more challenged we are with our physical health, the less we are generally able to enjoy day to day living. We cannot stop the aging process, but we can try to do the right things along the way to encourage a healthier mind and body. Aim to appreciate the days when you enjoy good health.

Having enough money. If you do not have enough saved, the retirement you are hoping for is not going to happen. Have you done the math to figure out how much you actually need to be comfortable? If you calculate that you will be able to cover your bills and have enough left over to live a good life, you are on a reasonable path. %VIRTUAL-article-sponsoredlinks%But don't make the mistake of working yourself to death in order to save for retirement. In our second act, time can become an even rarer commodity than money.

Someone to share it all with. A partner, spouse or close friend can help us to live a moment more fully by sharing an experience with someone we care for. A sunset is beautiful, but when shared with a loved one, isn't it just a bit more special?

Finding a little fun. Think back on a time when you were happy, smiling and just plain glad to be alive. What was it that you were doing? What caused you to feel that way? Now with time to spend as you desire, aim to do that again. Even if you are not able or interested in doing the same thing, finding a little fun in your retirement days can bring on a welcome smile.

Expanding our horizons. Now that we have the time to do what we want, there are many possibilities. The time is right to try all the things we did not have time for while living the life of worker bees. Step outside of the comfort box and get a little crazy. Variety can help keep the day fresh and interesting.

Enough interests that engage us. No one wants to be bored in retirement. This is the chance to spend our time as we want, doing what we most enjoy. It is important to plan ahead for pending retirement and the free time we will have. Get a jump on identifying the interests and passions you hope to enjoy once retired.

Being patient. Getting older can try your patience and make it harder to get along day to day. Since we may not be as quick or energetic as we once were, a little patience when it comes to the realities of aging can improve the quality of your retirement experience.

Realistic challenges. Who does not enjoy the feeling of accomplishment that comes with successfully meeting a challenge? Whether climbing the nearest mountain, getting those persnickety roses to bloom or writing your first short story, achieving goals can make you feel better about yourself.

It takes more than a large nest egg to create a worthwhile retired life. There are a lot of ingredients that, when mixed together, just might be the recipe for your retirement happiness.

Dave Bernard is the author of "I Want To Retire! Essential Considerations for the Retiree to Be." Although not yet retired, he focuses on identifying and understanding the essential components of a fulfilling and meaningful retirement. He shares his discoveries and insights on his blog Retirement-Only The Beginning.


More from U.S. News:

8 PHOTOS
6 Costly Retirement-Saving Setbacks
See Gallery
9 Key Ingredients for a Happy Retirement

For the best chance of maintaining your lifestyle in retirement, aim to contribute 15% of your salary, including any employer match, to your 401(k) or other savings account throughout your career (see What's Your Retirement Number?). Most people fall short of that benchmark. The average employee contribution to a 401(k) is 6% to 8%.

Saving 15% may seem like lifting weights at the gym for several hours. Try it anyway, says Stuart Ritter, a financial planner and vice-president of T. Rowe Price Investment Services. "Kick your contribution level up to 15% for three months. At the end of the three months, you can lower it, if necessary." But rather than dipping back to single digits, go with 10% or 12%, he says. "People find they can settle on a much higher amount than they were contributing before."

Procrastination is another risk: With each year you neglect to save, you lose an opportunity to fuel your accounts and to let compounding keep the momentum going.

So powerful is the effect of saving early that you could have less trouble catching up if you take a several-year break-say, to pay for college-than if you wait until midlife to start. At that point, says George Middleton, a financial adviser in Vancouver, Wash., "the amount of money you have to put away can be ungodly."

Still, you can make headway, especially if your kids are grown and you have fewer expenses. Say you're 55, earn $80,000 a year and have nothing saved for retirement. You put the pedal to the metal by setting aside $23,000 in your 401(k) each year for the next ten years. That $23,000 combines the annual maximum for people younger than 50 ($17,500 in 2013) plus the annual catch-up amount for people 50 and older ($5,500). If your employer matches 3% on the first 6% of pay and your investments earn an annualized 7%, you'd amass $434,700 by the time you reached 65.

For some investors, a bad case of the jitters became a bigger derailer than the recession itself (see How to Learn to Love [Stocks] Again). "People got very nervous and became more conservative, so when the market came back up, they had less of their port­folio participating in the rally," says Suzanna de Baca, vice-president of wealth strategies at Ameriprise Financial.

You can get back in (and stay in) by investing in stocks or stock mutual funds in set amounts on a regular basis. Using this strategy, known as dollar-cost averaging, you automatically buy more shares at lower prices and fewer shares at higher prices-an antidote to market-driven decisions. Once you decide on your mix of investments, use automatic rebalancing to keep it that way, advises Debbie Grose, of Lighthouse Financial Planning, in Folsom, Cal.

Most financial planners recommend that your portfolio be at least 80% in stocks in your twenties, gradually shifting to, say, 50% stocks and 50% fixed-income investments as you approach retirement. But formulas don't cure panic attacks. "Set your risk at the level you're willing to withstand in a downturn," says Middleton.

Amassing hundreds of thousands of dollars for retirement is challenge enough, but parents are also expected to save $80,000 to $100,000 per kid to cover the college bills. In fact, half of parents don't save for college at all, and the average savings among those who do runs about $12,000, according to a 2013 report by Sallie Mae, the financial services institution. Faced with a shortfall, two-thirds of families say they would use their retirement savings to pay for their children's college education, if necessary.

Don't wait until your kid is 17 to discuss how much you'll contribute. Have a conversation early about how much you can afford to give, says Fred Amrein, a registered financial adviser in Wynnewood, Pa.

A Roth IRA can be one way to save for both college and retirement, although it won't get you all the way to either goal. You can contribute up to $5,500 a year ($6,500 if you're 50 or older) in after-tax dollars, and the money grows tax-free. You can withdraw your contributions for any reason, including college, without owing tax on the distribution. You will pay taxes on the earnings (unless you're 59 1/2 or older and have had the account for at least five calendar years), but you won't have to pay a 10% early-withdrawal penalty if you use the money for qualified higher-education expenses.

Leaving the workforce, even temporarily, deprives you of current income and makes it tougher than ever to save for retirement. You might even find yourself tapping your retirement accounts to cover day-to-day expenses. You'll owe taxes on distributions from a traditional IRA plus a 10% penalty if you're younger than 59 1/2.

The best way to avoid that dismal situation is to have an emergency reserve that covers at least six months or even a year of living expenses, says Jim Holtzman, a certified financial planner in Pittsburgh. He acknowledges, however, that "that's easy to recommend and hard to implement." Avoid further disaster by hanging on to health insurance: If you can't get coverage through your spouse, look into keeping your employer-based coverage through COBRA. You can extend that coverage for up to 18 months, although you'll pay the full premium plus a small administrative fee. As of January 2014, you'll also have access to coverage through state health exchanges.

Married couples who depend on each other's earning power need life insurance to cover the gaps when one spouse dies. You can get a rough idea of how much coverage you'll need on each life by calculating what you each contribute to annual living expenses and multiplying that amount by the number of years you expect to need it, says Steve Vernon, of Rest-of-Life Communications, a retirement consulting firm. (For advice on how to do a more precise calculation, see How Much Life Insurance Do You Need?)

If you have a pension, you'll have the option of choosing a single-life benefit, which ends at your death, or the standard joint and survivor's benefit, which pays less while you're alive but keeps paying (typically at 50% to 75% of the benefit) for the rest of your spouse's life. Your spouse is legally entitled to the survivor's benefit and must sign a waiver to forgo it. Don't be tempted by the higher-paying single-life option if your spouse will need the survivor's benefit later.

Decisions you make in claiming Social Security are similarly key. If you're the higher earner (typically, the man), "you will really help your spouse by delaying Social Security as long as possible," says Vernon. The benefit grows by about 6.5% to 8% a year for each year you delay after age 62, when you first qualify, until you reach age 70. If you die first, your spouse can qualify for a survivor's benefit up to the full amount you were entitled to, depending on the age at which she files.

of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE
SHOW CAPTION +
HIDE CAPTION
Read Full Story

People are Reading