Life’s Not a Beach

Mike Drak

WE’VE BEEN BRAINWASHED by advertisers and financial firms into believing that retirees are a homogeneous group who all want the same things. They aren’t. Instead, they have differing needs, values and wants, and this divergence is getting greater because of things like increasing longevity, dwindling job security and the elimination of pensions.

Let’s consider the standard bell-shaped distribution curve—and then apply it to people’s retirement behaviors. On the far left and far right of the curve are the outliers, people who are approaching retirement quite differently. On the far left are the early retirees, people who adopted the FIRE—financial independence-retire early—philosophy and retired long before age 65. Joining them are the comfort-oriented retirees who never want to work again. They just want to relax and enjoy a safe, simple, predictable retirement.

On the far right of the curve are people who intend to work right until the very end. We’re talking about folks like Warren Buffett and Mick Jagger. They have more than enough money to retire but have decided against it because they enjoy the work they do. Also found here are growth-oriented retirees who want to be challenged and keep growing. They view this time of their life as an opportunity to do things they always liked but didn’t have time for before, when they were working fulltime.

But what about all the people in the middle, perhaps slightly to the left or slightly to the right of “average”? They’re all over the place. Many continue to work because they need the money to make ends meet. Others choose to work because they don’t want to cut back their lifestyle.

The important takeaway here: Retirees across the distribution curve are fundamentally different from each other. Not everyone enjoys the same type of retirement. Each retiree has different needs, values and wants that are driving them to do what they do. A one-size-fits-all approach to retirement won’t work.

For the past 50 years, retirement commercials have been showing the couple on the beach or the golf course. But this is nonsense. Not every retiree wants to live like that, nor can every retiree afford to. Watching such commercials causes retirees a lot of stress. Deep down, most retirees know that most retirements—including theirs—won’t look like that. In fact, most of them have no idea what their retirement will look like.

Many people, through choice or otherwise, are deviating from the old 20th century “full stop” retirement model—and probably, over the past 50 years, most retirees never had that sort of retirement. We need to recognize that.

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