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9 Purchases Retirees Often Regret

From boats to RVs, buyers often have remorse in retirement

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They don’t call the beginning phase of retirement the go-go days for nothing. In the early years, retirees often spend more freely, checking off bucket-list items like vacation homes, antique cars and expensive toys. But for many older adults, it isn’t long before buyer’s remorse sets in.  ​

“People have an idea that something good is to come, but the reality does not match up,” says Chris Manske, president of Manske Wealth Management in Houston. “It’s really hard for them to accept that the thing they have been excited about, dreaming about, is not what they wanted.”​

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The purchases that retirees regret run the gamut, but there are some that top the list, including these nine. ​

1. Boat

This is the quintessential retirement purchase that people dream about during their working years. They finally quit the working world and pull the trigger, preparing to sail off into the sunset. But there’s more to owning a boat than purchasing the vessel, and costs can add up quickly. Before you know it, what was supposed to give you joy and freedom is tying you down. “The two best days are when you buy and sell the boat. Everything in between, you risk an argument with your spouse,” says Denny Artache, a partner at Champion Capital Advisors in Jupiter, Florida. “If you buy a boat for $80,000 and go out in it twice a month, is it a smart way to use the money?”   ​

2. Resort living

For retirees who prefer to stay on land, resort living is all the rage. That’s for good reason: You get resort-style dining, concierge services, weekly housekeeping, a valet and a slew of activities that can easily fill up your social calendar. For lots of people it’s a fabulous idea in the first year, but after that, the novelty can quickly wear off, Manske warns.

“They realize that all the things that gave them value and purpose and were fulfilling are back where they used to live,” he says. “They just pulled stakes and realize it’s nice for a vacation but not nice to live here.” ​

3. Recreational vehicle

Who doesn’t want to travel in retirement? And what better way than with an RV? You get all the comforts of home and don’t have to worry about lodging. But you may be able to scratch that road-trip itch without splashing out tens of thousands of dollars for a towable RV or hundreds of thousands for a motor home, not to mention the ongoing costs of upkeep.​

“You can rent RVs, rather than buying one,” Artache points out. “If you are going to use an RV once a month or three times a year, do you really need to buy an RV? Of course not. A lot of those things that make retirees feel good can add up.”​

4. Dream house

Retirement is supposed to be about downsizing, but for some people it’s the time to build their dream home from the ground up. That’s fine for those who have a lot of cash in the bank or can stick to a budget. But often, “that scenario turns into a real disappointment, sometimes a nightmare,” Manske observes.

Doing an upgrade here and an upgrade there, home improvement enthusiasts may soon find they’ve blown through a big chunk of retirement cash. That dream dwelling suddenly becomes a money pit at a time when less income is flowing in, leaving owners “really stressed out and frustrated,” Manske says. “It’s a really big one that retirees regret.”

5. Giving to adult children

It’s normal to want to help your kids, regardless of how old they are, but giving too much can be a big spending regret. Sure, you might have the means to pay off your children’s college tuition or give them the down payment for a home, but this generosity can leave you destitute in the future, particularly if you are on a fixed income. It can also cause family strife if you expect repayment and don’t receive it.  

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6. Time-share

A common retirement purchase, a time-share is attractive to many because it offers a guaranteed place to vacation and can be shared with family. Some time-shares even have multiple locations. But this kind of property also comes with many costs beyond the initial investment. There’s an annual maintenance fee, utilities and taxes, which can quickly eat away at your retirement savings.

“Time-shares are a really regrettable purchase. It can be a drain on your finances, and you can never sell it back for what you bought it for. It’s usually pennies on the dollar,” Manske says. “It’s a hole you throw money in.” ​

7. Fancy cars

Forget a midlife crisis triggering this kind of extravagance — lots of people wait until they retire to purchase a luxury vehicle. It’s something they dreamed about for years, ignoring the fact that their pride and joy’s value starts dropping the moment they drive it off the lot.

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A monthly car-loan payment means taking on debt at a time when, again, your income is likely lower than when you were working. And even if you pay cash, you still have to cover fuel, insurance and maintenance, which typically cost more for a luxury car.

“The reason why we see a lot of people regret it is because they bought them at retirement, when having free cash flow is the most important thing,” says Kevin Chancellor, CEO of Melbourne, Florida-based Black Lab Financial Services. “Motor homes and cars depreciate.”​

8. Pricey musical instruments

Maybe you were the lead guitarist in your teenage garage band or could play a mean sax in the college jazz ensemble, but spending a lot of money for an expensive instrument is something retirees often regret.

“They are trying to relive some moments from younger days, only to realize they can’t move their fingers like they used to or blow the volume of air that they used to,” Manske says.

It may only be after the purchase that you realize it wasn’t the instrument you’re nostalgic for but the camaraderie you felt (and the attention you got) being in a band, he adds. “That’s not happening playing alone watching YouTube video lessons.”​​

9. Impulse buying online

​The internet makes it all too easy to buy stuff you may not need but stock up on anyway because you think it’s a deal. With just a few clicks you can have everything from furniture to food at your doorstep in days, if not hours. But that impulse shopping can do a number on your cash flow if you don’t keep it in check, often leading to buyers’ remorse.

The same goes for subscription services for things you can do yourself but pay for out of convenience, like meal kits or routine home care, Artache says. Don’t be resistant to “cooking at home, mowing [your] own lawn and shopping for better grocery prices,” he adds. “[You] now have the time as a retired person.”

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