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Life’s Not a Beach

Mike Drak, 3:30 am ET

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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Jack McHugh
Jack McHugh
4 months ago

I’m sick of that couple.

Mark Royer
Mark Royer
4 months ago

It could be the people who make those commercials are kind of lazy, defaulting to the beach or golf club scenario because it is harder to depict what people like me like to do, such as volunteering at the hospital and church, reading with young kids at the local school, and babysitting our twin one year old granddaughters. Easy to depict heaven as people with harps on clouds too. Staying busy with activities you enjoy is the key to me.

JoeBlow
JoeBlow
4 months ago

.. every retiree I know dies within a year or two never reaching those “golden years” as advertised..or have to work until forced into a nursing home.

parkslope
parkslope
4 months ago

I completely agree that there are many equally worthwhile approaches to retirement.

However, I find it difficult to believe that the ads you refer to cause the average retiree “a lot of stress.”

OldITGuy
OldITGuy
4 months ago

Very nice thought provoking piece. Thanks.

Ginger Williams
Ginger Williams
4 months ago

The carefree vacation retirement images strike me as boring and unrealistic. The dreams I hear about retirement focus on freedom from full-time work, not endless vacations. People want more time to spend with family, to volunteer, to pursue hobbies, to pursue interests that they set aside in order to support themselves and their families.

My cleaning lady recently retired from her full-time with benefits position at a commercial custodial company. She also fired most of her personal clients. She told me that she’ll keep working for me, because she wants a little extra money to pay for camping trips with her grandchildren and I don’t complain with her skipping weeks several times a year for family activities. Her dream retirement isn’t to stop cleaning (“I’d be bored and I like cleaning for nice folks”), but to have financial freedom to be picky about her clients and have more time with family.

My own retirement goal includes part-time work, because I like the structure of a job. I just want one with less stress.

Mike Drak
Mike Drak
4 months ago

I enjoy working part-time in retirement at my own pace. I like the lifestyle approach adopted by your cleaning lady she’s pretty wise and knows what her priorities are.-

Rick Connor
Rick Connor
4 months ago

Great piece Mike. My experience is there as many types of retirements as there are people. Most don’t retire on the beach or a golf course.

The one thing they all have in common is the need for sufficient income to live a reasonable life. In that there is an enormous dispersion of people’s ability to handle finances and generate income. There is a clear need for a financial service to support the great middle, especially as pensions disappear.

Mike Drak
Mike Drak
4 months ago
Reply to  Rick Connor

I agree with everything you said Rick. There is nothing wrong with working part time in retirement provided you are doing work that you enjoy doing. Working part time will provide you with a “margin of safety” and will help you avoid a lot of sleepless nights worrying about inflation.

R Quinn
R Quinn
4 months ago

Excellent points. The generalization and one size fits all approach to retirement planning and retirement is dangerous. Unless economically necessary, people are not changing lifestyle just because they retire.

We need to stop viewing retirement as something totally different from the life before retirement. It’s one long journey.

Mike Drak
Mike Drak
4 months ago
Reply to  R Quinn

I agree it’s just another bend in the road.

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