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Saving well gets you roughly 50 per cent of the way to a happy retirement.

The rest is about how you prepare for the social side of retirement by disentangling yourself from work and building connections to family and community.

A recent survey in the Carrick on Money newsletter asked retired readers about their biggest retirement successes and regrets. The 2,175 responses tell us that money doesn’t buy retirement happiness. Think of it more like a down payment.

Asked what they consider to be their biggest success in retirement, close to half of survey participants had a money-related answer. Just over 42 per cent said their top success was having enough money to live the lifestyle they wanted, 4.6 per cent said it was getting financial planning help to turn their savings into income and 1.4 per cent cited their choice of when to start Canada Pension Plan and/or Old Age Security benefits.

One in four survey participants said their biggest retirement success was finding a day-to-day freedom they didn’t have while working, while another 16 per cent chose either connecting with friends, family and community or tending to their health. Almost 6 per cent said their biggest retirement success was finding satisfying postretirement work.

This 50-50 balance between money and non-financial factors shifts when people talk of their regrets. Money retreats to the background, while social factors take over. Pay close attention if career comes first in your life.

One in five people who shared their regrets felt they did not work hard enough on their connections with friends, family and community, while a little over one in 10 regretted not thinking more about how they would fill their days when retired. Some sample comments about biggest regrets connected to work:

  • “Not focusing on my personal health when younger and using my busy job as an excuse”
  • “Not being able (as of yet) to clear my mind of the stress created by my working years.”
  • “Worked hard and many hours at being successful at work not enough about things for myself”
  • “Not planning enough for life before retirement because work was so busy and sucked all my energy”
  • “Not being intentional about my retirement life, i.e. only thinking in terms of retirement meaning I don’t have to go to work any more”

Money-wise, just 5 per cent said their biggest regret was not saving enough, and another 5 per cent said they regretted spending so much in retirement that they’re worrying about running out of money. One participant’s reflection: “I’d be more comfortable with 20 per cent more.”

Specific money-related worries were reflected in the comments, notably covering disappointing investment advice or choices of investments. One participant said his greatest regret was staying with an adviser too long. “He charged a 2.34 per cent management expense ratio for below-average results and zero advice. Finally got my wife to agree on firing that grifter.”

One more regret expressed by a couple of survey participants was that their adult children weren’t more financially literate.

The survey responses highlight the need to have a two-pronged retirement plan that covers both the financial and social side of retirement. There’s also a clear lesson on the need to check in on your retirement plans periodically before retirement and make any required adjustments. Let’s say at ages 50, 55 and 60, at least.

Check the adequacy of your savings by consulting a financial planner or using a DIY tool such as the federal government’s Canadian Retirement Income Calculator. Remember that in the survey, the most often-mentioned success was saving enough.

Something else to look into during your preretirement checks is your readiness for the social side of life after work. If you’re too busy to stay in touch with your friends, to keep family close and enjoy hobbies and develop new interests, expect to feel some disconnection in retirement.

Your goal in checking your retirement plan from time to time is to end up like the survey participant who left this comment: “As of today, blissfully retired and no regrets.”

Are you a young Canadian with money on your mind? To set yourself up for success and steer clear of costly mistakes, listen to our award-winning Stress Test podcast.

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