Retirement. The very word typically inspires positive emotion and images of endless leisure. For some those feelings and visions actually resemble the realities of life after work; for many others, regardless of income, not so much.
Retirement is often equated with a new found feeling of freedom – freedom from the daily commute, freedom from daylight hours structured by someone else five or more days a week, and freedom from having to choose between work and family or any other activity deemed more rewarding.
Our vision of retirement is overwhelmingly framed as a time of endless play. Don’t believe me? Conduct an image search on the word ‘retirement.’
The top 24 images displayed on my search show 11 images of people sitting on a beach or near some other body of placid waters. Clearly water is a major part of older age. Three images suggest travel or some other leisure activity, such as walking. Four images indicate retirement as a decision crossroads, while another four show retirement as a celebrated life event. Interestingly, only two of the top 24 images in my search hint at issues of health or finance.
These images reflect and reinforce society’s dominant story of retirement and shape how we think and plan for retirement. What’s missing from these images, our imagination, and ultimately our retirement plans – how we might actually live on any given day.
A quick look at United States Bureau of Labor Statistics data gives us some insight into life in retirement. Let’s look at 2019 data. I think most of us can agree that the pandemic’s impact on 2020, 2021…and maybe even 2022 has been life interrupted at any life stage.
How do people in the early, typically more active, retirement years between ages 65 to 74-years old actually spend their time? Below are estimates of time spent (in hours) for selected primary activities. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, estimates will not sum to 24 hours because the following activities are not shown: Purchasing goods and services, caring for others not living in the household, educational activities, and organizational, community, and faith-based activities.
Estimates of Time Spent (in hours) for Selected Primary Activities for Adults Ages 65-74 Years Old, 2019.
- Personal Care Activities, 9.46 hours (e.g., sleeping, bathing, dressing, health-related self-care)
- Eating & Drinking, 1.20 hours
- Household Activities, 2.55 hours (e.g., housework, cooking, yardwork, pet care, vehicle maintenance, etc.)
- Caring for and Helping Household Members, 0.12 hours (e.g., caring for a child or adult including reading, playing, physical care, accessing medical care, assisting with paperwork, etc.)
- Working & Work-related Activities 0.86 hours
- Leisure & Sports, 6.89 hours (e.g., visiting with others in person, watching TV, reading, relaxing or thinking, playing board or outdoor games; surfing the Internet, and other leisure activities.)
- Telephone Calls, Mail & Email, 0.23 hours
- Travel, 1.06 hours
The two activities that fill the days of the average retiree ages 65 to 74-years old are personal care and leisure. Personal care includes sleeping, which we can assume is about seven to eight hours a day.
Most striking is the second activity, leisure. Rather than beach walks we find watching television occupying the majority of the day. In fact, according to the Nielsen Total Audience Report for the first quarter of 2020, before the pandemic shutdown, adults 65-years old and older spent an average of 7.14 hours per day watching television – nearly equal to the number of hours spent sleeping and leaving no time for much else.
We have a cognitive bias when we think back and when we think forward in time and about life events. We tend to focus on and recall peak events. College? You are likely to recall moving in, an epic party, a great concert, and graduation – somehow overlooking and forgetting early morning walks to class, cafeteria meals, a bad test, a good test, or doing the laundry. Likewise, when asked by a financial advisor or a partner to identify our goals in retirement – we aim high, for the peak events – our plans to travel, to spend time with grandchildren, or to move to a dream destination. Maybe even to a beach town.
For many people retirement will be a long time, decades in fact. Goal setting for retirement is critical, but can your plans for retirement answer, or at least inform, the following question?
Do you know what you will be doing on any given Tuesday?
Why Tuesday? Because it’s boring. It’s not a Thursday or Friday night when people are more likely to plan an activity with others. It is not the weekend when family, particularly grandchildren, might be available. It is just a day. Moreover, Tuesday afternoon, well after breakfast, a morning walk or workout, and after lunch is often a virtual social engagement and activity vacuum.
Can you fill it? Tuesday is a virtual stress test of your retirement goal-setting and planning of how you will actually live life after work – real life not the fabled life in our retirement imagination or popular imagery.
Your retirement plans should not just plan for the peaks, you should also plan for the Tuesdays. And, there are likely to be a lot of Tuesdays. In fact, statistically more than half of us will live past 85-years old. Assuming you retire at 65 years old, that is nearly 1,100-plus Tuesdays. Who knows, with any luck, maybe, just maybe, I will see you on the beach some Tuesday afternoon.