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Possibly the best lessons on what to do to ensure a happy retirement come from those who have got things right and are now enjoying the fruits of their good sense and wise planning.

Glacier by Sanlam’s recently released “Through the years” report is based on research it commissioned to understand better what makes a healthy and fulfilling retirement. 

The research focused on South Africans aged between 60 and 80 who had retired with a relatively comfortable monthly income. It drew on 74 responses to an online survey, from which 51 respondents had a follow-up in-depth interview. 

The results painted a positive picture of the proverbial golden years. Surfing, travelling, working for charities, studying and teaching, these retirees were living full, active lives, with financial planning having contributed significantly to their happiness.

Patrick Sheehy, the head of product management at Glacier by Sanlam, says the research revealed striking similarities in the retirees’ recipes for a happy retirement.

“The one big theme that came through was planning: planning financially (and saving for retirement as early as possible) and planning to ensure good medical treatment. But, interestingly, they all recommend planning for the ‘fun’ side of life too – having a plan for how you are going to fill your days, weeks and years to get the most of this special time.”

The four major common ingredients in the respondents’ recipes are:


1. Financial security

Money is only one ingredient of a happy retirement, but it’s an important one. About four-fifths (82%) of the respondents who felt reasonably comfortable that they had enough retirement savings had used a financial adviser. 

Of those who were unsure that their retirement savings would be sufficient, 75% had not used an adviser. 

Most of the retirees were concerned that the cost of living was rising, but their income was not. The impact of inflation, supporting relatives and minimal state support were all key concerns. None of them wanted to be a financial burden on their children, and a few were supporting their children and grandchildren. 

Those who had regrets usually lamented spending too lavishly and not saving enough when they were younger. 

Three-quarters (75%) of the respondents were aware that they needed to reinvest the lump sum they received on retiring. 

Almost all were aware of the need to continue planning and making wise decisions to ensure they were financially secure and could maintain their lifestyles for the rest of their lives.

Glacier by Sanlam offers the following tips for making your money last as long as you do:

• Draw up a retirement budget in collaboration with a financial adviser. This should include selecting investments that provide you with a sustainable income throughout retirement.

• Consider taking on part-time work or entering the “gig economy” to supplement your income.

• Diversify your investments and review them regularly to make sure your returns are on track – don’t leave anything to chance.

• Regularly review how you are spending your income, and ask your financial adviser to assist you in identifying and cutting out unnecessary expenses.

• If you are due a lump-sum payout from an investment or retirement fund, consider how you’ll reinvest it.

 

2. Good health

Staying in good physical and mental health is pivotal to enjoying retirement to the fullest. Almost all the retirees cited health as their primary concern. 

Gene Cohen, the director of George Washington University’s Center of Aging and author of The Mature Mind: The Positive Power of the Aging Brain, says that exercising the brain helps to form new connections necessary to ward off dementia. 

Additionally, it’s important to eat healthily and incorporate a daily exercise regime. Exercise also releases endorphins – known as “happy hormones”.

Glacier by Sanlam’s tips for staying in good health are:

• Make sure you’re financially prepared for every eventuality. Health curveballs can deplete your retirement savings, so ensure you’ve got medical scheme cover and dread disease cover in place.

• Think about the future and settle somewhere with care facilities close by.

• Stay busy. An idle body and mind can lead to depression and declining fitness. Draw up a daily schedule and try and stick to it. Find a stimulating activity that you enjoy, such as learning to play an instrument or reading.

• Avoid stress, which can damage your immune system.

 

3. Staying connected

One of the best parts of following a recipe is being able to share the result. All the retirees interviewed agreed that meaningful connections are crucial to a happy retirement. Many were active in the community as ward councillors, teachers, tutors, consultants, members of police forums and volunteers. 

Glacier by Sanlam offers the following five ways to stay connected:

• Teach, tutor or consult – try to actively share your skills;

• Get involved in the community through volunteering, or in more of an administrative role, such as a ward councillor;

• Join institutions such as the University of the Third Age to meet and mingle with like-minded people;

• Become a member of sports clubs or societies, according to your interests; and

• Spend regular quality time with those close to you, whether this be your partner, children and grandchildren or friends.

 

4. A positive outlook

To move forward and make the most of retirement, the retirees said they needed to come to terms with and accept the past, and adopt a positive approach to the future. All of the retirees recommended having a clear plan on how to fill the days – some even suggested drawing up a daily schedule.

And although they take great pleasure in seeing their children and grandchildren, time with loved ones is only one part of the day-to-day lives of today’s retirees – contrary to popular perception that retirees are sitting around waiting for the younger generations to take a break from their busy schedules and drop in.

Here are some of the other activities they prioritised:

• A daily surf (70-year-old woman);

• Founding a jazz band and music society (65-year-old man);

• Finishing a master’s degree in astrophysics (61-year-old man);

• Travelling to Mauritius and Morocco (60-to-80-year-olds); and

• Swimming in the Master’s Olympics (70-year-old woman).