How to be a Happy Retiree

People who feel more secure about their finances are more likely to be happy in retirement, a survey by Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance shows. If you don’t want to fall into the unhappy retiree camp, or even worse, not have retirement as an option, learn to avoid the pitfalls, and start saving today.

I’m really nervous about the financial picture for retirees in America. Look at these alarming numbers: One-third of workers have less than $1,000 saved for retirement, according to this year’s Retirement Confidence Survey by the Employee Benefits Research Institute. Three quarters of near retirees have only about $26,000 in their retirement account, a report by the Schwartz Center for Economic Policy says. Nearly one in 10 older Americans lives in poverty, and that rate only increases with age.

You can avoid that gloomy future, and retire happily and even early. If you are in your 40s or 50s, you still have plenty of runway left to get on the right track. Follow the steps of happy retirees that I uncovered through my 2013 National Money and Happiness Survey.

1. Clear your debts. Make a plan to pay off your mortgage as quickly and realistically as possible. Happy retirees typically have their mortgage paid off well before 65, while unhappy ones don’t.

2. Start saving early (or now). Many unhappy retirees delay saving any money until they hit 55, while some never start. A penny saved today is worth a lot more than a penny saved tomorrow.

3. Spend wisely. Happy retirees don’t necessarily own McMansions, so don’t feel like you need one, and spend a-third of your paycheck on mortgage. Instead, opt for a more reasonably priced home that requires less than 20% of your monthly income.

There are some other traits I find that happy retirees have. They tend to have more social hobbies, such as volunteering. They also have more children. Yes, kids might be expensive, but they keep you active and engaged. Divorcees have a higher propensity to be unhappy retirees. Divorce isn’t only a separation of two people, but also of your savings and income. One fun fact, BMW is the top-driven luxury car of unhappy retirees in my survey.

Take my Money and Happiness Quiz to quickly learn if you are likely to be a happy retiree. Being happy in retirement is not only about money, but you certainly don’t want to spend your golden years worrying about bills. Make a plan and start saving.

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Wes Moss, CFP, is the chief investment strategist for Capital Investment Advisors and a partner at Wela, both in Atlanta. He hosts “Money Matters,” a live financial advice show on Atlanta’s News 95-5 and AM 750 WSB Radio. In 2014 Barron’s Magazine named him as one of America’s top 1,200 Financial Advisors.  His newly released book, You Can Retire Sooner Than You Think published by McGraw Hill, is available on Amazon, iTunes and at your local bookstore.

Wes writes weekly about personal finance in the “Bargain Hunter Section” for AJC.com, the site of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Wes is also the editor and writer for About.com’s Personal Finance blog. Connect with Wes on Twitter at @WesMoss365 and on Facebook at Wes Moss Money Matters. You can also visit his website, WesMoss.com to learn more about Wes, and take his complimentary Money and Happiness Quiz.

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