what to expect in retirement

9 Retirement Surprises

Life is full of surprises. 

That fact doesn’t change in retirement.  Today, we will look at some common retirement surprises, based on a fascinating study I just read and felt was worthy of sharing.

If you’re curious about what surprises your retirement may have in store, this article is for you.

Life is full of surprises, and that fact doesn't end with retirement. Here are 9 surprises you may not expect in retirement. Click To Tweet

9 retirement surprises

9 Retirement Surprises

I recently came across a study from the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies titled Life in Retirement: Pre-Retiree Expectations versus Retiree Realities. The study surveyed 2,546 workers aged 50+ and 2,104 retirees and compared the responses between the two groups.

It’s a fascinating study, and I encourage you to scroll through its 72 pages if you have some spare time.  The good news is you don’t have to.  I’ve compiled some of the more interesting findings and charts from the study below.

1.  You’ll Worry Less About Money

#1 on our list of retirement surprises focuses on retirement fears. The following chart is telling – almost every question about fears in retirement had higher responses among the 50+ workers than retirees. In particular, note the first bar in response to “Outliving my savings and investments”, where a 13% gap exists between workers vs. retirees:

you'll worry less about money in retirement

As I mentioned in my article The 90/10 Rule of Retirement, one of the more common retirement surprises is the fact that you worry less about money after you retire than you do in your final working years.  I never thought it would happen to me, but it did.  Based on the data from the Transamerica study, it appears I’m not alone.  

2. You’ll Retire Sooner Than You Expect

I’ve written about this reality before (see here and here), but it bears repeating.  More than 50% of folks retire earlier than they planned, and that reality is supported yet again by data from this latest study.  Below are three interesting charts on the topic:

forced into early retirement

The Transamerica study confirms the same reality that previous studies have found, with 56% of respondents stating they retired sooner than planned.  When comparing that reality to the following chart, concerns should be obvious:

forced into retirement While those 50+ workers expect to retire at a median age of 67, the sad reality is that many of them will be forced into retirement earlier than they expect.  If you’re still working in your 60’s, be aware of the risk.  Save even more aggressively than you are now, and prepare yourself for the very real probability that you won’t “make it” as long as you hope.  This warning is relevant, especially given the following chart which quantifies how many of the 50+ workers are unprepared for a forced retirement. 

how to plan if you're forced into retirement

3. Your Retirement Transition Will Be More Abrubt Than Expected

There is a huge gap between the expectations of 50+ workers vs. retirees regarding how they’ll transition into retirement.  While 44% of workers expect to transition into retirement gradually (e.g., reduced hours), only 13% of retirees were able to pull it off (a 31% gap).  On the other hand, 41% of retirees stopped working immediately vs. only 23% of workers who expect the same (an 18% gap).

working part-time in retirement

If you’re still working, be aware of the reality that reducing your working hours as a strategy to transition into retirement is difficult to execute.

4. Your Life Will Be Better In Retirement

While this may not qualify as a “retirement surprise,” it’s reassuring so I decided to include it here.  43% of retirees state their enjoyment of life has improved in retirement, and 42% say they’re happier now than when they were working.  

life after retirement 

I suspect some of the 16% of retirees who state their enjoyment of life has declined (as well as the 14% who are less happy) have found themselves stuck in Phase II of The Four Phases of Retirement.  Hopefully, in time, they’ll find their way onto Phase III and IV.

5. You’ll Travel Less Than You Expect

60% of workers have travel among their Retirement Dreams, whereas only 36% of retirees actually spend their time traveling.  This 24% gap is telling.  While most folks dream of traveling in their retirement, the reality is that far fewer actually do it.  I don’t know the cause for the discrepancy, but I know it’s a reality my wife and I have faced.  We planned on traveling in our RV 3-6 months each year, but the reality is we only travel in our RV for 4-6 weeks.


We find our time “fully absorbed” doing things we love in our retirement mountain town and have found 4-6 weeks per year simply fits better with our retirement lifestyle.  Travel sounds exciting (and it is), but I suspect most folks spend more time traveling in Phase I of retirement and find it declining as they develop Phase III and IV interests at home.  

how much will I travel in retirement

6. You’ll Be Tempted To Take Social Security Early

The word is starting to get around that it’s often advantageous to delay taking your Social Security.  If you want to do a simple check on your specific situation, I strongly recommend taking a look at this Open Social Security calculator (I can almost guarantee you that it will recommend you delay taking your Social Security).  Despite the mathematical facts, however, it seems the majority of retirees take Social Security sooner rather than later, as demonstrated by the following chart which shows a median claiming age of 63 years old:

best age to claim Social Security

Don’t make your Social Security claiming decision without running the numbers.  While it’s tempting to take it as soon as possible, there’s a lot more to the decision than meets the eye.  Typically, a later claiming age will result in higher net income over the course of your retirement. Before you claim, do your research. 

7. Talking About Money Will Remain Taboo (but it shouldn’t)

It’s concerning to me that 44% of retirees (and 59% of workers) never talk about their financial plans.  It’s a strange taboo in our society that needs to change.  Perhaps I’m biased, given that I’m a blogger who writes about money, but the reality is that members of our families need to know our financial plans. 

I’ve had a few friends who had major medical issues (including a 53-year-old friend who died in bed one night), and it’s too big a risk to not have a contingency plan In Case of Emergency.  I write an annual “Love Letter” for my wife that includes our latest Net Worth statement, contact information, usernames and passwords, and instructions on what to do if I get hit by a bus.  We talk about it, and we have a plan.

Do you?

do people talk about money

8. Most Retirees Don’t Have Legacy Plans In Place

In the same vein as #7 above, far too few of us have our legal documents in place. 

Do you have a will?  It’s the most basic requirement of a legacy plan, and yet only 39% of workers and 51% of retirees have a will.  The numbers decline from there.  It’s concerning that 44% of workers and 31% of retirees have no documentation at all.  Quit procrastinating and start taking the steps that need to be taken.  You don’t want to leave a mess behind, as highlighted in the recent ChooseFI episode “Love, Loss and Money:  The Shocking Financial Aftermath of a FI Spouse’s Death.”

how many people have a will

9. You’ll Wish You’d Saved More Money

For our final item on the list of retirement surprises, we’re going to talk about money with the following three charts.

I wish I'd saved more money

First:  Regrets.  73% of retirees wish they’d saved more money.  Unfortunately, by the time you get to retirement, it’s too late.  You have what you have, and you learn to make do.  If you’re still working, let this be your wake-up call.  Start making some short-term sacrifices now to minimize your chance of regret in retirement.  Increase your savings rate by a few percentage points this month, and scrimp a bit to make it work.  Sure, you can always make excuses, but the only person you’re hurting by not saving more while you still have the chance is you.

Second, an interesting look at the expected primary source of retirement income.  It’s an interesting chart from which I’ll let you draw your own conclusions:

social security going away

Finally, are you curious about the income of the typical retiree?  Based on the study, the median retiree income is $58,000, with 14% making less than $25k.

how much money do retirees have


I enjoy studying the topic of retirement and find content like this Transamerica study of value.  For those who have already retired, it allows an opportunity to compare your experience to that of other retirees.  For those still working, it provides an insight into some of the retirement surprises you may not expect.

For me, the key takeaways from this study are:

  • If you’re still working, recognize the risk that you’ll be forced into retirement earlier than planned.
  • Plan well, and chances are you’ll worry less about money in retirement than you expect.
  • Recognize that a gradual transition to retirement can be difficult to execute.
  • Find an opportunity to talk with your family about your money, and put a legacy plan in place.
  • Finally, be optimistic:  Done well, retirement can be the best years of your life.

Your Turn:  Which of these retirement surprises most surprised you?  What have you experienced in retirement that you didn’t expect?  What advice would you give to those walking the journey behind you? Let’s chat in the comments…


  1. Great post again my friend! I was a little shocked to see the data on Travel however I guess I shouldn’t have been as many of our friend’s don’t travel much at all. AND I’m for sure one of the “don’t talk about finances” people, I’m super thankful you do, as I learn quite a bit from you. My Financial Advisor always told me, don’t tell people or it’ll change the way they think about you. It’s also a hard habit to break, maybe I’ll give it a bit more thought. We had planned to share some with the kids when we’re older .. maybe 85 or 90 Ha Ha. Legacy plans are a big deal for me (us) and we’ve been doing things / setting us things for years but also found the “Late-In-Life Decisions Guide” by the Society of Actuaries a helpful tool. Wishing you and your bride an incredible week!

    1. Kirk – great to see an old friend jumping in with the first comment today! For the record, I agree with your Financial Advisor about being careful who you talk to about your money, but I DO think it’s something that should be discussed within the family. Looking forward to our lunch together in a few weeks!

        1. Great question, Dave. I’m actually consider writing a post on this one, too much to say for a comment…

          1. I would love to see an article(s) on sharing financial info with our adult children. My sister and I were raised by wonderful parents who shared NOTHING about finances. We finally had to “discover” what was what when our father (almost 94 y/o) died suddenly in 2022. Our mother didn’t even know about some of the accounts. Mom and Dad were a great team and they are/were great parents. But it was labor-intensive to discover where everything was. But I also appreciate and respect their right to privacy. It would be a great topic on which to write. I’m about 2 years away from retirement. I am so happy that I have found The Retirement Manifesto to keep me going!

  2. Another great one Fritz, I especially identify with #1, #4 & #5. Maybe it’s unique to me, but one more has been on my mind heavily as of late as I feel it doesnt get much press: given the time freedom in this phase of life, I’m finding I have a much much larger appetitive for physical activity than my body can actually handle, despite being in relatively good shape. It’s definitely a limiter, the need for recovery is real, and frustrating at times. IMO that should definitely be a consideration for folks considering retiring sooner than later, especially those who might have “active plans” post-retirement. In hindsight, I’m glad we did the travel & hiking we did while younger & still working. For me, this has been a bit of a surprise, I suspect it will be for many as well, especially those not already active. Plenty of energy left in the tank for future adventures, but with an added sprinkle of “reality planning”.

    1. Kirk – I’m with you on the “larger appetite than your body can actually handle,” great addition to the list. I’m thankful for me EMTB for exactly that reason (actually heading out for a ride this afternoon, it’s a perfect 63 degrees here today!).

  3. We are now fully retired as of November 2023. So far it’s wonderful. The surprise I have is we are spending less than expected. We are actually still saving money. Once I take SS at age 70 in 2025 we will be saving a substantial amount annually. My thought now is what to do with our estate once we are gone. We have no children or family. So that is something we are actively discussing. We actually over saved for retirement. It’s a good problem to have I guess….

    1. Why not find a deserving young person(s) who wants to go to college and fund a 529 plan for them? Talk to guidance counselors at your local schools to find that special person you could be an angel for.

    2. Marshall, congratulations on your recent retirement. The struggle with spending is a very common “problem” in retirement (especially for those who have been lifelong savers), I’ve written about it several times. If you’re interested, check out these articles on how I’m trying to “fix” the problem:


      And, I agree with Brian – if you’re struggling to spend your money, I do encourage you to consider increasing your charitable giving. It’s something we’re doing now, and we recently made a large transfer of appreciated stocks into our Donor Advised Fund for exactly that reason. It’s more fun giving it away while you can see the benefits vs. waiting to give it all away in your will. Best of luck on your journey!

    3. Another possibility is to fund a (small) endowment at a public college or university you support and admire. Small annual scholarships can make a big difference to less wealthy students, especially non-traditional students who have children or who are the first in their families to attend college. The school‘s development department would be happy to help you find donation opportunities that match your goals. A good choice if you find personal recognition by the recipient(s) of your generosity somewhat cringey.

  4. Great post, Fritz! The points are all very valid. Have been exploring new purposes and passions for almost 10 years now ( as you know I don’t use the “R” word).

    Tks for sharing and love your color commentary!

    1. Mark – great to have a member of the Retirement Mastermind group stop by with a comment! Great job leading the meeting yesterday, happy to see the level of group involvement you generated. Well done. And yes, you are one of the shining examples of a person who grasps the value of Purpose. Thanks for leading the Pickleball coaching sessions each Thursday! BTW, I’m going to miss today’s court time, I’m heading out on my mountain bike shortly to enjoy this beautiful day!

  5. As usual, another helpful post! The couple areas that surprised me were how many retirees took social security early (62) and the median annual income $58,000 was lower than I would have guessed. I have been retired for 14 months and enjoy my time flexibility. I sense I’m moving into phase II of retirement as one of your previous posts noted. I like your annual “love letter” to your wife with all the key information. After looking at the stats, I feel really fortunate that I was able to choose my retirement date (65.5 years of age), help select my replacement, and transition out of my job over 9 months.

    1. Bruce, I was a bit surprised about the $58k median income, as well. Makes those of us who are able to spend more realize how blessed we truly are. At 14 months, you’re at exactly the right time frame to be moving into the dreaded Phase II. Don’t fret, at least now you know what to expect, and how to move yourself to Phase III!

  6. Aloha Fritz!

    I would add, IMHO, that the majority of Americans possess a non-sensical attitude towards their own financial planning. Why in the world doesn’t everyone want to teach themselves the finance basics that they will utilize their entire lives? Sure wish I knew. Anyone can learn. Just need the motivation to want to learn something they may be ignorant about.

    Behavior is one of the major downfalls of personal investing. I know many previous generations never once invested in equities because they didn’t have the first clue about how to. Fear is paralyzing. CD’s and a savings account is not going to grow your PW enough.

    I enjoyed teaching young sailors about finance while serving the USN. The young have the huge advantage of compound growth. Reduce debt, invest your savings in a low cost stock index fund and wait. Some Americans are not that great with patience, you know? 😉

    Health is wealth. Our only unknown and our biggest fear is cognitive decline before death.

    God speed to all your readers, Steve

    1. Steve, you’re spot on about the “financial illiteracy” that plagues many Americans (and other cultures as well, I suspect). That’s why I love interacting with the readers in these comments, they are the minority that understand the value of this stuff!

      And, I’m with you on the fear of cognitive decline. The numbers are concerning, and it’s a very real possibility for many of us. One more reason to enjoy every day we’re given – we never know what the future will hold.

      1. I agree with you Fritz. I´m Colombian and in my country our parents taught us to pay our Social Security along our working life . So today we live only with the pension the government give us every month. The mayority of us don´t have more than that. We didn´t know how important was to have a saving account for the future.

    2. I retired from the Army in 2022 at age 50. I took a job in the defense industry as a contractor. The pay is good and far less stressful than my time in uniform. I still help others plan for their future. Im a program manager where the vast majority are retired military since my contract requires 20+ years experience with a masters degree. Most like myself have pension and some VA disability. Im still trying to get my expenses under control and add more past income before I retire. I really want to replace my W2 income with passive income, but my W2 income is fairly high and only requires 40+ hours a week. So there’s the dilemma!

    3. I have noticed a lot of people have some kind of anxious avoidance about their financial planning. I don’t know if it is because they fear they are so bad at math that they are going to fail, they will find out there’s bad news, they are assuming financial failure is inevitable, or what.

      I have always lived by the credo that failing to plan is planning to fail.

    4. I have noticed a lot of people have some kind of anxious avoidance about their financial planning. I don’t know if it is because they fear they are so bad at math that they are going to fail, the possibility they will find they don’t have enough, they are assuming financial failure is inevitable, or what.

      I have always lived by the credo that failing to plan is planning to fail.

    5. I have noticed a lot of people have some kind of anxious avoidance about their financial planning. I don’t know if it is because they fear they are so bad at math that they are going to fail, the possibility they will find they don’t have enough, they are assuming financial failure is inevitable, or what.

      I have always lived by the credo that failing to plan is planning to fail.

  7. Another great post Fritz – definitely lots to think about as I hit 60 later in the year and I’m still working. Stepping up the % into retirement accounts is good one for sure as data suggests we might not get to work as long as we planned! Hope you are doing well – we are enjoyed our new home and playing lots of Pickleball and recently played in a tournament in Macon GA in the Worlds Largest indoor Pickleball facility which is a repurposed Belk in an older shopping mall.

    1. Funny you mention the repurposed Belk/Pickleball concept. I was just talking with a friend about this, suspect many old retail facilities will be facing a similar future. Great use of vacant space, and with the growth of PB many communities are struggling to build enough court capacity to meet the demand. Best of luck “hanging in there” until you’re ready to retire, glad the post inspired you to consider increasing your savings %.

  8. Thank you Fritz, these articles are such a joy to get when I see them intertwined among all the spam emails I get. I quickly delete all of the spam and come back and settle in to read and learn from your articles. I am in my 9th month of retirement and still trying to figure out my routine. I am enjoying motorcycle travel and the research that goes along with that. I also started substitute teaching to fill in the time gaps and I really get a lot out of teaching the kindergartners and special education kids. I often go back to your book which helps guide me and reassure me. I know I am in my first year, but I do find this article interesting as I reflect on my own reality and what my expectations were/are. Cheers, and thank you for what you do.

    1. Shawn, thanks for not considering my emails as spam. Wink. On a serious note, it’s comments like yours that keep me doing what I’m doing. It’s fulfilling beyond words to know that the time I spend pecking at the keyboard is making the difference in the lives of my readers. Thank you for the encouragement.

  9. Yes, we have found that although we love to get away, we are home bodies and love to be at home “doing our thing”. I’m not as good in the ‘not worrying about finances’ though. I have read all of your articles, and very good stuff but seem to struggle with execution. Historical high valuations in the stock market keep me from taking unnecessary risk at this time.

    1. You’ve read ALL of my articles! Wow, I’m honored. With 414 published to date, that’s a LOT of reading! Good luck figuring out the execution part, hope you learn to worry less about the money with time. Life is short, get out there and enjoy it!

  10. I was most surprised by “worrying less about money” in retirement. I guess in some respect, one does worry more just prior to retiring. However, I also recall in the year or two after retiring whether I retired too early. In my case, I wound up going through a six-year phased retirement transition that helped with lessening financial worry as well as support the mental transition to retirement. One year before retiring, I worked part-time (4 days per week) and took three-week vacations. My wife had retired two year before I went part-time. The net reduction in pay after going part-time was the estimated income in retirement (after adjustments). After retiring, I worked as a consultant from home, one day per week for the next three years and one day per month for the last two years. My part-time work after retiring was not planned but fell into place by luck.

    When I retired, I did wonder if we had saved enough. Fidelity said we did but when I ran their Monte Carlo simulation, it showed a decreasing portfolio balance (still with a reasonable legacy balance). The decreasing trend bothered me since increased longevity (beyond age 92) might imply a shortfall. Additionally as an exercise, I added a 1% AUM fee as part of my annual expenses and found that we would have a shortfall when using the 90% confidence level. That was strong motivation to learn how to invest and generate income in retirement (to avoid that fee).

    1. Glen, thanks for sharing your story, interesting read. Kudo’s for using the avoidance of the AUM fee as motivation to learn more about personal finance. And, for the record, I suspect all of us worry to some extent about outliving our money, it’s an unanswerable question, and I suspect some are more bothered by that than others.

    2. Just a quick comment on 1% AUM fee having such a large impact on risk of running out. Advisors try to make it sound like 1% is not that much (only 1% after all), but if you calibrate against the 4% rule of thumb (regardless of how much you do or don’t trust it), 1% AUM consumes fully 1/4 of the estimated spending available calculated by the 4% rule, so no wonder it has a major effect on success risk!

    3. Hi Glenn, two things come to mind that I find helpful for thinking thru such things:

      One is Roger Whitney’s (The Retirement Answer Man podcast) comment that “all the numbers are wrong!” – makes me laugh when we get so focused on the projected “results.” We don’t know what tomorrow will bring, we can only estimate the risks & move forward smartly.

      The second is that a Monte-Carlo confidence level of 75% or higher is good. Michael Kitces even says a 50% confidence will work: https://www.kitces.com/blog/monte-carlo-retirement-projection-probability-success-adjustment-minimum-odds/

  11. I wish someone would study retirees and retirement in the later years and not the early years. In the early years it will always be better but does pressure living without a check increase over time as costs increase? As health declines? As friends and family die?

    I wish there were more cases of those who have been retired for at least 15 years.

    1. Great point, Melissa. It’s a great question whether the worries increase later in life and we face the inevitable decline of our later years. I’ll keep my eyes out for any study that addresses that, will share it here if I find anything. Thanks for adding a thoughtful comment to the discussion.

    1. LOVE IT! Thank you SOOO much for sharing this. What an insightful video. I may have to write a future post on that video, what great intellectual brain food for folks who ponder about aging.

  12. New reader, loved the article. I’m a financial counselor for the military the last 9 years and about to retire myself. For young people it is critical that they invest more aggressively than they think they should. For retirees, we need to remember that if you live to 60 in the USA, your life expectancy is early to mid-80’s. That’s 20+ years in retirement. Thus, retirees need to continue to invest somewhat aggressively to continue to grow their investments so they don’t outlive their money. Use an advisor if you aren’t comfortable making that decision, but going super conservative just because you retired is not a good idea. I look forward to future articles!

    1. Welcome aboard, Cliff. Honored to have you as part of the team, and congratulations on your upcoming retirement. Great reminder on the importance of maintaining sufficient asset allocation to the higher growth (higher risk) assets to offset the inflation risk of a 20+ year retirement. I suspect you’ve served your military clients well over the past 9 years, I trust that knowledge will also help you to lead an enjoyable retirement. I also agree that using an advisor is 100% justified in retirement planner if someone is not comfortable going “DIY” – it’s a critical time of life that justifies paying an expert to get it right.

    2. Cliff, thanks for your insight. How old are you and was your current position after some other “retirement”? I retired from the military in 2022 but felt like 50 was too young to not work. Plus I wanted to increase my passive income to add to my pension and VA disability. I have a small cash flowing real estate portfolio. I’m around 80+% retirees that continue to work.

  13. As an engineer, love these more analytical, less subjective and touchy feely articles Fritz. Sorry team can’t help it, to each their own. Very surprised to see that about 1 in 3 retirees earning more than $100K/yr. Guess we would have to read the study to learn more about the demographics of surveyed group, but that seems a little high. Median does feel about right though, just expected more data around the middle.
    Thanks for posting.

    1. Allen, I love engineers, and have always had a bent toward the analytical myself. It’s interesting how my focus has shifted to the “soft side” as my retirement has progressed, trust you’ll forgive me for the tilt in that direction with my writing. What can I say, I write from my heart, and whatever I find upon it.

  14. The first and the last points contradict each other. We will be spending less money in our “slow go” years but we wished we saved more?

    Is this the case of keeping up with the retired Joneses or meaningless regrets? I’m just trying to make sense out of it.

    1. You’re perceptive, KS. I noted that contradiction myself. I suspect that, while we worry less about money, the reality is that many folks find themselves having to make more sacrifices in retirement than they’d prefer, hence the regret that they hadn’t saved more money. I don’t suspect it’s a case of keeping up with the Joneses, as most folks I know seem to worry less about “comparative economics” as they age. Just my thoughts…

  15. Thanks for this Fritz, as always. I enjoy reading all that you write. For #6, I question the “it’s a (much) higher payment if you wait” and “you will get more over your lifetime” bottom line for many deciding to delay taking social security. I am not saying I am right, but I am almost 61 now and am skeptical that waiting is the best strategy and I will be looking into it much more over the next year. Sure, the payment and the sum of the lifetime payments past 80 or so are almost always higher with claiming later, but I have a hard time ignoring the 8 years (96 payments) between 62 and 70 that you will have received if you claim at 62 rather than waiting to claim until you are eligible for the maximum benefit. There is the potential growth using dollar cost averaging of saving each payment from 62, the possible reduced spending from your retirement accounts in your 60’s, potentially having a significant sum in your portfolio at 70 if you save and invest your payments, and maybe lower income levels for taxes from receiving a lower payment for a longer period of time to consider. And that’s besides the possibility of not being here to collect that maximum benefit at all or to break even with or exceed what would have been collected had you claimed earlier. Though there are many articles that conclude it’s always better to wait based on the easy math, I have not seen any articles (hint) that really analyze all the factors and reality involved in the claiming decision. I’d enjoy hearing thoughts on this from you and others. Thanks!

    1. Hint noted. I encourage you to run the Open Social Security calculator I included in the post. The one factor you’ve omitted is the fact that, in delaying, you gain a higher inflation adjustment for the rest of your life (higher denominator), and the ~8% annual increase in SS is, essentially, a risk free return that’s hard to replicate (risk free) with your portfolio. From all that I’ve read, the break-even point occurs in your early 80’s, so essentially it’s a longevity bet. If you have longevity in your genes, the numbers typically say you’ll be further ahead by delaying. There are only a few levers you can pull to offset longevity risk, and delaying SS is one of them. Unfortunately, like many things in retirement, it’s a puzzle that can’t be solved until after the fact. If we all knew when we’d die, it’d make this stuff a lot easier…

      1. Fritz, your comment mirrors my own thinking exactly. I view SS as a lifetime annuity and protection against longevity risk – longevity runs in my family tree anyway, so I might as well plan for it.

        To those who say I potentially lose out on maximizing total Social Security payments should I die at a younger age than the breakeven point, I tell them in that case my worries are over, so it doesn’t matter… and the bigger worry is living too long.

    2. Really appreciate your comments, Fritz. Always very thoughtful and helpful. I did run the Open SS Calculator (OpenSSC) and just ran it again. The results really made me see the small difference over a lifetime (as calculated by OpenSSC) between jointly claiming at 62 and claiming at 70 (67 for spouse). And it doesn’t even factor in the value of what payments have been saved and possibly invested before age 70, or alternatively what was saved by not having to pull as much from your portfolio from age 62 to 70 for required retirement income.

      Using my numbers in the calculator I do come out ahead at 70 — like most if not all of us — but only by about $59k over a lifetime ($784k vs $725k PV joint lifetime benefit). That’s not a big difference considering that by age 70 accumulated saved payments from 62 total $340k, not counting any potential gain. That sure helps overcome the $59k lifetime payout difference, pushes out the breakeven point far beyond your early 80’s (90+?), and leaves a sizable portfolio for your heirs versus zero with a claim at age 70. As for the 8% gain per year from 62 to 70 that you miss out on, I think that is already factored in to the OpenSSC calculations.

      I could be missing something significant here that’s more obvious to the collective wisdom of this group, thus this probably needs a more in-depth analysis by someone much smarter on this stuff than I am.

      1. I would say that most readers of this excellent blog would benefit by taking social security as early as possible. The Social Security benefit is already doubly “means tested” via the bend points and taxation. When it finally breaks 10 or so years from now, the most probable “fix” will be further means testing and sold as “taxing the rich”. Take it early and invest what you don’t need immediately! : )

      2. Dean, I believe the break even would not be pushed out nearly as far as you suggest. Check out https://www.financialplanningassociation.org/learning/publications/journal/JAN23-which-social-security-claiming-strategy-generates-highest-legacy-value-OPEN for a scholarly analysis of legacy impact and investing early SS payments vs deferring. It is not nearly as rosy as you believe. I believe you are missing something…

        Social Security was actually created to be a form of longevity (and disability) insurance, not an investment. It is actually called OASDI (Old Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance). It is better than any lifetime income annuity (insurance) you can buy, as it is inflation adjusted, joint survivor, and has no sales commission to lower its returns, so it is always better to delay social security before considering buying any lifetime income annuity.

        The key question to ask is whether you want and/or need more reliable income or not to last the rest of the longer of your and your spouse’s life. If yes, delay.
        Want and need are based on whether essential expenses exceeds reliable income and your Retirement Income style preference, which RISA (Retirement Income Style Awareness) assessment tells you (about yourself). See https://www.morningstar.com/retirement/whats-your-retirement-income-style for a crisp explanation of RISA and why it is directly relevant to this question. If you are in the income protection quadrant, you’ll benefit from delaying Social Security for longevity insurance. If you are total returns, you’re more interested in treating it as an investment, so break-even analysis is more interesting to you (but then consider the research article I linked earlier).
        Fritz wrote about RISA here: https://www.theretirementmanifesto.com/my-evaluation-of-a-powerful-new-retirement-tool-risa/, where he includes a link to take the RISA for free (there is also a free Retirement Income Challenge starting soon if you’d rather do it that way).

    3. We were able to retire early and use a larger percentage of our own savings for a comfortable retirement lifestyle for several years before claiming SS benefits for the long term. Takes some planning, but it worked out well…

  16. Great post, Fritz! Although I just challenged folks to don’t believe everything you read on the Internet, there are quality sources of information for a DIY retirement. And the Retirement Manifesto and the annual Transamerica survey are two of them! Just don’t let AI start writing your blog, please!


    1. No worries, Jim. I can give you my word that AI will never write a post on The Retirement Manifesto. I wouldn’t want to tarnish that “quality source” adjective you just used to describe my blog (many thanks for the compliment).

  17. Interesting article! I’m about to try a mini-retirement/sabbatical for a year. Hadn’t been in the plans at 57 but my husband’s health issues have made me want to spend time with him now. I’ll evaluate at the end of the year and decide if I will return to work or stay retired.

    1. Sabatical, yours is a real-life example of why some folks choose to retire earlier than planned. Sorry to hear about your husband’s health issues, kudos to you for prioritizing spending your time with him when he needs you most. Hope all works out, thanks for sharing your situation.

  18. The finding regarding travel really hit home. I thought Mrs. Groovy and I would be spending at least three to four months out west or abroad every year. But we don’t even come close to that. It turns out we don’t LOVE travel. We only like travel—and that’s if it’s short (long weekends are preferred) and doesn’t involve a 12- to 18-hour flight itinerary. Great post, my friend. Cheers.

    1. Mr. G!! Great to see you leaving a comment here – look forward to visiting The Groovy Ranch in April! Jackie and I are with you – we love our time doing the purposeful work we’ve discovered close to home, and find it more fulfilling than the travel we expected we’d be doing. Like vs. Love, exactly. Thoughts of your LOOOONG flight to Australia come to mind…

  19. Fritz, thanks for this article.

    I will just say retiring at 55 was my wish, but losing a good portion of my pension was not an option. Retirement at 60 was a much better plan. Waiting for SS at FRA was the sweet spot for my situation. Kept TIRA down to reasonable level and kept SS out of the 40.7% tax bump. In 2024 as a MFJ couple this tax bump comes for SS just above $66k, so it is not always a bad idea for the “lower earner” to take SS a year or two early (maybe 65 or 66).

  20. I was somewhat shocked to read that 37% of 50+ have less than 100K saved for retirement. I would understand if a person has health issues, employment or major financial or family emergencies…otherwise for the rest of them I wonder how do they plan on surviving after 60-65.

    1. I, too, have wondered about the long-term care issue. My mother just passed last month, and honestly, her long-term care insurance was an unbelievable blessing. I have debated whether it is better to pay (high) long-term care insurance premiums or to self-insure. Perhaps another topic for a future column (?)

  21. Great post Fritz, thank you for synthesizing the report. I too found that I worried much less about money than I thought I would, perhaps because it was the one area I got professional advice having hired an advisor to manage my savings. To me, the emotional adjustments were a huge surprise, the feeling of starting over was like from scratch and I found it required a lot more introspection into what I really wanted with my life rather than acting on reflex. It’s why I write my blog — to build awareness of these aspects of retiring that were a shock to me to not have ready answers! For me, it was a new ballgame entirely when, for the first time, I didn’t feel $ was the driver of what next. Thanks for a great piece!.

    1. Judi, I wish these types of surveys would include more on the “soft side” of retirement. I suspect, like you, most people suffer more from the non-financial areas than the financial ones. Thanks for helping to share that message on your blog!

  22. Many thanks Fritz for wading thru 72 pages to put together an insightful summary from that survey! Really helpful :).

    We are very grateful to have planned, worked hard, saved and had some luck to be able to retire earlier than the norm. A big motivation to retire early was to provide care for my increasingly ailing mom. She passed last summer. It was such a gift to have the quality time with her and also to help in her final years.

    It’s been maybe not surprising but now people around us like neighbors who are good friends are wondering “when are they going back to work.” They can’t be fully retired. I still find am being cautious even with some people in our circle what we say. In American culture hard work and staying the course until 65 is viewed as whats appropriate. Even after 3+ years of retirement sometimes we are still getting comfortable with hiking our own hike and doing what we want to do with our life. Being humble and grateful I find helps. Also knowing tomorrow is not promised. Carpe diem.

    1. Brad, I’m happy you were able to be there for your mom, you’ll always reflect back fondly on the fact that you made her your priority. #NoRegrets.

      And yes, you’re correct that our society doesn’t do a good job handling “abnormal” (whatever that means). In our case, it helps that we’re in a mountain community with a lot of early retirees, we’ve never gotten asked about going back to work and the topic of “what did you do while working” almost never comes up. Strange, but wonderful. We’re blessed. Hike your own hike, as we get older we realize that it doesn’t matter what the masses think…

  23. Hi Fritz, love reading your weekly blog and thank you for pulling in academy type retirement surveys like this one as well as providing practical advice or “learning lessons” from it. I was surprised on people are actually traveling less than expected. My wife and I retired 4 years ago at 53 years old and travel is #1 on our retirement goals. We are in Costa Rica now wintering for 3 months as the Chicago is too cold for us with snow and low temperatures. I appreciate you sharing your own experiences of less travel because of how your retirement goals have changed over time at home. One of the best part of the United States, it is a FREE country and you can adjust as you see fit! Thanks again for a terrific weekly read while educating some many followers in this dynamic and fun retirement life stage.

    1. Hi Andy,
      I was thinking of doing 3 months in Costa Rica in the future. I am curious if you would mind giving some insight on where you decided to stay and a rough range of cost.


  24. I am mid life and already feel the “I wish I saved more”. So I am now trying to shovel as much dough as I can into my investments and savings. Especially since I am at my peak earnings. Thank you for the continued great content!

    1. Christine, Good for you for “shoveling it in.” I hope my words motivate you to dig even deeper with that shovel!

  25. Fritz, that was a fun read – love those bar and pie charts! My surprises: 1) that more people aren’t worried about long term care costs. Perhaps most people have long term care insurance. I don’t, so it is a concern for me. I’m 71, and wish I had purchased this long ago. I’m rolling the dice on this one. 2) that almost 3/4 of retirees take SS by age 65. I am SO glad I waited until turning 69. 3) that less than 3 out of 10 retirees feel they saved enough for retirement. I tell all the young people I know to open that (Roth) IRA now, and put in 20% of your paycheck, and learn to live on the what’s left. Of course, that’s just an old geezer talking to a younger generation – but some of them actually have taken the advice! Thanks again for a great blog!

    1. I, too, have wondered about the long-term care issue. My mother just passed last month, and honestly, her long-term care insurance was an unbelievable blessing. I have debated whether it is better to pay (high) long-term care insurance premiums or to self-insure. Perhaps another topic for a future column (?)

    2. Old Geezers Unite! Preach it, brother Alan!

      As for Long Term Care, see the link I shared to Denise a few comments above yours. We did consider buying LTC insurance in our mid-50’s, but decided to self-insure…

      1. I also did some thinking on LTC quite a few years ago. I have chosen to self-insure. I was turned off by my mother’s experience – she purchased it when in her late 40s or early 50s and later on, Colonial Penn LTC went insolvent and her plan was transferred to another company. Her once unlimited-year plan was modified to a 3 year limit. Premiums were not reduced, in spite of reduction in coverage. Her plan did help out with costs when she needed in-home care during the last year of her life. Her biggest mistake was not purchasing an inflation rider. 30-40 years ago, a $100/day payout looked pretty good, but with year 2020’s costs at over $260 a day, her coverage was insufficient.

  26. A few thoughts hit me. One is that there is not enough mention about how early savings in a career needs to be invested in a somewhat aggressive strategy for it all to work. My boss of several years ago mentioned that she always put in the max 401k amount for 33 years. At the end she had a little over $300K saved. I, on the other hand, did not have jobs that always had a matching 401K and generally only put in enough to get the match. If there was no match, I put nothing in. I retired with $700K. My boss and I made about the same salary. You have to get over the fear of not being in control of the stock market and take some risk in order for it to work. The same is true in retirement. Most of your money is for your use 20+ years from now. Most of it should therefore still be invested in a modestly aggressive portfolio.
    My other thought is that I always had a retirement goal of retiring when I felt I had enough money. I originally assumed that would be when I was 67. The closer I got to 60, though, the more I researched what I needed and what I was going to be getting. My retirement date kept moving closer and closer to my current age. I retired at 62. So technically I retired at an earlier age than I had originally planned, but I also retired exactly when I had planned financially.
    Also, we are on our 3rd year of full time travel and have no intention of “settling down” anytime soon. I’m even writing this from New Zealand. I’m not sure how we could possibly do any more travel. Slowing down is the only other option possible and we aren’t going that way.

    1. Writing this from New Zealand? You’re killing me, Darrell. Happy to hear you’re doing well in your 3rd year of (earlier than originally planned) retirement.

      Thanks for the great comment – I agree 100% with your point about needing to have some asset allocation dedicated to higher return (and higher risk) assets, regardless of your age. The % will likely change with age, but there should always be some exposure.

  27. what surprised me is the low % of retires with a Trust. I’m currently dealing with two estates in probate, my mother and my aunt who both passed away last year, and it is not fun. so far, the legal expense is more than double what establishing a trust would have cost and we’re not done yet.

  28. With a high percentage retiring earlier than planned that might contribute to the wished they saved more money. There are some purchases that were not the wisest thing to do, but I don’t regret giving. I hope by the time I die that I don’t regret not giving more.

  29. Fritz, great post, a little surprised Medicare decision making was not noted. I retired later and elected plan G while I was still working, have dear friends who went Advantage and wish they hadn’t. This is a topic that seems like it should be easily discussed but somehow isn’t, might be the most important risk management decision we make.

    1. Great point, Steve. I’m also hearing many regrets over folks who chose Advantage plans. I’m only 60, so I still have a few years before I’m going to dig into this one. Definite fodder for future posts as I self-educate on the topic…

  30. HI Fritz,
    I have to say that even though I am in the “retired early” group, I feel fortunate – grateful – for my situation after reading this article. I have been able to coast into retirement with fewer hours per week as a consultant; I have been able to travel; I am spending more time with family and friends. More people need to take heed and start earlier with their saving and planning to secure these “planned to…” parts of retirement. Thank you for the information, it encourages me for the future of my own retirement – and really, the numbers indicate that all of the doom and gloom is a bit over-hyped.

    1. You are, indeed, fortunate Steve. As are, I suspect, many of the readers on this blog. Most of us are planners, and planning ahead is the key to a successful retirement. For us, the doom and gloom is likely over-hyped. For the vast majority of folks (who don’t plan), however, there is indeed some reason for the doom…

  31. Interesting post. Thanks for summarizing the article. Our retirement has gone fairly close to how we planned as far as age we retired, travel, income, etc. The thing that surprised me most is that many of the hobbies I was looking forward to finally having time for in retirement, I don’t have much interest in doing. Instead, I have picked up new hobbies and interests, such as blogging. I guess it just goes to show that we never stop growing and changing, even in retirement.

    1. Marian, interesting comment. I’ve had the same experience regarding hobbies. I thought I’d be fishing a lot, and I haven’t even renewed my fishing license for the past 3 years. And…out of the blue came woodworking, which I now love. Strange how that happens. Glad you found blogging, I enjoy reading your words on The Retired Alchemist!

  32. For us, 5 years retired, it is far less travel. The reasons include some health issues that are being or have been addressed. The Covid pandemic was a big factor. The rise in crime and unrest in places we wanted to go to is a current factor. Home projects are taking longer and costing more than expected. We’re looking into destinations that might work for us so we can get going!

    Thanks for another great post.

    1. Pat, good point about the rise in crime reducing the urge to travel. Take a trip to NYC, they say. No way, says I. New Zealand, on the other hand, is still on the list…

  33. Hi Fritz,
    Great article, with some really interesting points. My own biggest surprise was #2 and #3, retiring sooner than I expected. BUT, I had been doing my financial planning for a few years before that, so I was able to pull the plug early and survive. A good nest egg can give you that option. I highly recommend not only saving well, but investing, too. The value of having enough money is that it takes a lot of the worry off the table. And things just got even better, as I got my first social security check on Valentine’s Day! Definitely feeling the love!

  34. After the first two items lined up exactly with my own experiences I wondered if I would go 9 for 9. But as I expected I’m rather abnormal. I only matched one of the last seven, number 4 regarding retired life being better. 3) my transition to retirement was very gradual with medium to light consulting occupying the first five years, it was a real off ramp approach that worked for me. 5) I’ve travelled more than expected. 6)I’m taking SS at 70 and not a day before, and that was always my approach. 7)I get to talk about money in my blog and on the Millionaire Money Mentors forum and as a podcast guest. 8)We have a very up to date estate plan. 9)I’ve never wished we had saved more, or less for that matter. We have more than enough and that, quite simply, is the perfect amount.

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