Many workers look forward to retirement and the ability to break free from the stress of their jobs. But new data from the Employee Benefit Research Institute reveals from pretty unsettling news: More seniors are completely dissatisfied with retirement today than ever before.
Granted, the overall number of retirees who truly aren't happy is hovering just above 10%, which means most seniors are at least somewhat content with their lifestyles. But what's more concerning is that the percentage of seniors who'd describe their retirement as "very satisfying" dropped from 60.5% back in 1998 to just 48.6% in 2012. That's the first time that number has ever dropped below 50%, and it means most seniors are experiencing at least some degree of disappointment with retirement.
What's making seniors so unhappy? Though the report doesn't specify, it's no secret that countless retirees experience financial troubles as a result of not having ample savings. Others, meanwhile, struggle with health issues that can turn retirement into one extended period of disappointment. And then there are those who just plain find themselves bored and frustrated with the lack of routine.
Whether you're close to leaving the workforce or still have a few years to go, you deserve to enjoy retirement to the fullest. Here's how to avoid some of the issues that are plaguing so many seniors today.
1. Have a plan
The idea of having your days to yourself might seem appealing in theory. In practice, however, it can be a pretty rough adjustment. If you're the type who needs structure and thrives on keeping busy, retirement could end up throwing you for a loop. In fact, you're 40% more likely to suffer from clinical depression once you retire, according to research from the Institute of Economic Affairs.
To avoid this fate, come up with a plan during your working years that outlines how you'll fill your days in retirement. This might entail a combination of taking classes, traveling, and dividing your time between family. It might also mean working in some capacity, if not for the money, then for the sense of accomplishment involved. No matter how you choose to spend your time, don't just go into retirement blindly. Otherwise, your lack of purpose might quickly bring you down.
2. Save adequately
Money worries cause countless seniors a serious load of stress. Besides, it's hard to enjoy all that downtime if you don't have the money to keep yourself occupied. That's why it's critical to evaluate your savings and determine whether you really have enough to fund the lifestyle you're looking for.
Contrary to what many workers are led to believe, the typical American can't survive on Social Security alone. In a best-case scenario, those payments will cover about 40% of what you used to earn, whereas you'll need a minimum of 80% of your previous earnings to maintain a reasonably comfortable lifestyle. Want to travel extensively? Then you'll need to save even more.
While there's no magic savings number to aim for, if you're not confident you've amassed enough, then it often pays to work a few extra years and pad your nest egg. Doing so will also help you avoid dipping into your savings sooner, thus allowing them to stretch. Workers 50 and over can contribute up to $24,000 a year to a 401(k) and $6,500 a year to an IRA. Max out the former for three more years, and you'll have a $72,000 cushion on top of what you've already put away.
3. Adopt a smart Social Security filing strategy
Though Social Security shouldn't be your only source of income in retirement, it's a key income stream nonetheless. That's why it's important to understand the ramifications of claiming Social Security at various ages. For example, if you wait until your full retirement age (which is 66, 67, or somewhere in between for today's older workers) to file for benefits, you won't have to worry about a reduction. If you file early, you'll get your cash sooner, but at a reduced rate. And if you wait until you turn 70, you'll get an 8% boost for every year you hold off past full retirement age.
Of course, there's no right or wrong decision when it comes to Social Security. It would, however, be a mistake not to develop a well-thought-out strategy so you wind up getting the most from your benefits.
4. Invest in long-term care insurance
An estimated 70% of seniors can expect to need some form of long-term care at some point in time. Yet many don't plan for this major expense, and as such, wind up suffering financially.
Without long-term care insurance, for example, you might pay as much as $225 a day to live in a nursing home, and that's if you're willing to have a roommate. On the other hand, if you have a policy in place, you'll get a decent amount of relief that will not only minimize the financial burden, but help ensure that you get the services you need.
But don't wait till you're retired to apply for long-term care insurance. The younger you are, the greater your chances of not only getting approved, but snagging a discount on what could otherwise be some pretty hefty premiums.
No matter how many years you worked during your career, you deserve a satisfying and fulfilling retirement. If you come up with a plan for how you'll spend your time, do a good job of saving, read up on Social Security, and protect yourself with long-term care insurance, you'll be more likely to identify as a happy retiree down the line.
The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.