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Retirement Planning > Spending in Retirement > Lifestyle Planning

Want to Live Happily to 100? Start Planning Now, Study Suggests

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What You Need to Know

  • Sixty-nine percent of adults surveyed said they want to make it to 100, Edward Jones and Age Wave found.
  • Fifty-five percent of pre-retirees and retirees defined retirement as “a new chapter in life” rather than merely rest and relaxation.
  • The largest group of retirees are the least prepared for retirement, the unhappiest and feel the least positive about life.

Americans want to live to a ripe old age; indeed, 69% in a new survey said they want to make it to 100, Edward Jones and Age Wave reported Wednesday.

Survey participants who want to live to 100 offered several reasons for this: They’re enjoying life and want to continue to do so, they’re curious about the future, and there’s still a lot they want to accomplish. Only 6% said they want to live longer because they’re afraid of dying.

Retirees now say the ideal length of retirement is 29 years.

Some of those who want to live longer qualified their desire by saying they would not want more years if they were suffering with bad health, if they became a burden to their families, if they suffered serious cognitive loss or if they no longer had a purpose in life.

The study was conducted by Edward Jones in partnership with Age Wave and The Harris Poll in January and February among 11,000 North American adults.

The New Retirement

The survey found that pre-retirees — those 45 or older who are planning to retire within the next 10 years and retirees view their parents’ version of retirement as a time for “rest and relaxation.” But only 27% of respondents saw their own retirement that way, while 55% defined it as “a new chapter in life.”

“Today’s retirees enjoy a growing array of opportunities to stay engaged, possibly reinvent themselves and enjoy the freedoms of this stage of life,” Ken Cella, principal in branch development at Edward Jones, said in a statement. 

At the same time, they face a variety of challenges, especially around their health, their finances and finding a new purpose in life, Cella said.

Edward Jones and Age Wave also found blurred lines around what people think marks the beginning of retirement. 

Thirty-four percent marked the start of the new chapter in their lives with the end of full-time work; 22% said it starts upon receiving Social Security, a pension or both; 17% cited leaving one’s job or career; and another 17% said it begins upon achieving financial independence.

Only 10% said the start of retirement means reaching a certain age.

This changing definition is reflected in pre-retirees’ and retirees’ retirement plans. Fifty-nine percent said they want to work in some way in retirement, 22% want to work part time, 19% hope to cycle between work and leisure and 18% wish to work full time.

4 Stages of Retirement

Edward Jones and Age Wave’s research defined the four new stages of retirement, each with its own expectations, priorities and challenges

  • Anticipation: zero to 10 years before retirement.
  • Liberation/disorientation: zero to 2 years after retirement.
  • Reinvention: 3 to 14 years after retirement. 
  • Reflection/resolution: 15-plus years after retirement.

In the Reinvention stage, the study further identified four distinct paths characterized by people’s attitudes and ambitions, retirement preparations and their level of enjoyment of life in retirement. 

By examining the trajectory of these paths, the researchers also uncovered how decisions and strategies for living throughout the early and middle years of life can affect the retirement years, both negatively and positively.

Following are the four paths identified in the research. 

Purposeful Pathfinders: These retirees enjoy the greatest sense of well-being. They are happy, engaged and productive and are making a contribution in an area they consider important. They are best prepared for life in retirement; 78% reported that they are in excellent shape financially. They began saving for retirement earlier than all the other groups, on average at age 34.

Relaxed Traditionalists: This group pursues a more traditional retirement of rest and relaxation, having had a smooth transition and being well-prepared. Eighty-one percent retired when they chose, and while they are the most open to relocating, they have fewer aspirations for personal growth or giving back than Purposeful Pathfinders.

Challenged Yet Hopefuls: These retirees are active and have focused on self-improvement, but their lives in retirement are constrained and uncertain because of insufficient financial preparation. Half said they often worry about outliving their money, and this taints nearly all their future hopes. They began saving for retirement later than all the other groups, at age 45, and 54% with retirement accounts have made early withdrawals along the way.

Regretful Strugglers: These challenged individuals, the largest of the four groups, are the least prepared for retirement, are the unhappiest and overall feel the least positive about life. Forty-three percent reported that they are financially worse off in retirement than during their working years. Fifty-nine percent said they have many regrets in life, and 42% felt that life has dealt them a lousy hand.    

“We are witnessing the birth of a new retirement with unique stages and journey paths for everyone,” Age Wave’s founder and chief executive, Ken Dychtwald, said in the statement. “Successful retirees have enjoyed a mostly positive, satisfying life and are looking forward to the years ahead.” 

Dychtwald suggested that their emotional intelligence and hard-earned resilience can provide important guidance as tomorrow’s retirees make plans to fulfill their hopes and dreams for retirement.

Early Action Is Key

Edward Jones and Age Wave said the research makes clear that retirees who reported better quality of life took more steps decades in advance to prepare and plan across all the four pillars of finances, purpose, family and health. 

The two firms laid out several steps pre-retirees and those early in retirement can take to make the most of their retirement.

Financial foresight is key, as the traditional three-legged stool for funding retirement — pensions, Social Security and personal savings — has become even wobblier, and unexpected expenses can arise in retirement. 

Working Americans must double down on the third leg of the stool: saving. According to the study, retirees said they started saving for retirement at age 38 on average, but in retrospect, they should have started saving nearly a decade earlier, at age 29. 

Besides saving, other important pre-retirement actions to take include tending to ongoing health and preventive care, discussing retirement plans and goals with family and friends, and beginning or expanding volunteering activity. 

They should also work with a financial advisor, who can help interpret current market conditions and develop a holistic financial plan to better financially prepare for a 100-year life span, as well as the expenses that come with it.