4 Necessities for a Successful Retirement

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Large group of seniors exercising in retirement villa garden
Getty ImagesAn active social life contributes to your health and well-being in retirement.
By Tom Sightings

The long-awaited day has arrived. You've signed the papers and celebrated with a goodbye party. You're free and clear for the rest of your life. So, now what happens?

Maybe you've made some plans. You might have signed up as a volunteer, joined a golf league, started babysitting your grandchildren or prepared to relocate to a coastal Carolina or the Costa del Sol. But will your plans produce a satisfying retirement? There are four big issues to consider when setting off in retirement. Check to see if you've got them covered.

Money. Money by itself won't make you happy. But a solid financial footing does provide the foundation for a comfortable retirement. You can live on Social Security alone, but it's not easy. Do you really want to spend your golden years scraping together rent money, turning down the heat to save on utility bills and selling your car and taking the bus because you couldn't put in the effort to save?

Money issues generally don't resolve themselves if you ignore them. So no matter how averse you are to opening your credit card bill or talking to an investment adviser, to survive in retirement you need to assess where you stand financially. While some retirement savers are sitting pretty with a secure pension and a paid-off mortgage, others may be paying down credit card debt and trying to build up an IRA. In both cases you need a plan to make the most of your assets.

Health. We all know what awaits us in the end. But there are many ways to go, and most agree the best way is to live a healthy and pain-free life into your 90s, then go quickly, preferably in your sleep. No one can guarantee you a healthy old age, but there are many things you can do now to make the prospects more promising for your later years, from eating right and exercising to taking appropriate measures to be safe on the streets and in your home.

Everyone knows we're supposed to eat our veggies and avoid fat and sugar. Walking is probably the best exercise for those of us with back problems, or who have survived knee or hip surgery. Ballroom or country dancing is a gentle but somewhat aerobic activity. Even golf, while not much exercise, keeps the limbs moving and the body stretching. Instead of doing something just because it's good for you, the secret is to participate in a physical activity you enjoy so you will keep doing it.

Companionship. Many studies have found that social isolation can cause both physical and psychological problems. Conversely, an active social life contributes significantly to well-being in our later years. For example, a study conducted by the National Institutes of Health found that people who enjoy "high-quality intimate relationships" have better physical health and emotional well-being as they age than those who lack social relationships. The relationships often involve married partners, but not always. Close friendships can also provide much of the emotional and practical support that comes with marriage.

Another study from Harvard University found that elderly people in the U.S. who have an active social life may have a slower rate of memory decline. In the study, individuals with the highest social integration showed less than half the rate of memory decline compared to the least socially integrated. The bottom line: being engaged in a community not only makes you happy and provides security, but also helps you stay alert and engaged with different ideas, stimulating conversations and challenging new concepts.

Purpose. We know that stress is bad for us, and has even been linked to the development of dementia. But having a sense of purpose in life and a connection to something larger than yourself, whether it's a job, an important role in your family life or a commitment to a social or charitable cause, is linked to major health benefits, including protection against cognitive decline.

Those of us who have retired have already made whatever difference we're going to make in our professional lives. The challenge of retirement is to make a difference outside of work with your family, community or in developing your own skills or consciousness. So, whatever you do, give yourself a reason to get out of bed in the morning, connect with other people and engage in activities that you feel are meaningful.

Tom Sightings blogs at Sightings at 60.

The 10 Best Places to Retire on Social Security Alone
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4 Necessities for a Successful Retirement

Senior citizen renters pay a median of $686 monthly to live in Albuquerque. Homeowners age 65 and older pay a median of $1,078 a month if they have a mortgage and just $368 monthly if they have paid off the mortgage. There are six senior centers where people age 50 and older can become members for just $13 a year.

The low housing costs in Texas are drawing people to the state. A home in Austin costs retirees a median of $1,395 monthly with a mortgage and $545 if they own their home debt-free. The median rent for retirees age 65 and older is $887 monthly. Texas doesn't have a state income tax, but it's important to carefully consider the property tax you might face on any home purchase.

If you can tolerate the cold and snowy winters, you'll be rewarded with a very low cost of living. Senior citizens age 65 and older pay just $466 monthly in housing costs if they have paid off their mortgages, $1,009 monthly if they are still paying off their home and $611 in monthly rent. The City of Buffalo also provides a senior discount card that entitles retirees to a percentage off their purchases when they shop at local businesses.

South Carolina residents age 60 and older who are no longer working are eligible for free tuition at the University of South Carolina. Seniors can also get discount tickets to the Riverbanks Zoo and Columbia Museum of Art. Housing remains affordable, costing retirees $1,074 monthly with a mortgage, $367 with a paid-off house or $801 in monthly rent.

This small city is known for its outsized art scene, which includes the Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park, Grand Rapids Art Museum, Urban Institute of Contemporary Arts and the art competition ArtPrize. Retirees age 65 and older pay just $684 monthly in rent. Older homeowners pay $1,080 monthly with a mortgage and $427 a month if their house is paid off.

Jacksonville offers balmy winters similar to other parts of Florida, but at much more affordable prices. Retirees age 65 and older pay a median rent of just $861 a month. Older homeowners pay a median of $1,247 a month if they have a mortgage, which drops significantly to $405 once they pay off the house. An added bonus: There's no state income tax in Florida.

Pittsburgh has several professional sports teams, noteworthy museums, major colleges and the UPMC-University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, which is ranked 13th in the country in geriatrics. But housing prices remain affordable, costing senior citizens a median of $1,023 monthly with a mortgage, $434 when they have paid off their house or $614 a month in rent. Plus, residents age 65 or over ride free on the bus, T or Monongahela Incline.

The Spokane River flows through downtown Spokane and can be enjoyed at Riverfront Park, one of the city's numerous recreation areas for hiking and biking. Washington state doesn't have an individual income tax, and housing in retirement is affordable, costing just $419 monthly with a paid-off house and $1,139 monthly with a mortgage. The median rent for people age 65 and older is $733 monthly.

Home costs for seniors are $1,115 monthly with a mortgage and $434 a month with a paid-off house, while renters pay a median of $664 monthly in rent. There are also affordable local services to transport retirees to doctor appointments and the grocery store and help with minor home repairs and chores. The Barnes-Jewish Hospital/Washington University is nationally ranked in geriatrics.

Retirees can take in the enormous cactuses at Saguaro National Park, where U.S. citizens age 62 or older can get a lifetime pass to this and other national parks for just $10. Yet this sunny city remains affordable. Monthly rent for people 65 and older is a median of $771. Older homeowners pay $1,095 monthly with a mortgage, but that drops significantly to $366 for people who have paid off their homes. Plus, the state of Arizona doesn't tax Social Security income.

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