Javascript is not enabled.

Javascript must be enabled to use this site. Please enable Javascript in your browser and try again.

Skip to content
Content starts here
Leaving Website

You are now leaving and going to a website that is not operated by AARP. A different privacy policy and terms of service will apply.

This Is The Biggest Mistake We Make In Retirement Planning

Retirement can be, well, boring. Here is what you need to consider

spinner image two hands close in on a golden egg in a nest with cash
Daniel Downey

The final stragglers of the Baby Boom generation are inching toward retirement, with the last one expected to cross the finish line – or at least turn 65 – by 2030. As a relatively new retiree myself,  I can almost guarantee that these folks are already sleeping with a notepad and pencil next to their beds so when they wake up at 2 a.m., they can “run the numbers” for the umpteenth time – you know, calculate how much they have saved for retirement and whether it will be enough.

And right there is the problem with how we plan for retirement: Overwhelmingly, we focus on the money and ignore the rest. We give little thought to the emotional and practical changes that lie ahead after we walk away from our work. For the few asked, “What are you going to do when you retire?” the standard response is usually a version of “relax, travel, and spend time with grandkids.”

spinner image Image Alt Attribute

AARP Membership— $12 for your first year when you sign up for Automatic Renewal

Get instant access to members-only products and hundreds of discounts, a free second membership, and a subscription to AARP the Magazine.

Join Now

Let me tell you now: it won’t be like that. Relaxation can quickly slip into boredom; traveling is expensive and physically exhausting, and all your houseplants will be dead when you get home. Doting on grandkids can soon become a two-way street, especially when you find yourself as their unpaid, on-call babysitter.

Retirement can also be a jarring change from longtime work routines. Jobs don’t just give us a paycheck; they also provide us with a network of friends, a chance to exercise our brains and a reason to get out of the house. Jobs offer us a chance to stay relevant, be productive and provide an audience for our opinions. Jobs help us identify ourselves. Those with an “I-am-what-I-do” relationship with work will likely struggle the most in retirement.

spinner image several people representing multiple generations smile while talking to each other at a barbecue

You can subscribe here to AARP Experience Counts, a free e-newsletter published twice a month. If you have feedback or a story idea then please contact us here.

On that last point, I plead guilty as charged. I remember telling someone that one of the best parts of working at a prominent newspaper, and later a Vanguard News website, was being able to tell the stranger in the plane seat next to me what I did for a living and watching their eyes widen. Would Shallow Ann survive retirement?

The answer is no, I did not. I was one of the 3.2 percent of retirees who, according to an analysis by Indeed Hiring Lab, returned to work-for-pay within a year of leaving my full-time job. That translates into about 1.5 million retirees.

A Paychex survey found that roughly one in six retirees is looking for a way to re-enter the workforce. I guess I just beat the rush.

It turns out that I only thought I was prepared for retirement. I had spent hours with a financial planner talking about downsizing to a smaller house, when to collect Social Security benefits and what an extraordinary mistake it had been not to rev up my 401K when corporate pensions went away. All of it was money-related, not personal satisfaction.

Shopping & Groceries

Coupons for Local Stores

Save on clothing, gifts, beauty and other everyday shopping needs

See more Shopping & Groceries offers >

I told friends that my “retirement plans” were to sleep for three months, reacquaint myself with the public library, write a book about caregiving for my late husband and, most importantly, take charge of what was left of my healthy life. I never factored in what I would do to ward off daily boredom.

Like many of my fellow “unretirees,” as the burgeoning trend is called, I appreciate the extra money I earn. But more than that, I appreciate having something to do when I get out of bed in the late morning.

Share your experience: Are you happy in retirement or are you struggling with boredom? Let us know your thoughts in the comment.

Discover AARP Members Only Access

Join AARP to Continue

Already a Member?