Today we continue our coverage of the great retirement book What the Happiest Retirees Know: 10 Habits for a Healthy, Secure, and Joyful Life. It is packed full of solid information and statistics about the state of retirement today.
If you’ve missed any posts in this series, there are two ways to catch up. You can begin with the first post, which is an introduction to the book, and click through to the next posts at the end of each one you read. Or you can check out my retirement category and scroll through the posts there.
Note, in this book the author frequently uses HROBs for “Happiest Retirees on the Block” and UROBs for “Unhappiest Retirees on the Block.” So if you see these acronyms below, you’ll now know what they mean. 😉
Like with other books I’ve reviewed on ESI Money, I will share some key passages from this one and give my thoughts on their conclusions.
Let’s get started…
HROBs Don’t Support Adult Kids
We start today with what the book calls “the habit at the heart of this chapter (5)” as follows:
HROBs don’t need to support their adult children financially, and their adult children are not still living at home.
Personally, I believe this is the biggest retirement problem no one talks about: when kids are still on the payroll. It happens when retirees are still bankrolling the financial immaturity of kids in their twenties, thirties, or forties — and it happens far more often than you’d think.
We’ll get into this in detail as this chapter progresses.
For now, here are the five family habits of the happiest retirees:
- On average, happy retirees have 2.5 kids. Unhappy retirees have 0.5 kids. Having half a kid may sound straight out of the Old Testament, but I promise there’s a way to interpret this data in a positive way.
- Keep your kids off the payroll. At the very least, give them a pay cut. They need to be financially independent of you, and vice versa.
- Kids should get married and get out. Retirees are twice as likely to be unhappy if their adult children are not married. Retirees are also twice as likely to be unhappy if their adult children still live at home.
- Live near at least 50 percent of your kids. Your kids shouldn’t live with you — but at least half of them should live near you. Retirees who live “near or close” to at least half of their children are five times more likely to be happy.
- Overeducating your kids is overrated. We want our kids to be educated, but at a certain point, it starts to take a toll on happiness. There’s an interesting trail-off in retirement happiness once the adult children begin to pile on multiple degrees.
And then the book wraps all these up with this:
If I could boil them down to one essential piece of wisdom, it would be this: when it comes to family, the key is finding the balance between connection and freedom.
Spoiler alert: the big lesson of this chapter isn’t much of a secret. The goal is to raise a close-knit but independent family.
Some thoughts from me:
- The book says that somewhere between two and three kids is the happiness zone. We have two, so I guess we barely made the cut off. Hahaha. It’s interesting to me that the author has four kids. He’s already doomed his retirement! LOL!
- Think about this: most Americans can’t afford retirement as it is. Now add in several hundred dollars a month required to support a kid or two and you can see why those who fork over a good amount of money to their grown kids have unhappy retirements (if they can retire at all).
- When I see an issue stressed as being vital in two money books I respect, I pay attention. Anyone remember what the other one was that talked about payments to kids? None other than The Millionaire Next Door. That book has seven common denominators among those who successfully build wealth. Number 5 is “Their adult children are economically self-sufficient.” So keeping your kids on the payroll into adulthood can not only make for an unhappy retirement — it can keep you from becoming wealthy.
- We have one married child and one not yet married…so we’re 50/50 at this point.
- Both of our kids live in Colorado Springs and we see them frequently. They also take vacations with us generally (at least the big vacations).
- Our kids had a given amount for college (which included grad school) and they knew this well in advance. We told them what they had and allowed them to keep what they didn’t spend (as long as they got a degree) with our college incentive (my son didn’t take it but my daughter made a good amount off the deal). FYI, I paid for my own undergraduate and grad degrees.
Those are what the book calls “family” habits.
Next we move to the “love” habits — those related to marriage…
Love Habits of the Happiest Retirees
The book summarizes the love habits of the happiest retirees as follows:
- If retirees are not married, they are 4.5 times more likely to be unhappy. That’s a pretty big variant, proving there’s a significant link between marriage and happiness.
- When it comes to marriage, one do-over is just fine. Turns out you can get divorced without negatively impacting your retirement happiness — but only once. Everybody gets one marriage mulligan if you need it.
- Happy retirees discuss — but don’t obsess over — money. Money is often cited as one of the top reasons people get divorced. The trick is to strike a healthy balance between keeping the financial conversation open, but not so open that it swallows you whole.
- The marriage timeline can be a great guide to the peaks and valleys of marital bliss. This can be comforting when you’re at a less-than-happy part of the curve. Like the stock market, if you just stick it out a little longer, you’ll catch the next updraft.
- Happy retirees make time for sex. It’s no secret that no sex is a quick path to frustration. And although HROBs don’t necessarily report sex like newlyweds, having sex at least at least once a month is a good baseline; otherwise levels of unhappiness begin to rise. If activity rises to several times a week, you’re twice as likely to be an HROB. So get busy!
- You can still be a happy retiree if you’re single. It’s statistically harder, but it can be done. If you’re a party of one, it is essential that you are very intentional about your support networks, staying active, connected, and socially engaged with your family of choice.
Some thoughts from me:
- I wonder about the “why” behind being married and having a happy retirement. Is it because it provides a built-in social connection (which is needed for a great retirement) or something else? The fact that the difference is 4.5 times is a pretty big gap between married and unmarried.
- I’m not sure if I’d remarry if something happened to my wife. I’m a loner by nature and she’s one-of-a-kind, so it would be hard to find someone else. If I pass first my bet is that my wife would remarry. She’s a social person and being married seems to be in her nature. 🙂
- We have never had a fight over money that I can remember. We have discussions over what to do or not to do with our finances (which is usually my wife wanting us to give even more and me saying we already give a ton), but not fights. This is a HUGE benefit to having great finances — what’s there to fight over? It’s going well, so there are no issues.
- Anyone who has been married for any amount of time knows there are up seasons and down seasons. There’s good and bad, but if you work together and stick with it, the good will outweigh the bad.
Next we move to one of those “tough” topics you can’t discuss…no, not politics but the other one…
Faith Habits of the Happiest Retirees
The book now moves to the faith habits of the happiest retirees and begins with this “disclaimer”:
As your favorite research guy, let me reassure you that there’s no data on which religion produces the happiest retirees. But I will say there seems to be a connection between having faith, giving back, and being happy.
Then it shares the following three findings regarding faith habits of the HROBs:
- The happiest retirees attend church on average once a week. They’re 1.5 times more likely to be happy than other retirees. Go less than once a week and your likelihood of landing in the happy camp begins to taper off. This is one of those habits on which I’m dropping the ball myself. Lucky for me, my God is a forgiving God.
- Going to a place of worship can be a powerful way of building community. Losing access to social networks is one of the greatest risks during retirement. Even if you’re on the fence about what you believe, getting involved in your local church, synagogue, mosque, or temple will give you access to a larger community of good people doing good works.
- HROBs both believe and give. While you certainly don’t have to attend church to start volunteering, the two often go hand in hand: most faith-based communities have ample opportunities for retirees seeking to dedicate their time, energy, resources, or all three to worthy causes.
Some thoughts from me:
- So the happiest attend church once a week? How can this even be done, you may ask? Don’t these people travel, get sick, etc. and miss at least 1-2 services a year? Yes, they do (based on my experience). But they often go to church more than once a week several weeks a year. For instance, in addition to the regular Sunday services we’ve gone for homeschool classes, plays/musicals, guest speakers, fundraisers, business luncheons, and much, much more over the years.
- We’ve discussed again and again (and will yet again in a future post on this book) of the benefits of having strong social connections in retirement. Churches these days have so many groups and activities other than the normal services that it’s very easy to create a wide range of friends through church attendance. I met my wife in a “singles” group in our church in Pittsburgh.
- I have talked a lot about giving, so I’ll let my past posts speak for this subject. Check out The Case for Giving on the Road to Financial Independence, Considering Giving, and Where Does Giving Fit with Financial Independence? for specifics.
- That said, I will say that most religions have teachings on giving, so the fact that those who attend religious services are givers is not surprising. I know for us that as we’ve given more to our church we have also given more to organizations outside the church. So the church’s teachings don’t only benefit the church giving-wise, but benefit many organizations not connected with our church as well.
- In the last post in this series we talked about the benefits of volunteering and a church is a fertile place for volunteer options. Over the years I’ve volunteered in so many ways — from serving as the president of a non-profit board to coaching people on their finances to fundraising to being an usher and more. My wife has consistently been a Sunday school teacher for close to three decades now.
There are a few more quotes from the book worth sharing in this post, starting with this one:
Here’s some juicy insider info: my pastor told me most people who say they go to church every week actually average something closer to 1.7 times per month. A pastor who deals in uneven numbers? That’s a man after my own heart.
Hahaha. It’s true. Most people give themselves far more credit than what happens in reality. And not just when they estimate church attendance — in almost everything.
If you ask a large number of people how many think they are above average in almost anything (intelligence, good looks, etc), it’s usually something like 75% that say they are above average. Obviously these responses don’t work math-wise as 75% is well above “average” (which is at 50%).
Next, the author makes this startling comment:
It’s increasingly rare for me to meet an HROB who doesn’t have any sort of involvement with a faith-based community.
Wow. That’s pretty compelling. Something to think about if you aren’t involved.
Next, the author says the following about giving:
I want to touch on one of the most common ways of giving, which is to invest monetarily in the causes you hold dear. It can be easy to get caught up in our busy lives and neglect to donate to worthy causes. This is one thing I like about going to church: the weekly reminders to tithe. But you certainly don’t need to be passed the collection basket to give.
I’ve found it even easier to put my giving through some sort of charitable donor-advised fund (DAF).
We give the majority of our funds through a donor-advised fund as well. We even give our gifts to the church through it.
We do give some cash donations as we have a couple charities that have enterprise zone credits available but those can only be claimed with a direct, cash donation, not through a DAF.
Finally, the author ends chapter 7 with the following:
If you’re not currently a member of a faith-based community, and after reading this chapter, you are open to the idea, my advice is to start with baby steps. Finding the right place of worship is like any other worthwhile endeavor — it requires effort. The church down the street from you might not be right, but perhaps the one 10 miles away is. Go where you feel the most welcome and where the people around you have similar beliefs and values. If America’s happiest retirees are any indication, you’ll be glad you did.
There have been several times in my life where I’ve moved to a new city and wanted to find a church. So I pulled out the Yellow Pages (in the old days) or went to the web and created a list. I also asked friends and co-workers for suggestions.
Then I simply went to their services and tried them out.
It’s the same process we used when buying a house in a new city. I was usually there first, so I’d look at a gazillion homes (like 50 here in Colorado) and narrow it down to the ones I thought were best (like the top four). My wife would then come in, see those four, and pick the one she liked best. This is exactly what happened here in our move to Colorado and she selected the house I had down as #3 or #4 (though in hindsight it’s turned out to be pretty great).
When we moved to Oklahoma, I lived there a few months before we sold our Michigan house and the family joined me. I identified four churches I thought worked well and again my wife picked #4 on the list. And again, it worked out well. 😉
For the next post in this series, see What the Happiest Retirees Know: Social and Health Habits.