Finding The Formula For A Happy Retirement

As a financial adviser, I’ve been lucky enough to meet with hundreds of families over the past 20-plus years. The happiest among these retirees share similar traits, and these traits are the touchstones of how they’re having the time of their lives during retirement.

Over time, this phenomenon became so apparent that it inspired me to create a primer on how to be a happy retiree. This book, “You Can Retire Sooner Than You Think,” is chock-full of tips on how to maximize your retirement happiness, both financially and personally. And these ideas are relevant whether you retire at 40 or 70.

To get my hands around the data and truly identify these common traits, I spent more than a year surveying over 1,000 retirees. The goal was to better tease out the commonalities that I was seeing in folks who were enjoying happy retirements. Some of the things I found from my research were fairly obvious, while others were much more surprising.

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For instance, if you walked into my office today and said, “Wes, I just retired, and I’m going to the BMW dealership after our meeting,” I’d have a quick response — “Hold your horses!” That’s because my research showed that the happiest folks don’t drive BMWs. Actually, the unhappiest retirees drive this brand.

Instead, for luxury cars, the happy lot leans toward Lexus, Buick, Lincoln and Mercedes. Other car brands these folks favor are Nissan, Hyundai, Subaru and Buick. Seriously. I have the data to prove it, and it’s all in my book.

Now, if you came in to see me to talk about retiring in a few decades, we’d first talk about your financial details and investment goals. Then I’d tell you that, while we can’t control the economy or the curveballs life throws at us, there are many things we can control. And these things are both big and small, like the balance on our mortgage, the kind of car we drive, and the amount of money we save each month.

Along these lines, I’d offer up some life advice for creating a happy retirement. If you’re not already, I’d say get (and stay) married. And if you want to have kids, have three. More than 75% of the happiest retirees are married. As for the little ones, 70% of these same folks had two or more kids. Three seemed to be the magic number for the most happiness.

Another suggestion would be to plan on living “in the middle.” You could well be a millionaire, but if you live life with a “VIP mentality,” you’re bound for the unhappy camp. Happy retirees don’t want extra-special treatment. They prefer to live life as the inconspicuous millionaire next door, or, as I call it, the “Master of the Middle.”

My suggestion would be to shoot for living in the suburbs, where prices for houses are typically in the $200,000 to $500,000 range. Plus, the happiest retirees tend to live in cities or suburban areas. In Atlanta, where intown living can easily cost double the price of a comparable home in the suburbs, you could save a lot by moving to the edge of town.

Then I’d tell you to be comfortable with the money you have, and use it to create a life that suits you.

If you tell me you love to golf, I’d share with you that I had a client who retired and golfed every day. But while she could have afforded it, she didn’t belong to a super high-end country club; she belonged to a group with a low monthly fee that let her play at over 15 courses across the state. Now that, my friends, is mastering the middle.

Let’s imagine that you visit me to gush about the blast you’re having during your Golden Years. I’d make a few guesses about how you’re living life, based on my research. A few may seem obvious, and others, a little odd.

The first would be that you are averaging two vacations a year. During your travels, I’d bet you’re spending more than other people may.

The second would be that you enjoy a good steak! Your favorite steakhouse may be Longhorn or Ruth’s Chris. My follow-up assumption would be that you stay away from fast food. My personal favorite is Kevin Rathbun Steak, but we’ll talk about that another time.

And my third guess would be that you shop at places like Macy’s and Nordstrom, and avoid expensive luxury shopping at places like Neiman Marcus and Saks.

All of these assumptions are based on what happy retirees reported during my research. It all boils down to making your money work for you and becoming a “Master of the Middle.”

After all, life isn’t about money for money’s sake. It’s about using your money to provide the framework for the way you want to live. You’ve put in the hard work — you’ve saved and invested prudently. Now is the time to enjoy the fruits of your labor, no matter how that looks for you. (But I’ll bet it will include the occasional steak dinner!)

These days, I’m working on compiling even more data for a follow-up to “You Can Retire Sooner Than You Think.” My new book will be chock-full of insightful data and tips on three pillars of retirement: money, happiness and lifestyle. If you have any ideas or suggestions for a title, we’d love to hear your thoughts. Just write in and let us know what comes to your mind!

If you haven’t already done so, you can easily get a copy of my first book online. Just visit

Here’s to building and living out a happy retirement — however that looks for you.

Read original AJC article here


This information is provided to you as a resource for informational purposes only and should not 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 adviser before making any investment/tax/estate/financial planning considerations or decisions.