I just returned from an AARP convention and I learned a lot from the speakers and seminars. But my fellow conventioneers—many of whom are already retired—were also excellent sources of information. There is no better way to learn about retirement living and planning than from folks who can honestly say “been there, done that”. Here are some questions you should have ready when an opportunity to dialog with an experienced retiree presents itself.
1. Which expenses increased and decreased when you retired? Part of retirement planning is estimating how much income you will need to live on. Some of the expenses you have now will decrease or disappear when you retire, such as retirement savings contributions and life insurance. Other expenses will likely increase, such as health care. There may also be other spending changes you haven’t considered. An experienced retiree will know better than you what those are.
2. What was the smartest thing you did to prepare to retire? We can’t really be sure what retirement planning steps work best until we try them. Try to learn from those who have already tested them.
3. What was the dumbest thing you did (or did not do) in your retirement planning? Learning from the mistakes of others is painless. Start your education now, before you retire.
4. What non-financial aspect of retirement living surprised you the most? Enjoying retirement is about more than money. Many people are surprised by what they learn about themselves when work is not part of a daily routine. Ask others what life in retirement is like and prepare yourself in advance.
5. If you could change one thing about your retired life, what would that be? This is the type of question that can generate a wide variety of responses, all of which can be informative and thought-provoking to someone who is close to retirement.
6. Do you believe you retired too early or too late and, if so, why? Many of us struggle with the decision of when to retire. The date you retire is sometimes dictated by health or finances. If not, what are the factors that retirees considered in deciding when to exit the workforce and how did that work out for them?
7. What advice would you give a pre-retiree about preparing for retirement? Utilize the wisdom and experience that existing retirees have already acquired. Write these answers down.
Most retirees are happy to talk about their experiences and are not shy about expressing opinions. I encourage you to seek out and discover what retirees have to say.
Mark Patterson is an engineer, patent attorney, baby boomer, and author of The Failsafe Retirement System. He blogs on matters of personal finance and retirement planning at Tough Money Love and Go To Retirement.