How to Retire Better, From Retirees Who Learned the Hard Way
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How to Retire Better, From Retirees Who Learned the Hard Way

Lessons from retirees on the biggest regrets of their postwork lives

By VERONICA DAGHER
Tue, Jul 4, 2023 8:05amGrey Clock 4 min

Thousands of Americans retire every day short on cash, friendships and plans.

Many retirees say they realised too late how they could have prepared for a more financially secure and rewarding postwork life. They would have focused on saving more money to cover the higher cost of living. Or they would have put more time into building relationships, taking better care of their health or cultivating new pursuits.

One reason retirement is so hard to prepare for is we often lack models of postwork life to emulate, retirees and financial advisers say. Though our culture is awash with images of professional success, we are a little hazier on what retirement success looks like and what it takes to achieve.

To sharpen that picture, we asked retirees about what they would do differently if given a second chance. Their regrets offer insights that can help people think and plan better at every life stage.

“Regret makes us feel bad, but it can help us do better,” said Daniel Pink, who researched people’s relationships to regret across a range of areas for his book “The Power of Regret.”

Here are three lessons retirees say they wish they had known sooner.

Investing for retirement means more than money

Jim Pilzner, a retired entrepreneur, regrets not setting goals for himself when he retired about four years ago. Now 78, he found there is only so much golf to play and only so many lunches to go to.

“I would counsel my younger self, and any other active, achieving person to recognise what drives them and what success really means,” said Pilzner.

He eventually figured out that the two things that motivated him most during his career—taking action and learning new things—were the same recipe he needed for retirement.

So this spring he enrolled at University of Nevada, Reno with two classes (earning a 4.0) and will be full-time in the fall. He is studying for a degree in political science and history.

Retirees frequently don’t realise how much their career provided a sense of identity and self-worth. Many fail to grasp the need to plan for a different source of purpose in retirement, said Betty Wang, a financial adviser in Denver.

People carefully plan how they will spend money in retirement but often give far less thought to how to spend their time.

Jay Holt, 74, regrets not retiring sooner. He planned to spend his postwork years playing polo. But in 2015, he fell while playing and had to give up the sport.

The resident of Cincinnatus, N.Y., who retired in 2013 at age 64, now wishes he had had a few more years in which to enjoy this activity.

Relationships are the key to retirement

The best predictor of longevity, health and happiness in later life is the quality of your relationships. That is the finding of the Harvard Study of Adult Development, which has followed families for decades.

Dan Roberts, 72, in Idyllwild, Calif., wishes he had kept up with former colleagues for personal and professional reasons.

Roberts retired about 18 months ago. Soon after, his son and his family, who were living just two hours away, moved to New Zealand.

Roberts and his wife, Robin Roberts, said only two visits a year are doable on their budget. He said he would have been able to afford more-frequent trips had he kept the door open to contract work by maintaining both his relationships with former colleagues and a project-management certification.

“We miss our grandchildren terribly,” his wife said.

David Edmisten, an adviser in Prescott, Ariz., said clients sometimes regret delaying retirement for this reason. The extra years working come at the cost of missing time with family and friends and postponing trips, he said.

“Some even had people close to them pass away and regret not being able to spend more time with their loved ones while they still could,” Edmisten said.

Retirement is longer than you think

Arthur Parmentier, 69, regrets retiring at 65, rather than working a few more years, partly because he missed out on a few more years of contributions to his retirement account.

The Providence, R.I., resident claimed Social Security at 65, accepting a lower monthly benefit than he would have received by waiting.

“Had I waited two more years or maybe three, I would have been quite comfortable, but right now, I’m living on Social Security and trying not to touch my IRA,” said Parmentier. “I think now that I may live well into my 80s, so I have to be prepared for that and make sure my IRA will last me throughout those years.”

The life expectancy for a 65-year-old is 84 for men and nearly 87 for women, according to projections by the Society of Actuaries based on 2019 data. Surveys suggest many Americans vastly underestimate those numbers. Of 1,500 adults ages 45 to 80 polled by the Society of Actuaries in 2015, 41% of pre retirees and 37% of retirees underestimated their life expectancy by five or more years, while 14% of pre retirees and 18% of retirees underestimated it by two to four years.

Social Security allows people to start their retirement benefits any time between ages 62 and 70, and increases the payment for every month of delay.

For many, the math favours starting at 70, when monthly benefits before cost-of-living adjustments are 76% higher than at 62, according to Laurence Kotlikoff, a Boston University economist.

A person who postpones benefits until age 70 instead of 62 would have to live to at least 80 to come out ahead, said Kotlikoff, founder of MaximizeMySocialSecurity.com, which advises people on claiming decisions.



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The CEOs of the ASX 200 were paid a little less in FY23 compared to the year before, but bonuses appear to have become the norm rather than a reward for outstanding results, according to the Australia Council of Superannuation Investors (ACSI). ACSI has released its 23rd annual report documenting the CEOs’ realised pay, which combines base salaries, bonuses and other incentives.

The highest-paid CEO among Australian-domiciled ASX 200 companies in FY23 was Greg Goodman of Goodman Group, with realised pay of $27.34 million. Goodman Group is the ASX 200’s largest real estate investment trust (REIT) with a global portfolio of $80.5 billion in assets. The highest-paid CEO among foreign-domiciled ASX 200 companies was Mick Farrell of ResMed with realised pay of $47.58 million. ResMed manufactures CPAP machines to treat sleep apnoea.

The realised pay for the CEOs of the largest 100 companies by market capitalisation fell marginally from a median of $3.93 million in FY22 to $3.87 million in FY23. This is the lowest median in the 10 years since ACSI began basing its report on realised pay data. The median realised pay for the CEOs of the next largest 100 companies also fell from $2.1million to $1.95 million.

However, 192 of the ASX 200 CEOs took home a bonus, and Ed John, ACSI’s executive manager of stewardship, is concerned that bonuses are becoming “a given”.

“At a time when companies are focused on productivity and performance, it is critical that bonuses are only paid for exceptional outcomes,” Mr John said. He added that boards should set performance thresholds for CEO bonuses at appropriate levels.

ACSI said the slightly lower median realised pay of ASX 200 CEOs indicated greater scrutiny from shareholders was having an impact. There was a record 41 strike votes against executive pay at ASX 300 annual general meetings (AGMs) in 2023. This indicated an increasing number of shareholders were feeling unhappy with the executive pay levels at the companies in which they were invested.

A strike vote means 25 percent or more of shareholders voted against a company’s remuneration report. If a second strike vote is recorded at the next AGM, shareholders can vote to force the directors to stand for re-election.

10 highest-paid ASX 200 CEOs in FY23

1. Mick Farrell, ResMed, $47.58 million*
2. Robert Thomson, News Corporation, $41.53 million*
3. Greg Goodman, Goodman Group, $27.34 million
4. Shemara Wikramanayake, Macquarie Group, $25.32 million
5. Mike Henry, BHP Group, $19.68 million
6. Matt Comyn, Commonwealth Bank, $10.52 million
7. Jakob Stausholm, Rio Tinto, $10.47 million
8. Rob Scott, Wesfarmers, $9.57 million
9. Ron Delia, Amcor, $9.33 million*
10. Colin Goldschmidt, Sonic Healthcare, $8.35 million

Source: ACSI. Foreign-domiciled ASX 200 companies*

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