Life is unpredictable. One of the very few things we can count on as we plan for retirement is that change will be constant. We may kick and scream at first, but eventually, it becomes clear that life’s twists and turns do not require our approval. Our only move is to accept them, and lean into what’s next.
Different inflection points will affect our retirement planning journey to varying degrees. We like to call this the Retire Sooner Richter Scale (RSRS). We measure the RSRS as total catalyst impact (life changes + financial changes) on a scale from 1 to 10. Based upon our experience and opinion, listed below are ten common lifestyle catalysts for folks to consider with our RSRS number associated.
1. Kids Headed to or Graduating From College.
It’s can be big deal when any child first leaves the nest. But if the nest still has other baby birds chirping away, the emotional and scheduling impact might not be as harsh. Costs, however, go up, and depending on the university at which junior has chosen to matriculate, they might go way up. We believe this rates a score of RSRS = 4.
When the last child goes off to college, two giant factors are at play. First, the budget might get a lot more breathing room, which means folks can put the pedal to the metal on retirement savings. Second, parents are becoming empty nesters. We believe this rates a score of RSRS = 7.
Habits Of The Happiest Retirees: Overeducating your kids is overrated.
Studies have shown that education is generally a good thing – higher education is associated with longer life expectancies and various other indicators of health and happiness. However, when adult kids pile on multiple graduate and postgraduate degrees, it can have a negative impact on their parents’ happiness.
Whether it’s downsizing, relocating to a senior-friendly community, or finally getting that lake house of your dreams, this can be a significant decision that impacts finances and daily life.
Any move can catalyze change, but the distance of the move is an important variable. Switching zip codes within the same city is a hassle, but it doesn’t powerfully move the needle. We believe this rates a score of RSRS 2.
Packing your life into boxes to cross a border is another matter. Daily life is much different in Carrollton, Georgia, than on the Greek Island of Icaria. We believe this rates a score of RSRS of 7 to 8.
Habits of the Happiest Retirees: Happy retirees don’t downsize.
People may think it’s the perfect time to downsize, but our research shows that happy retirees usually don’t. They love their neighbors and have established themselves in their communities. Furthermore, they understand that their neighborhoods and networks are more important than four walls. And perhaps most importantly, they anticipate their kids and grandkids are going to come home to visit.
3. Caretaking for Older Parents.
Stepping into the role of a caregiver can have emotional, physical, and financial implications. Even in a best-case scenario with parents who have saved enough to cover the costs associated, your time and mental energy will be tested, often far beyond their usual limits. We believe this rates a score of RSRS7.5.
Habits of the Happiest Retirees: From our research, the very happiest of retirees live near at least half of their kids – and are less likely to support them financially.
If you want to be happy in retirement, your adult kids should live near you, not with you. My research makes it crystal clear that when parents fund their children’s lifestyles or let them move back home for an extended period of time, their happiness levels can sharply decline. But retirees who live near at least half or more of their children are 2-5 times more likely to be happy.
Changes in marital status will invariably influence retirement planning, from beneficiary designations to budget adjustments. Marriage brings major lifestyle and financial considerations. The hope is for most of them to be positive (unless see #5), from sharing a budget to tag-teaming the retirement savings to starting a family to having childcare. We believe this rates a score of RSRS 8.5.
Habits of the Happiest Retirees: From our research, retirees are 4.5 times more likely to be unhappy if they’re not married.
I’m not saying it’s impossible to be an HROB if you’re single, but you do have to work a lot harder to create a strong circle of support. If marriage isn’t for you, make sure you invest in building many close relationships with family and friends.
5. Loss of a Spouse or Health Change.
A significant health event or diagnosis can influence medical costs, insurance needs, and daily life. Poor health may force you or your spouse to work less or not at all, a huge blow to your finances. Of course, it also can devastate your family’s well-being, including your kids. This is a scary one. We believe this rates a score of RSRS 10.
Habits of the Happiest Retirees: From our research, the happiest retirees care about what they eat.
While they’re not always beholden to a specific diet, they stay away from constant takeout and junk food. Many HROBs are fans of the Mediterranean diet, which means they eat lots of fish, poultry, vegetables, fruits, whole grains, healthy fats, beans, and eggs – nothing too crazy. The important thing is, they make conscious choices about what, when, and how they eat.
6. Starting to Travel.
Unlike many of these catalyst life events, travel is almost all upside. The only downside is the cost. The benefits of travel can be immensely rewarding, positive, and social, all while building a vital core pursuit. Ensure this is planned for in your budget, and let the good times roll. We believe this rates a score of RSRS5 to 7.
Habits of the Happiest Retirees: Among the top core pursuits are travel, volunteering, spending time with kids and grandkids, and a variety of exercise-oriented pursuits – including playing golf or tennis.
In my data on America’s happiest retirees, I’ve consistently seen these activities rise to the top. Many of them have a social aspect, which is crucial: travel exposes you to new places and new people, kids and grandkids keep you young, golf and tennis strengthen friendships and your fitness level, and volunteering gives you purpose and passion during your golden years.
7. Starting a New Hobby/Core Pursuit.
Core pursuits, aka hobbies on steroids, are absolutely essential for overall retirement happiness. Despite their significance, they don’t necessarily require a substantial financial commitment. Sure, skiing in Aspen for a month or taking a three-week European cruise are costly endeavors. But plenty of core pursuits can be very inexpensive. Look no further than the cost of a tennis racket, a pickleball paddle, or new athletic shoes. Gym memberships can be extremely affordable on the grand scale of positive impact vs. cost. Core pursuits are almost all upside regarding life impact and aren’t likely to damage your rich ratio! We believe this rates a score of RSRS 5 to 6.
Habits of the Happiest Retirees: HROBs stay active, and they love what I call the ings.
These are low-cost, high-impact forms of exercise like walking, swimming, biking, jogging, running, and hiking. Happy retirees value their fitness, so they’re less keen on the more passing ings, like sitting around, watching TV, and eating ice cream. If you’re looking for higher-octane ways to stay active, you might try tennis or badminton, which, in one study, were found to add 9.7 and 6.2 years, respectively, to life expectancy. Incredible!
8. Change in Housing.
The impact of this one depends on the specific situation. For moving, see number two above. For folks undertaking a massive renovation, this can go over time and budget very quickly, saddling you with more debt than it’s worth for the pleasure of owning a home. None of this is to say renovations are bad, but they do have the potential to create some life ripples for a year or more. We believe this rates a score of RSRS7 to 8.
Habits of the Happiest Retirees: Based upon our research of surveying retirees, happy retirees live in nice houses but not McMansions.
Happiness does not rise in lockstep with square footage. When I first started researching retirement happiness back in 2013, the average HROB home value came out to around $355,000. Though thanks to the breathtaking increase in home values, that number was closer to $585,000 in 2021.
9. Community Involvement.
Joining at least one organized social group can make a world of difference. This one may not seem critical initially, but I beg to differ. Joining or belonging to a group of people who share your passions and interests can help create and foster a long-term community that can be wonderful for your retirement happiness and longevity. And the cost is probably meager to boot. We believe this rates a score of RS = 8 – 9.
Habits of the Happiest Retirees: The happiest retirees belong to at least one social group.
The kind of group doesn’t matter, nor does it matter how organized it is. The HROBs I’ve worked with are in church groups, tennis teams, running and hiking groups, book clubs, civic engagement teams, and neighborhood cleanup crews. And it only takes one to move the needle: I found that being part of just one social group increases retirement happiness by almost double.
10. Education Pursuits.
This one should be inexpensive and low-pressure. I’m not talking about enrolling full-time at an Ivy League university. Think more about taking a class at the local college or subscribing to a masterclass online. Pick something that’s always piqued your curiosity. Remember, curiosity may have killed the cat, but a lack of curiosity kills happiness in retirement. Education has a positive impact with low overall cost. We believe this rates a score of RSRS = 5.
Habits of the Happiest Retirees: Core pursuits are your hobbies on steroids – and the happiest retirees have at least 3.6 of them.
Unhappy retirees either don’t have anything they enjoy doing when they’re not at work, or they may halfheartedly engage in one or two hobbies on the weekends. Happy retirees, on the other hand, nurture their curiosity and sense of adventure, engaging wholeheartedly in at least 3.6 core pursuits. Bonus points if your chosen core pursuits also keep you active, healthy, and socially connected.
Every single item on this list has the potential to impact the course of your life, money, and overall well-being. Some life changes are voluntary, and sometimes, a life catalyst comes along, and we’re forced to react. We have little control over who our kids marry or when an unfortunate health situation will arise.
The good news is with an ounce of planning, you will breathe easier when a challenge does come along. There’s no way to sidestep all of life’s unwanted moments, but with the right approach, you can be better prepared to deal with them. Lean into what’s next.
This information is provided to you as a resource for informational purposes only and is not to be viewed as investment advice or recommendations. This information is being presented without consideration of the investment objectives, risk tolerance, or financial circumstances of any specific investor and might not be suitable for all investors. This information is not intended to, and should not, form a primary basis for any investment decision that you may make. Always consult your own legal, tax, or investment advisor before making any investment/tax/estate/financial planning considerations or decisions. The views and opinions expressed are for educational purposes only as of the date of production/writing and may change without notice at any time based on numerous factors, such as market or other conditions.