What you really need in retirement: friends

By Walter Updegrave, senior editor


(Money Magazine) -- My wife is always chiding me that I spend too much time working and not enough keeping up with friends. "You'll be sorry when you retire and don't have anyone to do things with besides me," she warns. I hate to say it, but she's right. It's easy to assume retirement planning is all about the bucks, but nonfinancial issues matter too.

A Pew Research Center report shows friendships rank with sound health and finances as the factors most likely to boost happiness. The study found that retirees who are very satisfied with their number of friends were nearly three times more likely to be happy than those who are worried about relationships. A comparable gap exists between those who are very confident in their finances and those who aren't.

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Walter Updegrave is a senior editor with Money Magazine and is the author of "How to Retire Rich in a Totally Changed World: Why You're Not in Kansas Anymore" (Three Rivers Press 2005)

The fact is, as we age, our focus tends to shift from finances to finding meaning in our lives, according to research by the MetLife Mature Market Institute. "You begin to think about how much time you have left," says gerontologist Sandra Timmerman, "and you ask yourself, 'What's really important in life?'"

So what do we really find important? Social connections, for one. The Pew study found that another factor driving happiness is attendance at religious services. Retirees who attend some form of worship, even if only occasionally, are more content than those who seldom or never do. I bet this has as much to do with being part of a group with which you share time and values.

Invest in relationships

I'm not suggesting that you should address lifestyle issues with the same precision you do your finances by, say, allocating 40% of your time to health matters, 35% to friends, and 25% to spirituality. But it can help to approach nonfinancial matters in a somewhat similar manner.

For example, just as you should diversify your nest egg, you need to have a balanced approach when it comes to retirement readiness.

And just as it's important to visualize your retirement before you invest, you need to plan ahead for the role your friends will play in your post-career life. Start by taking stock of your social network. The Retirement Circles worksheet in the happiness section of retirementwellbeing.com can help you with that.

One way to expand your connections is by joining groups dedicated to causes you believe in, or by volunteering. Retirees who volunteer are about 15% more likely to be very satisfied than those who don't, according to Urban Institute research.

Whatever you do, think about more than your nest egg. It would be a shame to get that part right but still not enjoy your retirement.  To top of page

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