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Published: Nov 04, 2015
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Wouldn't it be great if you could get practical insights about how to have a rewarding post-career life from people who've actually spent a good deal of time in retirement? Well, you can. Researchers for New York Life recently surveyed 500 retirees 80 and older to find out what makes for a happy and successful retirement. Here are three key tips from the senior seniors that can help you improve your own retirement planning.

Tip #1: Make the best of the early years. One message that came through loud and clear from older retirees was that they enjoyed themselves most in the initial stage of retirement. Indeed, 72% of those surveyed said that the years right after they retired were some of the best, with nearly half reporting that their happiest time was within five years of retiring and 24% reporting that the first year of retirement was their favorite.

This clearly shows the importance of doing not only financial planning but lifestyle planning before you pull the trigger on retirement. To get the most out of those crucial early years of retirement, you need to have a plan for making the transition from the work-a-day world to your post-career life, when you won't have the structure of a job to fill up the hours of your day. That means grappling ahead of time with such issues as whether to stay in your current digs, downsize or even relocate; how to find activities such as part-time work or volunteering that can help keep you engaged; and making sure you have a broad network of family and friends you can rely on for companionship and emotional support. Fail to do this sort of planning before you retire, and you run the risk of squandering some of the joys of your initial retirement years.

Tip #2: Plan for a long haul. As crucial as it is to focus on getting the most out of your early years in retirement, you've also got to prepare for the long term, which may be longer than you think. Indeed, more than half of the 80-and-older retirees polled for this survey said that prior to retiring they didn't expect to live as long as they already have.

That's understandable, as research shows that retirees tend to underestimate their life expectancy, often by five years or more. Longevity projections released by the Society of Actuaries last year show that on average a 65-year-old man is expected to live to 86 or 87 and a woman the same age is expected to live to 88 or 89. And many will live well beyond the averages into their 90s, or even crack the century mark.

Clearly, a long lifespan is something you must consider when creating a retirement income plan and deciding when to claim Social Security. But it's even more important to recognize the possibility of your post-career life lasting 30 or more years when you're still working and planning for retirement, as that's when you still have a chance to save more and build a larger nest egg. And, in fact, a recent survey of more than 12,00 401(k) participants between the ages 55 and 80 done by Fidelity Investments in conjunction with the Stanford Center on Longevity found that while most retirees have been able to adapt their lifestyle to the resources they have, 36% said they wished they had saved more and 33% regretted that they hadn't started saving earlier.

Tip #3: Don't underestimate the value of guaranteed income. More than half of the older retirees queried for New York Life said that income from sources like Social Security, pensions and annuities gave them greater peace of mind than managing investment accounts on their own, and nearly 90% said they would advise younger generations to consider creating pension-like income as well.

I think this is sound advice for the most part. A variety of studies have shown that retirees who receive guaranteed income from sources such as pensions and income annuities tend to be happier in retirement. That said, you've also got to shop carefully and choose wisely when seeking out such income, especially in the case of annuities, which in some cases can be mind-numbingly complex and, as evidenced in a recent report from Senator Elizabeth Warren's office, sometimes sold in ways that might lead salespeople' to put their interests ahead of their customers'.

Annuities certainly aren't for everyone, but generally I think people who feel they need more guaranteed income than Social Security alone can provide should consider putting some (but not all) of their savings into two types of annuities that are relatively easy to understand and evaluate: immediate annuities, which convert a lump sum of savings into monthly payments that begin immediately, and longevity annuities, which allow you to convert an investment now into payments that will start later, say, 10 or more years down the road. To see how much guaranteed income you might receive from these types of annuities based on your age, sex, the amount you have to invest and when payments will begin, you can check out this annuity calculator.

Walter Updegrave is the editor of If you have a question on retirement or investing that you would like Walter to answer online, send it to him at You can tweet Walter at @RealDealRetire.

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