Challenges to a successful retirement

Somewhere between 30 to 60 percent of Canadians approaching retirement to have some sort of a retirement plan depending on which study is quoted. This plan could be throwing some extra cash into an RRSP or TFSA, having an employer pension or a savings account that may not keep up with inflation even at these historically low rates. Having a retirement plan is very important and those who have them have more peace of mind than those who do not. However, a retirement plan alone does not begin to address the various aspects of a whole life retirement. The people I meet in my retirement workshops have shared many challenges to a successful retirement. They have told me about their bad experiences and lessons learned late. May their hindsight be your foresight.

Bad timing

About 40 percent of people do not control the timing of their retirement. Some people fall victim to a health crisis, an economic downturn, or unexpected downsizing. As a result, some retirees stress about not having extra insurance to cover any costs of the health problem, the nightmare of Employment Insurance (E.I.), a lack of savings or living paycheque to paycheque. Any of these issues can create a stressful beginning to retirement!

Sometimes a “Take This Job and Shove It” moment escalates into early and unplanned retirement. An emotional overreaction, conflict at work, or a bad day can suddenly become a whole new retirement reality with no financial or psychological preparation. This can be a dangerous shock and a big change to negotiate without some sources of support and a backup alternative. I have met many folks who have had to cash in savings, extend mortgages, or dig themselves a big debt hole at a very bad time to do so.

As one fellow told me, 57 is no age to get on your high horse and expect to ride into another good job the next day. As he put it, he did not realize he was up the creek of early retirement without a paddle for a while.

Lack of retirement vision

Just as a business needs a plan, retirement needs a vision. What is life going to look like for you and for your family? What assumptions are you making that may not be correct?

Related article: Building a retirement vision

If you google retirement planning, you will find pages of sites on financial planning but very few that deal with lifestyle or whole life planning. Developing an image of what retirement looks like for you involves way more than the financial aspect alone.

Figure out what your retirement paycheque will be and adjust your lifestyle accordingly or vice versa. That sounds simple and straightforward but few actually take the time to look at this and see how these two aspects will match.

Related article: Seven paycheques in retirement

Then figure out how to stay engaged, active, purposeful, healthy, and young at heart. Then get your ducks in a row for health care and fitness, insurance needs, an updated will, powers of attorney, estate planning, housing, travel, hobbies and interests, social support and connection, and have lots of reasons to get out of bed in the morning. Simple start, eh?

Retirement is not a distant Utopia or the rest of your life party or something that just sort of happens. It is real life that requires time, attention, some discipline, and vision to get the freedom and range of choices that you want.

Related article: What is retirement?

More to come

Other challenges of retirement have to do with social isolation, ruptured relationships, addictions, identity issues, and living the dream without a hold on reality, and believing in magic like the gold at the end of the casino rainbow. More about those next time.

What challenges have did you encounter along the yellow brick road of retirement?


  1. Mary

    enjoy all of your articles – much good food for thought! What do you think of International Living – magazine, website, lifestyle proposition, etc? I always thought I’d retire to be with friends in Spain – at 60ish…now in my 50’s I’ve realized that Now is The Time! So I’m off to live there. I hope to teach English (am studying and looking forward to it) but working part-time and then probably still retiring soon. I’m not sure if I can live on CPP from 60 to forever (I would like to live there most of the year/s). What do you think – is it possible to live a retirememt dream somewhere with a lower cost of living from say 50 to 95? Thanks, Mary

    • Donna McCaw

      I think going there and trying it out is a good start. Remember culture shock can happen. Also sort out health care, taxes, and other basics.
      All the best!

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