The Curmudgeonly Professor has now been retired for 14 years. I taught college economics classes in the Marriott School of Business at Brigham Young University until I was 70. I would have taught a couple of years longer, but the BYU retirement system cuts your spouse's benefit in half if you pass on, so to speak, before you officially retire. During this post-retirement time, my wife and I have lived in two retirement communities--one in St. George UT and the other in the south Salt Lake Valley. We spend about six months each year in each location. Each retirement community has about 110 condo units. During these past years, we have become acquainted with numerous retirees and have watched and observed what has happened as so many have confronted the challenges of retirement.
Here are five of the most serious mistakes people make when they retire:
- Assume that your health will continue about as it has been during your retirement. Thus, people do not pay enough attention to the fact that their health will begin to deteriorate and that they will face increasingly difficult and challenging health issues as the retirement years go by. As a result, some retirees ignore the necessity of convenient access to emergency and specialized health care facilities. The dream of retiring in a dream location is enticing, but if you have to travel 50 to 100 miles or more for specialized medical care, you may rue the day you chose your existing location. Some of my high school classmates returned to our small home town of Powell in northwest Wyoming. That location meant that when my former college roommate contracted prostate cancer, he rode the "cancer bus" five days a week for two hours a day to Billings, MT, 96 miles away, for treatment. I apply the Charmin rule to retirement living location: If you run out of TP and you have to drive more than 20 minutes to buy replacements, you are living too far away.
- Many retirees are not willing to give up their family home and simplify their lives. I have never met a retired couple since I retired who moved to our retirement communities who regretted giving up the family mansion and living in more convenient living quarters.
- Failure to seek adequate professional financial advisors has spelled the financial doom and retirement misery for many retirees I have known. Some have succumbed to scams, some have assumed that their own "do-it-yourself" financial management would be adequate. I can list the people who went under during the recent recession or who turned their funds over to an unqualified financial hack and lost their condo and all of their financial resources.
- Failure to seek professional legal help in preparing wills and planning estates. Some people assume lawyers cost too much so they do their own homemade legal papers which some qualified attorney ultimately has to spend twice as much time and expense straightening out than if they had been given the job to do in the first place.
- Failure to appreciate the fact that declining health will mean paying attention to adjustments in living conditions: Face it, you will need raised toilets, grab bars in showers and along walls, a bedroom and bathroom on the ground floor, hand rails on your porches. I would hate to tell you the stories of people I know who have fallen and broken fingers, legs, shoulders, and who knows what else from falls. Falls are almost epidemic when care is not taken to prevent them.
Former LDS Church President Gorden Hinckley made the famous comment that "The Golden Years are full of lead." Yet, despite living with declining health, despite the tension of awaiting the latest medical test results, despite nights of worry and concern, the retired people we know mostly have a cheerful outlook on life. We confront our challenges. We look after and care for each other. We face the uncertainties and miseries of declining health. But we remain thankful for each day and for each other. By paying more realistic attention to the need for adequate retirement planning we are more likely to make the most of our retirement years.