The Keys to a Successful Retirement

Dear Friends-

We know from numerous studies that the folks who have the most enjoyable retirements —physically, emotionally, and, yes, financially — have one thing in common: they planned them.

I’m not talking about nailing down how they’re going to spend every single minute of the next 30 years or budgeting their spending to the penny. But they have given serious thought to the activities they want to be involved in, how they would like to spend their day, where they will live, who they will socialize with, how much income they will need and where it will come from, and so forth. In other words, the more specific the picture, the better.

That’s not to say this is etched in stone. Retirement is no different than any other part of your life — change happens.

This brings up another key to successful aging: the ability to adapt to change gracefully, that is, without resentment. This might include switching from jogging to walking because your knees can’t take it any more and not feeling sorry for yourself; being able to develop and nurture new social relationships when you lose others; scaling back your travel plans because either your budget or your spouse isn’t up to it and being content to spend the two weeks visiting your grandkids instead of the Loire Valley.

Knowing this, the results of a recent survey of married couples by Fidelity Investments are all the more disturbing. While this focused on finances, it points to a number of other issues that you would think/hope folks who are closing in on retirement would have agreed upon.

For instance, take something as basic as when each spouse will retire. While wives tended to accurately pinpoint the age their husbands would retire, the men underestimated how long their wives planned to work. Assuming their wife would quit when they did, husbands said age 61. However, on average the women said they planned to work until age 63. (1)

This might not sound like a big deal … unless hubby is expecting the two of you will take that trip-of-a-lifetime the year after he retires. If a 3-month sabbatical isn’t in the wife’s work plan, that’s not going to happen (at least with her!).

On a related question, 40 percent of five couples disagree on whether both or one of them will work at all — even part-time — after retiring from his/her main career.

Here’s a somewhat scary finding: in one out of five couples husband and wife didn’t agree on whether or not they have a financial advisor!

This may explain why nearly 60 percent differ on who the surviving spouse would turn to for financial advice if the other one died. Husbands expect their wives to rely on the couple’s financial advisor; while wives said they would be more likely to ask a family member, their tax preparer, or their employer.

Spouses also differ on the sources of income they’ll be able to count on to finance their retirement, the amount of life insurance they own, and the kind of lifestyle they’ll be able to afford (the men are slightly more optimistic).

While the Fidelity study included only couples with household incomes of at least $75,000 or investment assets of $100,000 or more, a broader and larger survey by the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI) recently found that in general, most people have “absolutely no idea how much they should be saving and what the retirement risks are.” According to Jack VanDerhei, EBRI Fellow and professor at Temple University, Americans in general are simply “putting money away each year and praying it’s going to be enough.”

One issue where the Fidelity study found overwhelming agreement: concern about unexpected healthcare costs. Seventy percent of the pre-retirees listed this as a “major” worry, with 47 percent ranking it “number one.”

For good reason. Fidelity estimates that a 65-year-old couple retiring this year with employer-provided health insurance would need $215,000 to cover out-of-pocket medical costs in retirement; EBRI puts this number at $250,000 (the two estimates differ on life expectancy and insurance coverage). Suffice it to say, it’s a significant chunk of money.

Yet almost one in four couples told Fidelity they’ve done nothing to prepare for the potential costs of long-term care. A third can’t agree if they have or haven’t don’t anything about this.

In fact, only 23 percent of the couples said they are both involved in making financial preparations for retirement. Not surprisingly, these couples also tend to be more optimistic about retiring and better prepared for the unexpected, such as medical costs.

If you want to get the ball rolling and start a dialogue with your spouse or significant other, check out Fidelity’s “MyPlan” retirement tool at Take the simple 5-question quiz and you’ll instantly get an idea of how prepared you are for retirement and what you can do to catch up if needed.

Unfortunately, it won’t tell you how to deal with each other on a 24/7 basis. No one’s figured out a computer program for that yet!

Hope this helps,

1. In fact, in its just-released Retirement Confidence Survey (RCS) the Employee Benefit Research Institute found that women are 50 percent more likely than men to say they plan to work until age 65.

If you have a question for Gail Buckner and the Your $ Matters column, send them to:, along with your name and phone number.