Retirement Myths and Realities

We all have some preconceived notions about what retirement will be like. But how do those notions compare with the reality of retirement? Here are four common retirement myths to consider.

1. My retirement won’t last that long

The good news is that we’re living longer lives. The bad news is that this generally translates into a longer period of time that you’ll need your retirement income to last. Life expectancy for individuals who reach age 65 has been steadily increasing. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, life expectancy for older individuals improved mainly in the latter half of the 20th century, due largely to advances in medicine, better access to health care, and healthier lifestyles. Someone reaching age 65 in 1950 could expect to live approximately 14 years longer (until about age 79), while the average 65-year-old American today can expect to live about another 19 years (to age 84) (Source: National Vital Statistics Report, Volume 61, Number 4, May 2013). So when considering how much retirement income you’ll need, it’s not unreasonable to plan for a retirement that will last for 25 years or more.

2. I’ll spend less money after I retire

Consider this–Do you spend more money on days you’re working or on days you’re not working? One of the biggest retirement planning mistakes you can make is to underestimate the amount you’ll spend in retirement. One often hears that you’ll need 70% to 80% of your preretirement income after you retire. However, depending on your lifestyle and individual circumstances, it’s not inconceivable that you may need to replace 100% or more of your preretirement income.

In order to estimate how much you’ll need to accumulate, you need to estimate the expenses you’re likely to incur in retirement. Do you intend to travel? Will your mortgage be paid off? Might you have significant health-care expenses not covered by insurance or Medicare? Try thinking about your current expenses and how they might change between now and the time you retire.

3. Medicare will pay all my medical bills

You may presume that when you reach age 65, Medicare will cover most health-care costs. But Medicare doesn’t cover everything. Examples of services generally not covered by traditional Medicare include most chiropractic, dental, and vision care. And don’t forget the cost of long-term care–Medicare doesn’t pay for custodial (nonskilled) long-term care services, and Medicaid pays only if you and your spouse meet certain income and asset criteria. Without proper planning, health-care costs can sap retirement income in a hurry, leaving you financially strapped.

Plus there’s the cost of the Medicare coverage itself. While Medicare Part A (hospital insurance) is free for most Americans, you’ll pay at least $104.90 each month in 2014 if you choose Medicare Part B (medical insurance), plus an average of $31 per month if you also want Medicare Part D (prescription coverage). In addition, there are co-pays and deductibles to consider–unless you pay an additional premium for a Medigap policy that covers all or some of those out-of-pocket expenses. (As an alternative to traditional Medicare, you can enroll in a Medicare Advantage (Part C) managed care plan; costs and coverages vary.)

4. I’ll use my newfound leisure hours to ______ (fill in the blank)

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics 2012 American Time Use Survey, retirees age 65 and older spent an average of 8 hours per day in leisure activities. (Leisure activities include sports, reading, watching television, socializing, relaxing and thinking, playing cards, using the computer, and attending arts, entertainment, and cultural events.) This compares to an average of 5.4 hours per day for those age 65 and older who were still working.

So how did retirees use their additional 2.6 hours of leisure time? Well, they spent most of it (1.6 hours) watching television. In fact, according to the survey, retirees actually spent 4.5 of their total 8 leisure hours per day watching TV.

And despite the fact that many workers cite a desire to travel when they retire, retirees actually spent only 18 more minutes, on average, per day than their working counterparts engaged in “other leisure activities,” which includes travel.