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4 Underrated Habits of Highly Successful Retirees

Motley Fool - Tue Apr 9, 8:00AM CDT

An older adult sitting crosslegged on the couch while typing on a laptop.

Image source: Getty Images

Everyone has their own vision for a successful retirement. Some people want to spend as much time as possible with friends and family, and others want to travel the world. No matter what you decide to do, what's important is that you're as happy and healthy as possible.

That can be easier said than done. Lots of new challenges come with retirement, including making your retirement savings last. That's why successful retirees tend to have some smart habits they follow to make the most of their golden years.

1. They plan ahead financially

Financial planning is important at any age. Research has consistently found that it's helpful, including for retirees and soon-to-be retirees. Goldman Sachs reports that 78% of retired respondents with a financial plan when entering retirement were confident making the transition. Only 56% of those without a plan said the same.

A good place to start with financial planning is to figure out how much you can use each year from your retirement accounts. One popular rule of thumb is that you can safely withdraw up to 4% of your savings per year. Add any other expected sources of income, such as Social Security and a pension, to calculate your income.

Next, see if your expected income is enough to pay your bills and lead the lifestyle you want. If not, you'll need to find places to cut back.

Make sure you also budget for larger expenses you could have in the future. You may have expensive healthcare costs. Or you might decide you want to help your kids with a down payment on a home. Successful retirees plan for this ahead of time, so it doesn't take them by surprise later.

2. They lead a healthy lifestyle

You can't guarantee that you'll be healthy in retirement, but you can improve your odds. Researchers from Harvard University have found five key lifestyle factors that increase your chances of a longer, healthier life:

  • Healthy diet
  • Regular exercise (at least 30 minutes daily of moderate to vigorous activity)
  • Healthy weight
  • No smoking
  • Moderate alcohol intake (or none at all)

Older adults who followed these habits lived up to 14 years longer, compared to those who didn't. They also spent more years free of major diseases.

I've seen this with my own older relatives. The ones who eat well, make time for physical activity, don't smoke, and don't drink much alcohol have avoided preventable health issues. That makes retirement much more enjoyable -- and could help you save money on healthcare costs.

3. They stay out of debt

Debt is common in the United States. Average household debt was $104,215 last year. It often includes a mix of mortgage debt, auto loans, credit card debt, and those buy now, pay later plans that seem to be available everywhere.

Now, it's not necessarily a problem if you're still paying off your mortgage during retirement. Many retirees have a housing payment, and mortgages have low interest rates, especially if you get yours through one of the top mortgage lenders.

High-interest debt is a problem, especially credit card debt. Most credit cards currently charge interest rates above 20%, meaning a $5,000 balance can cost you over $1,000 per year in interest.

Successful retirees are careful about debt. They normally try to pay off most debt before they retire, so their income isn't eaten up by monthly payments. And they avoid taking on debt in retirement for that same reason.

4. They're purposeful about how they spend their money

By the time you retire, you may have spent decades saving money. It's a lifetime of work, and it's important to consider what you want to do with it.

Wes Scott, who conducted a study of over 1,350 retirees, found that the happiest figure out what they want to use their retirement money for. Based on his research, he recommends that retirees have at least three core pursuits that fulfill them.

Think about what you'd love to do in retirement and make it a financial priority. It can be anything you want: Spending a month in a new country every year, a new hobby, or a sport, to name just a few examples. By figuring this out, you can make sure you're using your money on what you want to do instead of wasting it.

Your retirement is largely what you make of it. If you do your best to practice the habits that have worked for other retirees, these could be some of the best years of your life.

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