By Tom Sightings
Retirement is big business in America today, and no longer a taboo topic in the media. It's no wonder. There are currently over 40 million retirees drawing Social Security, and every day an estimated 10,000 more Americans join the ranks.
A lot of misinformation has grown up around this much-anticipated but sometimes dreaded stage of life. Here's the lowdown on six common retirement myths:
You'll be bored silly. Some retirees have waited for years to finally be able to follow their dream, whether it's starting their own business, getting involved in politics or going to live in South America. Plenty of others just want to take it easy, maybe play golf or do a little gardening. There's nothing wrong with that. If you've worked for 30 or 40 years, you deserve it. But many people find those relaxing days begin to fill up with more pressing activities. They do volunteer work, or help raise their grandchildren. So make a list of your priorities. Don't squander your time. Use it to fulfill the kind of retirement you want.
You will worry about money. Most retirees collect income from Social Security, many people still have a pension and others have an IRA, 401(k) or some other retirement account. We can also take cash out of our home or move to a less expensive area. We may have friends who provide valuable resources, whether it's sharing a vacation home or driving us to a medical appointment. There's plenty of low-cost entertainment, including off-season vacation packages and free cultural activities at a library or park. Obviously, some retirees are less well off, but the point is we can exercise substantial control over our budgets and our lives.
The medical bills will kill you. Medicare and Medicaid, along with a variety of supplemental insurance plans, actually make it easier -- and often cheaper -- for retirees to access medical care. Do you have mobility issues that require you to live in a one-story house? Is your health affected by climate? Don't be embarrassed to accommodate your limitations. Beyond this, retirees have left behind the stress of work, and enjoy the time and motivation to take care of themselves. So make sure to eat right, get some exercise, drive carefully and do all the things that will support your health and allow you to fulfill your retirement dreams.
You'll move to Florida or Arizona. Some retirees pull up stakes and move to a sunnier clime. But actually, in some recent years. Florida has suffered a net out migration, meaning more people moved out of Florida than moved in. It's important to realize that if you're going to make a long-distance move, you need to be comfortable with the three C's -- the new climate, culture and customs. A majority of retirees opt to age in place. The rest typically relocate near children and grandchildren, or move a few miles away from their old neighborhood where the living may be less expensive and the traffic less stressful, but old friends are still nearby.
You'll be left behind. If you watch "Girls" on TV, you may think the whole world consists of 20-somethings who live in Brooklyn, wear skinny jeans and sip $5 lattes with indie rock playing in the background. But with the retirement of baby boomers, the media have finally woken up to the fact that mature audiences watch TV, go to movies and pay attention to ads. Films like "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" and "Blue Jasmine," and TV shows like "Downton Abby" and "Mad Men" attract mature audiences. And the Internet puts technology into the hands of even the least adventuresome among us, and blogging has become a routine activity for many retirees. Don't believe me? Call grandma on her iPhone and ask her.
You'll be happy for the rest of your life. A recent study from Princeton University found that people are happiest in their mid-20s, then again in their mid-to-late 60s. But the truth is, you will likely be about as happy in retirement as you were during the rest of your life, for happiness depends as much on a positive outlook and an optimistic approach to life as it does on any external factors. As you get older you will inevitably suffer the loss of friends, and experience physical ailments and limitations. How happy you are with all these changes depends as much on you as it does on the changes themselves.
Tom Sightings is a former publishing executive who was eased into early retirement in his mid-50s. He lives in the New York area and blogs at Sightings at 60, where he covers health, finance, retirement and other concerns of baby boomers who realize that somehow they have grown up.