You’ve done your homework, and now you’ve got this retirement stuff all figured out. Savings socked away. Debts paid off—a plan to transition from work to leisure. So let the good times roll! Unfortunately, however, some retirement mistakes operate under the radar. Maybe they’re due to that heady rush of freedom in the first year of retirement. Perhaps you want to keep being generous, forgetting that you now have less money. And as we age, specific physical issues can make it harder to be frugal, and specific cognitive changes can lead to poor decision-making. Here are some unwise decisions that could tank your golden years and how to avoid them.
- Forget to create/update legal documents
When was the last time you looked at your will and estate plan? Unfortunately, things change, and our legal paperwork needs to change along with them. Maybe a grandchild was recently born, or your sibling died last year. Possibly the son who’d agreed to be your executor no longer feels up to the task. Or perhaps during the pandemic, you had to sell some of the jewelry you’d planned to leave to your great-niece. If so, make sure those pieces aren’t included in the will, or whoever does end up as executor might pull their hair out trying to track down these mysterious baubles.
- Fail to Budget
You’re on a fixed income now; some costs do go down in retirement. For example, that 30-mile commute will be a thing of the past, and you won’t need to buy and maintain a work wardrobe. But other costs might go up—for example, Medical bills. Sorry to tell you this, but Medicare doesn’t cover everything. So, among other things, you’ll have to pay for glasses, hearing aids, and most dental work, depending on what Medicare coverage you choose. The second is Household help. You’ll need to ask for assistance if you can no longer do yard work or deep cleaning. Your grown kids are pretty busy with their own lives, so you can’t expect them to use one of their precious days off each week doing outside chores plus your cleaning and laundry. That means this could be a new bill to add to your budget. The third is food. The ingredients could get costly if health issues require specialized diets. And if those health issues make it tough to cook, you might wind up relying on takeout or meal delivery services, which are much more expensive than from-scratch meals in your kitchen. The last is Home modifications. Illness or the cumulative aging process might create the need for things like grab-bars in the bathroom or a wheelchair ramp out front.
- Slide into debt
Ideally, you’ve planned to retire with zero debt. But it’s all too easy to slide back in, especially if you haven’t created that budget — considering that you’re now on a fixed income. If you have more months than money, it’s time to identify the financial leaks. This likely means making choices, such as cutting one of your streaming services or cooking more rather than ordering in. Some coverages are one-offs: wedding or graduation gifts, trips to see family, a car repair, or an emergency loan to a relative. Others, such as insurance premiums or property tax hikes, are to be expected (but are never fun when they arrive). However, all these things should be factored into your spending plan under categories such as “emergency fund,” “vacations,” and “giving.”
- Become sedentary
Lots of people dream of taking it easy during retirement, but you don’t want to take it too easy. A lack of exercise can lead to all sorts of health issues. The National Institute on Aging, part of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, reports: “Often, inactivity is more to blame than age when older people lose the ability to do things on their own. Lack of physical activity also can lead to more doctor visits, hospitalizations, and more use of medicines for various illnesses.” Being active improves energy, physical strength, balance, and sleep. It can help you reach or maintain a healthy weight, reduce stress and anxiety levels, improve cognitive function, and manage or even prevent certain diseases. All these improvements could make it possible to live independently for longer, or maybe for the rest of your life. Vowing to stay active isn’t enough. It would help if you had an actual plan in places, such as a daily mall-walking date with friends or a YMCA or health club membership. Recreation centers and colleges could also be sources of affordable exercise options.
- Withdraw too much money
Once you’re retired, you might want to do a little of everything. After all, you no longer have to schedule time off for vacations, spa days, and the like. Finally, you can buy season tickets to your favorite sports team or subscriptions to theater or dance companies. You can take riding lessons and splurge on fancy kitchen equipment. But can you? If you claimed Social Security before your full retirement age, you’d have permanently reduced benefits — and the conventional wisdom is to take no more than 4% out of your accounts each year. Out-of-control spending may cause you to loot your retirement funds faster than you should. Then there’s the possibility (likelihood, really) of a market downturn during your golden years. With your retirement funds worth less, withdrawing that 4% means the fund will diminish faster. Having a decent-sized cash cushion can help because it lessens the amount you’ll need to remove.
- Forget to create/update legal documents