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Downsize Your Life at Retirement


When you retire, your life will be different, you won't have the same needs. So it's essential to make adjustments so you can get the most out of your life.

For many people, retirement is the Promised Land. It’s a time they always dreamed of when they no longer have to work and will finally have time to do as they please. To reach their goal, they played by the book: they saved, invested, and built up nice retirement funds. Now, after years of putting their families first, they get to focus on themselves and do what they want. Or so they think.

Retirees often struggle because retirement can be a dramatic change. It’s not just trading a career for a life of leisure, action for inaction, and large paychecks for smaller dividends. It can involve less excitement, responsibilities, challenges, growth, and prestige. All of a sudden, you’re not so busy or constantly making important decisions. You’re no longer in the center of all the action, but on the sidelines, out of the game. You’re not surrounded by dynamic, stimulating people who you like and admire and not doing what you are so expert at.

To ease the transition, many people try to keep other aspects of their lives at the same level they enjoyed when they were working and their incomes were at their peaks. To fill the gaps, they try to live full, wonderful lives by remaining active, eating well, taking courses, entertaining, and traveling.

When you retire, your life will be different, you won’t have the same needs. So it’s essential to make adjustments so you can get the most out of your life. Since your income will be reduced, downsize the parts of your life that you no longer need. Downsizing will save you money, time, and aggravation.

The most important item to downsize is your home, because in retirement, housing expenses are usually the largest item in your budget. When you retire, your choice of housing will determine your lifestyle. The lower your housing costs, the more money you will have available for other things.

Most retirees don’t need to live in big houses with lots of rooms; it can be an expensive luxury. The bigger the home, the more it costs to maintain. Plus, it takes much more work, which many retirees can no longer do. In addition to larger mortgage payments or rents, bigger homes usually have higher property taxes, insurance premiums, maintenance, and utility costs.

The money for those additional costs could be used to improve your lifestyle during your retirement years.

Although downsizing their homes will improve their financial health, many retirees can’t make the move. They’re comfortable in their homes and may have strong emotional ties and wonderful memories. For years, their home was the center of their lives, the nest where they raised their family and the scene of many memorable events. They know all their neighbors and consider them friends.

Many retirees spent years improving their homes and making them exactly the way they wanted. They landscaped, planted trees, and added extra rooms. Frequently, they did a lot of the work themselves. Now that their homes are finally completed, they don’t want to leave. Many feel deeply rooted and too old to move. So they stay put.

Unfortunately, many retirees are trapped in their expensive homes. After they pay their living expenses, they have no money left to enjoy anything else in their lives.

If retirees downsize by selling their homes and buying or renting smaller, less expensive ones, it can free substantial amounts of money that they can invest to generate income. Since many have lived in their homes for years, they have built up a lot of equity that can be earning money for them.

When my father retired, my parents had the choice to continue living in the family home or moving to a smaller residence. Had they stayed in their house, virtually all of their income would have been spent paying for and maintaining their home. It would have cut down on what they could do and they would never have been able to travel or expand their lives.

After we sat down and discussed their situation, my parents sold their house, took the proceeds and used it to buy a smaller home in a retirement community. By downsizing, they eliminated their mortgage and home equity loan payments. Although they pay a small maintenance fee, their taxes, insurance and utilities are considerably less. The money they saved can now be used to improve the quality of their lives in their retirement years.

When my parents moved, they became less isolated. At their retirement community, they take part in numerous cost-free activities and have made many new friends. Many of the new friends have backgrounds, careers, and interests that fascinate my folks.

Since their new friends are also retired, they understand each other’s financial situations. They socialize a lot, but not lavishly. They also participate in many activities together, which keeps their costs down. Living in their new community also enables them to live a comfortable lifestyle and to be more financially secure.

In retirement, you don’t want to have debt payments, and if you do, you want them to be as small as possible. It is ideal to eliminate all of your debt.

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Victor J. Dzau, MD, gives expert advice
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