Jan 18 – The 10 factors that add up to the best retirement – What The Happiest Retirees Know

January 18, 2024

In What The Happiest Retirees Know, author Wes Moss highlights 10 attributes that can help you be a HROB – Happiest Retiree On the Block – and not an UROB, or Unhappiest Retiree on the Block.

He writes that data from the Financial Planning Association south of the border found that “only 18 per cent of U.S. households have enough wealth to cover pre-retirement consumption when they retire, meaning most Americans will not be able to maintain their pre-retirement lifestyle in retirement.”

As well, only half of U.S. citizens are even saving for retirement, writes Moss. “Very few people are prepared for the full retirement journey, and many don’t think they will ever be able to quit working,” he explains.

Here are the 10 habits that form the core of this humorous and well-written book.

Excellent money habits — $500K in savings

He writes that the happiest retirees “have $500,000 or more in savings, their mortgage payoff is complete (or at least in sight) and they have multiple streams of income.”

While $500,000 sounds like a lot of money, it is an attainable goal if you start young, he writes. He recommends that people save 20 per cent of their pre-retirement income.

“If you simply take $100 each month and invest it, assuming a 10 per cent return and that your investment compounds monthly, you’ll have a sweet $637,000 at the end of those four decades,” he writes. If 10 per cent returns seem high, Moss notes that the U.S. S&P index has averaged over seven per cent a year for the last 20 years.

Having more than one stream of income is key as well, he writes. For retirees, this could include “multiple pensions, (government retirement benefits), rental properties, investments, or part-time work.”

It’s essential to know in advance what your post-retirement income and expenses will be, so that that you can find, and fill, any gap between what’s coming in and what’s going out.

Curious and adventurous – at least three core pursuits

Moss writes that the happiest retirees have “3.6 core pursuits…. The unhappiest retirees only have 1.9.”

“Most of the core pursuits fell into four categories. There was part-time work, like teaching, consulting, and decorating. Then there was exercise and health – activities that included hiking, biking, swimming, walking and cooking. The arts were a big one, with painting, pottery, and music topping the list. And then there was adventure, such as travel, cruising, RVing, piloting and sailing.”

His list of Top 100 Core Pursuits includes yoga, tennis, golf, knitting, pickleball, skiing, joining social clubs, and much more.

Live close to independent kids who have their own homes

Moss writes that the happiest retirees live near their kids or grandkids, no more than two or three hours away.

He stresses, however, that the kids need to be independent – living away from home and on their own, without a lot of parental support. “Retirees were two times unhappier if their adult children still lived at home,” he writes. As well, “unhappy families average $714 a month in support of their 20-, 30, and 40-something-old `kids.’” The happier retirees spend less than $500 a month of their kids, he continues.

Times are tough these days, he concedes. As of September 2020, 52 per cent of young adults in the U.S. were “living with their parents… it’s the highest percentage since the Great Depression. No wonder parents are depressed.”

“If your children are not financially independent, you are 1.5 times more likely to be an unhappy retiree,” he warns.

They are married, and have either never been divorced, or divorced once

His research found that retirees who have never married, or have been divorced two or more times, are less happy in retirement than married couples where each partner has either never been divorced — or divorced only once.

You only get one do-over in marriage, Moss concludes.

They stay connected

Moss notes that the happiest among the retired are those with “at least three close connections/friendships.” Friends, he writes, “are a better happiness currency than money. You heard me correctly. Money can’t buy friends – but friends can buy happiness.”

You should see friends every month and belong to at least one group. An ideal way to merge the two concepts is to travel with friends.

They are healthy

“Happy retirees are fans on the `ings,’” he writes. This means “walking, swimming, biking, and hiking.” They “gravitate toward a healthy diet,” and enjoy a drink – particularly “white wine and gin.”

They have good home habits

“Happy retirees live in nice houses, but not McMansions,” Moss notes. “It’s OK to be comfortable. It’s less OK to have exotic zebras grazing on the 400-acre ecofarm you call home.”

They also tend to stay in the same neighbourhood, and “don’t downsize… this is a new habit gleaned from my most recent study. (They) don’t downsize into a smaller place, mainly because they anticipate their kids and grandkids will be coming home to visit.”

They also focus on paying off their mortgages first, not last. “It’s a surefire thing. Once that prodigious debt is off your shoulders, no one gets to take a four per cent bite out of your joy,” Moss notes.

They exhibit excellent investor behaviour

Moss writes that the happiest retirees invest more in stocks that pay dividends than bonds, and avoid trying to time the market and avoid short-term risks by taking a long view on investing. Their investment decisions are not “based on emotion… they are not fueled by fear. They take time to take stock (pun totally intended.”

They are, he says, careful when turning investments into retirement income, and on making sure they don’t run out of money in retirement through adherence to the “four per cent rule” on annual withdrawals.

They are masters of the middle

Happy retirees, Moss writes, are “smart spenders. Sure they may have had times in their lives when they were carrying a little too much credit card debt or struggling financially, But for the most part, they’ve prioritized saving over spending – and they don’t deprive themselves needlessly.”

The UROB (unhappy retirees) have a few characteristics as well, he writes, such as “the obsessing over money thing” and placing too much emphasis on status – a big house and a flashy car.

This is a different way to look at the whole retirement picture. We recommend that you find a place for this book in your retirement library.

If you are saving for retirement, as the book suggests, putting away a set percentage of your paycheque towards retirement is a smart way to pay your future self first.

The Saskatchewan Pension Plan allows you to make pre-authorized contributions from your bank account. Alternatively, you can set up SPP as a bill in your online banking app and set up automatic, monthly SPP “bill” payments. The difference is that this will be a bill that pays you back.

Check out SPP today! And, in breaking news, SPP’s Variable Benefit is now available coast-to-coast-to-coast for all SPP members!

Join the Wealthcare Revolution – follow SPP on Facebook!

Written by Martin Biefer

Martin Biefer is Senior Pension Writer at Avery & Kerr Communications in Nepean, Ontario. A veteran reporter, editor and pension communicator, he’s now a freelancer. Interests include golf, line dancing and classic rock, and playing guitar. Got a story idea? Let Martin know via LinkedIn.

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