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Research Reveals Four-Step Recipe for a Happy Retirement

27 May 2019

In-depth face-to-face interviews with 82 retired South Africans in their 60s, 70s and 80s painted an upbeat picture of the proverbial golden years. Surfing, travelling, working for charities, studying and teaching: retirees today are all about living their best life.

In 2017, Glacier by Sanlam commissioned the ‘Through the Years’ report to better understand what makes a healthy and fulfilling retirement. The chosen sample of respondents retired with a relatively comfortable monthly income – to showcase just how this can contribute to a full and healthy life after retiring – and how financial planning had contributed to this outcome.

The research showed that retirees today are more likely to be climbing rocks than rocking in a chair. From a 65-year-old real estate agent-cum-jazz musician to a 70-year-old surfer and beyond, the research sample was happy and contented.

The research revealed striking similarities in the retirees’ ‘recipe for a happy retirement’. The one big theme that came through was planning. Planning financially (and saving for retirement as early as possible) and planning to ensure good medical treatment. But interestingly, they all recommend planning for the ‘fun’ side of life too. Having a plan for how you are going to fill your days, weeks and years to get the most of this special time.

Here is their recipe for a happy retirement.

Ingredient 1: Financial Security

“I just want financial freedom, that’s all.”

Money is just one part of a happy retirement, but it’s an important ingredient. 82% of the report’s participants who felt reasonably comfortable that they had enough retirement savings had consulted with a financial adviser. Of those who were unsure that their retirement savings would be sufficient, 75% had not consulted with a financial adviser. Most of the retirees were concerned that the cost of living was rising but their income was not. The impact of inflation, supporting one’s relatives and minimal state support were all key concerns. None of them wanted to be a financial burden on their children and a few were actually supporting their children and grandchildren. Those who had regrets usually lamented spending too lavishly and not saving enough when they were younger. Interestingly, 75% of the sample were aware they should reinvest the lump sum they received upon retiring. Almost all were aware of the need to continue planning and making smart decisions to ensure they were financially secure and could maintain their lifestyles for the rest of their lives.

Five top tips for making your money last as long as you do:

  1. Draw up a retirement budget in collaboration with a financial adviser, this should include selecting the right investments to provide you with a sustainable income throughout retirement
  2. Consider taking on part-time work or jumping into the ‘gig’ economy to supplement your income
  3. Diversify your investments and review them regularly to make sure your returns are on track – don’t leave anything to chance
  4. Review how you are spending your income regularly, get your financial adviser to assist you with identifying and cutting out unnecessary expenses
  5. If a lump sum pay-out is part of your plan, consider how you’ll reinvest this

Ingredient 2: Good Health

“Health is worth more than wealth, any day.”

Staying in good physical and mental health is pivotal to enjoying retirement to the fullest. Almost all the retirees cited health as their primary concern. Gene Cohen, director of George Washington University’s Center of Aging and author of The Mature Mind: The Positive Power of the Aging Brain, says that exercising the brain will help it form new connections necessary to ward off dementia. Additionally, it’s important to eat healthily and incorporate a daily exercise regime. Exercise releases endorphins – also known as ‘happy hormones’.

Top tips for staying in good health:

  1. Make sure you’re financially prepared for every eventuality. Health curveballs can throw off retirement savings so ensure you’ve got medical aid, dread disease and other cover in place
  2. Think about the future and settle somewhere with care facilities close by
  3. Stay busy – draw up a daily schedule and try and stick to it. An idle body and mind can lead to depression and declining fitness
  4. Find a stimulating activity that you enjoy like learning to play an instrument or reading
  5. Avoid stress – this can damage your immune system

Ingredient 3: Staying Connected

“I feel very good when I’m able to give back.”

One of the best parts of following a recipe is being able to share the result. All the retirees interviewed agreed that meaningful connections are crucial to a happy retirement. Many were active in the community as ward councillors, teachers, tutors, consultants, members of policing forums and volunteers. There are multiple ways to keep connected post retirement; here are a few that were suggested:

Five ways to stay connected:

  1. Teach, tutor or consult – try to actively share your skills
  2. Get involved in the community through volunteering or in more of an administrative role – like a ward councillor
  3. Join institutions like the University of the Third Age to meet and mingle with like-minded people
  4. Become part of various sports clubs or societies according to your interests
  5. Spend regular quality time with your family, whether this be your partner, children and grandchildren or friends

The Final Ingredient: Looking Forward with Positivity

“I’m not a stay-at-home granny who knits.”

To move forward and make the most of retirement, retirees said that they needed to come to terms with and accept the past, and look forward with positivity. All of them recommended having a clear plan for how to fill the days – some even suggested drawing up a daily schedule then sticking to this. And while they take great pleasure in seeing their kids and grandkids, time with loved ones is only one part of the day-to-day lives of today’s retirees – contrary to popular perception that retirees are sitting around waiting for the younger generations to take a break from their busy schedules and drop in.

Here are some of the other activities they prioritised:

  1. A daily surf (70-year-old female)
  2. Founding a jazz band and music society (65-year old male)
  3. Finishing a masters in astrophysics (61 year-old male)
  4. Travelling to Mauritius and Morocco (60 to 80 year olds)
  5. Swimming in the Master’s Olympics (70 year-old female)

The secret to any recipe is making it your own. All the ingredients can be there, but you need to bring them together.

Speak to a financial adviser for more information on how to ensure a happy retirement.