Biggest surprises after retirement: readers weigh in


From difficulty navigating Medicare to an evolving sense of time and obligation, retirement is full of unexpected discoveries. Even a sociologist who spent decades studying retirement found himself ill-prepared for all he learned when he entered this new stage of life.

We asked Journal readers to tell us what surprised them in retirement. Here are some of their responses.

Randy Catron with his cousin’s dog on “first day of school” last year.


Wendy scagg

The biggest surprise is, even after I retire, how much I work alongside my gigs (sub-training in two school districts with specialist kids, safety work at Texas Motor Speedway, and work as a cycling coach. ).

I have to keep track of how much money I make to stay under the earned income limit in my (partial) first year of Social Security and balance school and highway demands for my time. My wife still works full time, so I feel like when she is working I should always be working. But we have enough savings and sufficient income streams that we can both not work and be well financially. But “cutting the cord” of the work was difficult, at least for the first two months.

Randy Catron, Denton, Texas

Ellen Mannos, photographed by her husband.


Steve mannos

Trying to embrace retirement with the same momentum and energy as work has turned out to be a bad strategy for me. I got out of bed, setting the stage to immediately do five different things. “I’m ready to go!” I said to myself. But it did not happen. Currently, I am doing one thing – efficiently, happily, thoughtfully, and with serious passion.

Professional mobility was exciting during those years, but retirement took me to a whole new place that I hadn’t thought of. Mental, social, physical and spiritual needs have taken on a whole new importance. New friendships have developed, old ones have grown stronger or have been overcome. Some family members have come together, others have proven otherwise. Health problems suddenly surfaced, resolved themselves, persisted or were treated. The non-financial aspect of retirement is most important to me. It is not a final destination but the start of a new journey that I am just beginning to apprehend and, I think, to appreciate!

Ellen Mannos, Chicago, Illinois.

Jed Berliner on Cape Cod.


Jed berliner

I STILL can’t get around my 45-year-old mental block that keeps me from spending my retirement savings.

I haven’t started yet, even though I’m 71 years old and not yet forced into squeeze-out. Social Security, part-time income, and not having office rent or utilities keep me on a level playing field. It’s the anticipation of having to retire from next year that I’m struggling with.

Jed Berliner, Hampden, Mass.

Keller Arnold, right, and her husband Adrian Costello at the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California.


Keller arnold

There are too many positive things about retirement to list here, but a negative surprise was the feeling of lack of structure. I quickly realized that for decades my day, my week, my month was structured with meetings, travel, and deliverables, and I was psychologically dependent on that structure to stay motivated. I was very thoughtful about my schedule and this was my pole star.

As fun as it sounds to be completely free of those constraints – and it was fun for a few months – it can be a bit shocking after decades of structure. After a few months of retirement, I created my own structure and goals (albeit more flexible) that work well for me after two years of retirement. And it evolves. It’s kind of a light version of the skills I learned while working: priorities, goals, plans. Some may say it sounds like “working”. The difference is that I choose these things, they are not chosen for me.

Keller Arnold, Yardley, Pennsylvania.

Harry B. Hartman and his wife, Molly Hartman.


Harry b. Hartman

After 5 years of total retirement, my favorite saying is “I’m so busy now, how did I ever have time to go to work before?” ”

Leisure, family, friends and especially grandchildren. Blessed. Amen.

Harry B. Hartman, Elburn, Illinois.

Unfortunately, we could only afford to retire by leaving California. Luckily we love living near Lexington, Kentucky, a blessing. After decades of running our own small business, my wife didn’t get any social security, she had to get a employment ”for more than 5 years to qualify. Although in California we couldn’t find a doctor to take Medicare, in Kentucky that’s not a problem, so that’s another blessing.

Bob Clunie, Versailles, Ky.

Franck Balestrier


Franck Balestrier

The first big surprise (of the century): the Covid-19. It all messed up. He destroyed the economy, destroyed families and pulverized the health care system. It is not finished yet. I expect the rest of my retirement years to be affected, in one way or another. For example, I expected to travel more during my retirement; it may be necessary to reduce some of it.

The second: inflation. The quote attributed to Einstein that “the most powerful force in the universe is compound interest” has a flip side: inflation. And, although intellectually I was fully aware of the reality of the price hike, managing this in real time on a fixed income was a bit of an eye opener for me.

Frank Balestry, Tracy, California.

Steve Conrad, photographed by his wife.


Marina conrad

Surprise! Surprise! Thanks, Wall Street. In recent years, the market has seen such a recovery that the plans my wife and I always had have been broadened to include a lot more travel. In fact, we have just returned from a two week Mediterranean cruise on a small boat filled only with fully vaccinated people.

Start saving and investing early, stay the course, and find something you love that can fill your time and social calendar. We both play bridge and have a lot of bridge friends. And, these days, I teach bridge on cruise ships. We died and went to heaven, so to speak. We are having a wonderful retreat with time for children and grandchildren.

—Steve Conrad, Manhasset, New York

Rick Orlemanski with his wife, Karen Orlemanski, and their dog, Molly.


Bradley Orlemanski

Biggest positive surprise: how much I enjoy retirement. Several retirees I knew warned me that I would be bored in retirement. I had planned to do post-retirement counseling, but stopped counseling a few months after retirement because I was enjoying retirement so much. Biggest negative surprise: how much I had to pay for Medicare coverage. I thought I had it all factored into my retirement planning. The amount I pay for Medicare coverage and Medicare supplemental coverage is more than what I paid monthly for health insurance when I am working.

Rick Orlemanski, Cary, North Carolina

Lisa Summins on a trip to New Jersey in September.


Lisa Summins

After a lifetime of working and saving, I have reached a very comfortable retirement. I like not having to rush out the door in the morning and enjoy my coffee and my crossword. What surprises me is the underlying anxiety that despite my smart investments and reassurance from my financial advisor, I might use up my savings because I no longer replenish through paycheck. It’s strange not to win.

Lisa Summins, El Paso, Texas

The number of new things to do is growing exponentially: family responsibilities, board members, community responsibilities, religious responsibilities, university responsibilities, explosion of part-time jobs, reuniting with old friends, financial management, genealogy, passing -time, home improvement, reading catch-ups, old projects coming in from the background, travel, health and medical problems, sports training and competitions, reconciliations, new technologies for learning, moving, finally learning this instrument music, heirlooms, bucket list stuff, organization, marital reconnection, personal growth projects, etc. etc. etc. HELP!

Douglas Herz, Bay Area, California

Ted Sward, Colorado hike.


Julie sward

My first surprise was what I call the “retirement time trap”: this feeling that you are leaving a full time job behind you, so you are going to have hours and hours ahead of you. Paradoxically, you find so much to do that you can be very busy. In my case, I am as busy now as I was when I was employed full time. So much so that recently I even stopped describing myself as retired because when people hear that they think you play golf every day. Since my wife, Julie, is working and my son is in high school, I tell people that I am a stay-at-home dad because it is much more descriptive of my new responsibilities.


What were your biggest surprises in retirement? Join the conversation below.

Another surprise came to me recently, even though I retired in May 2019. A close friend retired before me and he immediately started a big car restoration project. I did not understand why, after his retirement, he had not made more progress on the car. He kept getting distracted, helping his neighbors and friends with little things like fixing their weed. Then I realized that when I was working full time I had the opportunity to help people every day. Once I retired, my opportunities to help people were less frequent. In the end, helping others is a lot more rewarding than working on your own projects, which is why my friend’s car is still not finished after five years. And my garage is still not as organized as I would like it to be, but I find reward and meaning in helping others with less discretionary time than I do.

Ted sward, Glendale, Missouri

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