10 Biggest Retirement Surprises That Can Catch You Off Guard

Retirement is often full of surprises. Knowing what to expect can help you get the most out of post-work life.

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Updated July 18, 2024
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Many of us dream of the day we can finally stop working. But have you really thought about what your day-to-day retirement life is going to look like?

Before you hand in your resignation letter, know the 10 biggest retirement surprises that tend to catch people off-guard.

Understanding these realities might help you avoid wasting money or ending up bored during your golden years.

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You might have more downtime than planned

PhotoAlto/Adobe diverse middle-aged friends getting together for dinner

Endless days to do whatever you want sounds idyllic. You can go golfing, catch up on books, or have lunch with friends or family.

But then what? You may get bored with golfing every day or reading books all the time. It’s important to plan your retirement well and add a little variety to your day so you don’t get bored doing the same old thing for days and weeks on end.

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You might miss work

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Whether your job was rewarding, stressful, or both, chances are good that you looked forward to retiring and not having to deal with the day-to-day grind of the office.

But work also provides daily structure and allows you to interact with other people. When you retire, you might miss those things more than you expect.

Think about the aspects of work that you enjoy. To avoid boredom in retirement, you can search for activities that offer those things (without the constant grind that working brings).

Household chores can be overwhelming

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Retirement might be a great time to catch up on household chores. But even with all your extra time, completing all those tasks can feel overwhelming.

So, tackle projects one at a time and take them slowly. In most cases, there is no need to rush — you now have the time to work at your own pace.

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Health care costs might exceed your budget

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Health care costs can be expensive in retirement. Remember that you can’t enroll in Medicare until you’re 65 years old, so you’ll have to carry private insurance if you retire before that age.

And once you enroll in Medicare, you will still have many out-of-pocket costs to pay. For example, Original Medicare typically does not cover vision or dental services.

So, before you retire, make sure you have a plan to cover these costs as they arise.

Divorce is a possibility

Andrii Zastrozhnov/Adobe mature married couple in a quarrel

Life doesn’t always take the route you expect, and sometimes that includes how your marriage unfolds.

Divorce is a possibility during retirement. Perhaps your relationship has been in trouble for a while. Or you might just naturally drift apart during retirement.

In fact, divorce rates have been increasing for decades among those 50 and older.

A divorce after you retire can dramatically impact your retirement, from your finances to your emotional life. Splitting your assets means you might have only half the retirement assets you planned on. Meanwhile, you will be responsible for paying all costs yourself.

Hopefully, you will stay married. But be prepared for the possibility that life can take unexpected turns during your golden years.

You might underestimate the importance of Social Security

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Are you factoring Social Security into your retirement plan?

The size of your Social Security payment can vary depending on how much money you earned, how long you worked and other factors. The age you enroll in the program also plays a huge role in the size of your Social Security check.

Supplementing your Social Security income with savings and investments helps. But for many people, Social Security will have a major impact on the quality of their retirement.

You might spend a lot of time alone

DisobeyArt/Adobe senior woman cooking inside home kitchen

Retirement is likely to be an exciting new chapter in your life. But remember that not everyone is retiring at the same time you are.

If retirement plans include seeing more of your friends or family, remember that they might be busy with their jobs, taking care of their families, or other things.

And spending more time with your spouse is difficult if your partner doesn’t retire at the same time you do.

Relocation might not be in the cards

Алина Битта/Adobe senior good-looking grey haired woman

Many of us dream of retiring and moving somewhere warmer, or closer to family or friends. You also might plan to downsize or to try a different neighborhood.

But moving might not be as easy as you expect. Relocating to another place can be costly. Maybe the place you want to move to is more expensive than your current home, for example.

TV might become your best friend

Astarot/Adobe senior pensioner sitting at his cozy home

Seniors and retirees tend to spend a lot of time watching television. The notion of catching up on your favorite shows probably sounds exciting.

But turning a TV into your best friend during retirement might not be the best idea. Retirees can benefit from getting out of the house and interacting with others.

So, remember to make time to step away from the television from time to time.

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Investments might fluctuate in value

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If you invested during your working years, you probably got used to seeing the value of your 401(k) or an individual retirement account (IRA) fluctuate over the years. But unless you sell those investments, that volatility will likely continue during retirement.

Watching your investment portfolio decline during your working years is bad enough. But seeing the value of your investments shrink in retirement — when you no longer receive a steady paycheck — can be a lot scarier.

So, it might be time to consider dialing back on the risks you take in your portfolio during retirement. Or, maybe you can stay fully invested but find a legitimate way to make extra money so you will have a buffer should the stock market tank.

Bottom line

Rawpixel.com/Adobe senior man working

Many of us cannot wait for post-work life. Some workers are so anxious to get started that they plan to retire early.

But before you call it quits, make sure you know what to expect from retirement. Create a list of activities you want to try and consider ways to stay active in your local community.

If you plan your retirement in advance, you will be able to better enjoy all that post-work life has to offer.

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Jenny Cohen

Jenny Cohen is a freelance writer who has covered a bit of everything, from finance to sports to her favorite TV shows. Her work has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and FoxSports.com.