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7 Purchases Retirees Often Regret

From boats to RVs, buyers often have remorse in retirement

fishing boat in marina with for sale sign
iStock / Getty Images

They don’t call the beginning phase of retirement the go-go days for nothing. In the early years, spending is common, as retirees check 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 seven. ​

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 financial adviser at Artache Financial Group 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, as with it 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 quickly wears 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. You do have to fill up the tank, which can set you back a pretty penny in the current environment.

“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.”​

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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 by doing an upgrade here and an upgrade there, home improvement enthusiasts soon find they’ve blown through a big chunk of retirement cash. That dream dwelling suddenly becomes a money pit at a time when income isn’t flowing in.

“They retire and decide to build their dream house, but that scenario turns into a real disappointment, sometimes a nightmare, especially if they are really stressed out and frustrated,” Manske observes. “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 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.  

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 while ignoring the fact that the asset will depreciate as soon as they leave the showroom. Even if they paid in cash for the car, they still have to cover fuel, insurance and maintenance. And those who borrow money for this acquisition face a monthly loan payment.

“The reason why we see a lot of people regret 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.”

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