The Downsides of Retirement That Nobody Talks About

shapecharge / Getty Images

The realities you face when you stop working might be a far cry from your retirement dream. Of course, retiring broke or not being able to retire at all are among the worst-case scenarios.

See: States Where Your Retirement Will Cost Less Than $45,000 a Year
Read More: Jaw-Dropping Stats About the State of Retirement in America

But there are plenty of other snags you might encounter. If you haven’t properly prepared for leaving the working world and living without a paycheck, you’ll have to face the ugly truths about retirement. Find out more about these 14 downsides of retiring that no one talks about, along with solutions to avoid each potential problem.

Last updated: April 19, 2021
shironosov / iStock.com

Your Net Worth Becomes Meaningless When You Retire

You might have diligently been setting aside money for the future and have a big nest egg now. But even $1 million might not last long in retirement if you live in a state where the cost of living is high.

Unfortunately, when people set retirement savings goals, they often do so without actually knowing how much they’ll need each month to cover expenses in retirement, said Niles Geary, co-founder and CEO of Voyage Partners, a financial planning firm in Johnson City, Tennessee. Only 38% of workers have estimated how much income they would need each month in retirement, according to a survey by the Employee Benefit Research Institute and Greenwald & Associates. “Your net worth becomes meaningless when you retire,” Geary said. “The only thing that matters is how much income your net worth produces.”

See: 27 Ugly Truths About Retirement

Retire Comfortably
boggy22 / Getty Images/iStockphoto

Solution: Create an Income Plan

For starters, don’t assume that you’ll spend a lot less in retirement. Most retirees spend between 80% and 90% of what they were spending during the year before they retired, Geary said. So your savings need to be able to generate enough monthly income to sustain your current spending habits.

If you’re already retired and didn’t calculate how much income you would need to cover monthly expenses, you might have to make adjustments in your spending. Geary recommends distinguishing your needs from your wants and calculating how much you need to get by each month versus what you’re also spending on wants.“That gap has gotten pretty big,” he said. Eliminating many of your wants might help you make your retirement savings last longer.

gilaxia / Getty Images/iStockphoto

Taxes Can Take a Big Bite Out of Retirement Income

Another big problem retirees face is a larger-than-expected tax bill on their retirement income. “Everyone thinks their tax rate will go down when they’re retired,” Geary said. “That’s a misconception.”

If you’ve saved most of your money in a tax-deferred retirement account such as a 401(k), you will have to pay taxes on your withdrawals at your regular income-tax rate. So if you need, say, $50,000 a year to cover expenses, you’ll have to withdraw even more than that to cover taxes.

The Future: A Troubling Look at the State of Retirement in 2021

Retire Comfortably

Solution: Create Tax-Free Sources of Income

You need to have savings that you can access tax-free to reduce your tax bill and keep more of your money. You can do this by saving in a Roth IRA or Roth 401(k) because you can withdraw money from accounts tax-free in retirement. “Ask your employer if you have a Roth option,” Geary said. “Most of the time, the answer is yes." If not, ask your employer to add a Roth 401(k) to your account options.

Funding a permanent life insurance policy also can provide a source of tax-free income in retirement because you can borrow from the cash value of your policy. Talking to a financial planner can help you decide if this is a good retirement savings strategy for you.

Find Out: 50 Things Every 50-Something Should Know About Retirement

PredragImages / Getty Images/iStockphoto

Inflation Can Impact Your Retirement Income Needs

As you calculate your retirement income needs, you'll need to take inflation into account.

“It's important to understand that the effects can be stealth. Inflation affects our purchasing power,” said Marguerita Cheng, CEO of Blue Ocean Global Wealth, a financial planning firm in Gaithersburg, Maryland. If you want to maintain your current standard of living in retirement, count on spending more over the years as the cost of living rises.

Retire Comfortably
jakkapan / Shutterstock.com

Solution: Invest In Equities

Over the past several years the annual inflation rate in the U.S. has hovered around 2%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. If you don’t want your purchasing power to be eroded by inflation, invest in assets with a higher rate of return to avoid running out of money in retirement.

“The solution is to include equities in your investment mix,” Cheng said. Because you will need your savings to continue to grow while in retirement, you should keep stocks or stock mutual funds in your portfolio even after you retire.

PeopleImages / Getty Images

You Might Outlive Your Savings

When asked, most people would likely say they want to live a long, healthy life. But this can be a downside to retirement for those without adequate savings.

The average life expectancy in the U.S. is 78.6 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, about 1 in 4 65-year-olds today will live past age 90, according to the Social Security Administration. That means some people could spend decades in retirement.

Watch Out: 14 Key Signs You Will Run Out of Money in Retirement

Retire Comfortably
Monkey Business Images / Shutterstock.com

Solution: Plan For a Long Retirement

It’s impossible to predict the future. But the Social Security Administration does have a life expectancy calculator that will show you the average number of years you can expect to live based on your gender and date of birth. You can use this figure as a starting point when calculating how long your retirement savings need to last.

To be safe, though, your plan needs to provide you with enough income to meet your needs for potentially 30-plus years, Geary said. If you’re not on track to have enough savings, you might need to delay retirement.

Get Ready: Here’s Exactly How Much Savings You Need To Retire In Your State

Rob Marmion / Shutterstock.com

Long-Term Care Costs Could Wipe Out Your Savings

Even if your nest egg is large enough that you won’t outlive your savings, you still could run out of money if you don’t have a plan to cover long-term care costs, Geary said. If you reach age 65, there’s about a 50-50 chance you will need some sort of long-term care, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. This sort of care isn’t cheap.

The median annual cost of an assisted living facility is $48,612, and the median annual cost of a private nursing home room is $102,200, according to the Genworth Cost of Care Survey. “You could easily burn through $1 million taking care of one person,” Geary said.


Retire Comfortably
Monkey Business Images / Shutterstock.com

Solution: Get Long-Term Care Coverage

Don’t expect to cover long-term care costs with health insurance or Medicare. These provide only limited coverage for specific types of long-term care, according to the Administration on Community Living. And you likely won’t have enough money to self-fund your care, Geary said.

That’s why you should consider a long-term care insurance policy. If you don’t like the idea of paying for insurance you may never use, you could get a life insurance policy that provides a long-term-care benefit. You can save money on premiums and reduce your risk of being denied coverage if you apply for a policy before age 50, Geary said.

Diego Cervo / Shutterstock.com

You Might Not Be Prepared For High Healthcare Costs

If you aren’t prepared to cover healthcare costs in retirement, you could be in for a shock. Fidelity Investments estimates that a 65-year-old couple that retired in 2019 would need $285,000 to cover medical expenses in retirement. That doesn’t even include long-term care costs.

If you haven’t factored healthcare costs into your retirement savings and spending calculations, you might have trouble paying for medical care in retirement.

Retire Comfortably
ferrantraite / Getty Images

Solution: Reduce Costs and Build Health Savings

There are several steps to deal with rising healthcare costs in retirement. You might benefit from working longer to continue receiving subsidized health insurance from your employer. Also, you can contribute to health savings account while you work if you have a high-deductible health plan. You can withdraw HSA funds in retirement tax-free for qualified medical expenses.

Opt to have any significant medical procedures you know you will need while still employed to optimize the use of your health coverage, said Laurie Kane Burkhardt, a certified financial planner with Modera Wealth Management in Boston. “Consult with health insurance experts to evaluate your choices for post-retirement insurance coverage and ensure that you select the best coverage for you,” she said.

Eva-Katalin / Getty Images

Living On Social Security Alone Will Be Challenging

The average monthly Social Security retirement benefit in 2021 will be $1,543, according to the latest figures from the Social Security Administration. That’s only $18,516 a year. “If Social Security is all you have, you will find out very quickly you do not have enough money to meet your needs,” Geary said.

He said there are people in Johnson City, Tennessee, where he lives, who are trying to get by on Social Security alone and have to make a decision each month whether to buy their medication or food. “It’s a very scary and sad place to be,” he said.

Reality: How Long $1 Million in Savings Will Last in Every State

wundervisuals / Getty Images

Solution: Maximize Social Security Benefits

Of course, if you want to avoid retiring on Social Security alone, you’ll have to build savings while you’re working. If you can’t amass that big of a nest egg, make sure you don’t start collecting Social Security early at age 62. If you do that, your benefits could be permanently reduced by as much as 30%.

You can maximize your Social Security income by waiting to claim benefits until after your full retirement age. If you wait until age 70, the maximum benefit currently is $3,895 per month, which is almost $1,000 more than the maximum benefit for someone claiming benefits at the full retirement age of 66.

Tom Merton / Getty Images

You Might Become Bored

Brett Anderson, president of St. Croix Advisors in Woodbury, Minnesota, and New Richmond, Wisconsin, said he often hears retirees complain about boredom. “They used to work five days a week, eight to 12 hours a day, and only had 52 Saturdays a year,” he said. “Once retired, now they have 365 Saturdays, and not everyone can golf seven days a week."

Getting your financial house in order before retirement is important. “But don't overlook how you'll stay relevant or spend your time being impactful in your golden years,” Anderson said.

courtneyk / Getty Images

Solution: Create a Bucket List

If you don’t plan what you will do with your extra time in retirement, you could become depressed and may end up spending more than you planned in an attempt to fill your time, said Byrke Sestok, a certified financial planner professional at Rightirement Wealth Partners in Harrison, New York.

To prevent boredom in retirement, Sestok recommends making a bucket list of all the things you wanted to do while working but never did. They can include volunteering, exercising more, learning a new skill or language or developing a hobby. “This is the time to pursue those activities, and jumping right into the retirement mindset is likely to provide satisfaction,” he said.


You May Have To Keep Working

You might have to go back to work after you retire for a variety of reasons -- or stop working later than you had planned.

There’s a higher percentage of older workers in the workforce now than in previous generations. In 1985, the number of retirement-age workers was only about 10%; in 2019, that number had doubled to 20%, Bloomberg reported.

dusanpetkovic / Getty Images/iStockphoto

Solution: Find Work You Enjoy

You shouldn’t necessarily view working in retirement as a bad thing. In addition to the financial benefits, working can help ward off boredom. “There is a sense of fulfillment in work. It keeps us busy and also provides us with a sense of purpose,” said Alexander Rupert, a senior associate at Sequoia Financial Group.

You don’t have to continue working in the job or field you left. There are senior-friendly jobs that are perfect for retirement and might offer the chance to explore other interests you have. And many retirees are finding a niche in the gig economy, Rupert said. “Working in the gig economy entails setting your own hours, only working as often as you like and earning as much as you're willing to work -- the flexibility that many retirees seek while still getting a sense of fulfillment and earning a little extra cash,” he said.

wavebreakmedia / Shutterstock.com

You Might Have To Move In With Your Kids

An overwhelming majority of parents don’t expect any financial support from their children in retirement, according to a recent GOBankingRates survey. But that doesn’t mean they won’t end up turning to them for help.

In fact, the percentage of older adults living with children has increased in recent years, according to the Center for Retirement Research. Those who move in with their kids are usually forced to do so because of economic distress.

annebaek / Getty Images

Solution: Make Your Retirement Savings a Priority

If you don’t want your kids to support you in retirement, one thing you can do is stop giving them financial handouts. A 2017 survey by TD Ameritrade found that baby boomers are losing $11,011 a year to their millennial children because they’re helping support them financially. That’s money boomers could be stashing in savings to improve their chances of not having to rely on their kids for help in retirement.

Uwe Bauch / iStock.com

You May Feel Guilty About Spending Your Savings

If you’ve spent years pinching pennies so you can build your nest egg, you might be ready to retire to enjoy the fruits of your labor. But you could find that breaking out of your frugal mindset is difficult because you’ve developed an addiction to saving money.

“People who have done an excellent job of saving for retirement often have a difficult time spending the money they accumulated because spending does not feel natural,” Sestok said.


PeopleImages / Getty Images

Solution: Create a Budget

To avoid feeling guilty about spending your retirement savings, Byrke recommends developing a minimum and maximum budget based upon assets and retirement income sources. Then set a monthly spending goal.

“It seems odd that this is a problem when Americans, in general, are unprepared for retirement,” he said. But people who have a fear of spending their savings can miss out on life goals and enjoyment if they don’t make an effort to use their money.

Good Tips: 42 Easy Ways To Save For Retirement

gpointstudio / iStock.com

You May Be Forced To Withdraw Retirement Money You Don’t Need

If you have saved in a retirement account such as a 401(k), IRA or SEP-IRA, you are required to start taking minimum withdrawals the year you turn 70 1/2. You have to withdraw a certain amount even if you don’t need the money.

“I have many clients who will say, 'I don’t need to take this much out,’” Geary said. But if you don’t, you’ll have to pay a tax penalty equal to 50% of the amount you should’ve withdrawn.

wundervisuals / Getty Images

Solution: Don’t Stash All of Your Savings in a 401(k)

The best way to avoid having to take required minimum distributions that you don’t need is to save in different types of accounts rather than just a 401(k) or IRA, Geary said. For example, you could stash some of your savings in a Roth IRA, which isn’t subject to required minimum distributions. If you have a Roth 401(k), you could convert it to a Roth IRA when you retire, Geary said.

iofoto / Shutterstock.com

Moving Might Be a Bad Idea

Selling your home and relocating to a cheaper locale might seem like a smart financial move in retirement. “A lot of retirees immediately decide to move away and start over,” said Leon C. LaBrecque, chief growth officer at Sequoia Financial Group. But moving in retirement can backfire.

LaBrecque said he has a retired client who has moved five times in 10 years. They kept relocating until they found their ideal spot. “It’s a waste of money and energy,” he said.

Image Source / Getty Images/Vetta

Solution: Test Out New Locales First

Before packing your belongings and putting your home on the market, LaBrecque recommends renting in the place you’re considering for a couple of months. If you find that city or lifestyle isn’t right for you, you can return home without the hassle.

kali9 / Getty Images

Keeping Up With Your Friends May Be Harder

You might have more time to hang out with your friends in retirement. But once you start socializing more frequently and planning activities together, problems might arise.

“You may have had a similar career as your best buddy, but if he or she saved better than you, your retirement lifestyles may not match up,” said Kristi Sullivan, owner of Sullivan Financial Planning in Denver.

AleksandarNakic / Getty Images

Solution: Make Sure You’re Setting the Budget

To avoid having to feel like you must keep up with your friends, “be the one who suggests activities first and keep them within your budget,” Sullivan said. And don’t be afraid to decline invitations to outings that would break your budget. “If you can't afford the round-the-world cruise, don't go,” she said.

More From GOBankingRates

Gabrielle Olya contributed to the reporting for this article.