What to Expect When You’re Expecting to Retire: 6 Ways to Do It Right

Bill Poznanski and his dog Hogan stand in front of a Budweiser booth
After spending 35 years selling cars in Toledo, Ohio, Bill Poznanski wanted to stay on his feet during his retirement; so, he bought a German wolfhound named Hogan. Photo courtesy of Bill Poznanski

Bill Poznanski didn’t want to retire.

He worked for 35 years in the used car business in Toledo, Ohio, and he liked his job.

“My job was fun, and I could handle it physically,”  Poznanski says. “I had over 4,000 customers. My job was easy.”

But then an accident left his wife in need of a new hip. Taking time off to care for her after multiple operations and for trips to the doctors drained his vacation and sick days.

So early last year, at age 70 or 71 — “I forget exactly, because old people forget,” Poznanski says with a laugh — he gave his notice.

“They said if you ever want to come back, you’re more than welcome,” Poznanski says. “That hasn’t even crossed my mind. After I was retired for just a few months, I decided I should have retired a long time ago.

“I liked my job, but I like retirement even more.”

Whether you love your job or dream of the day you can dash from the building screaming “I’m outta heeeeere,” at some point in your career, you’ll need to consider retirement.

Yeah, first you have to figure out how to retire without going broke. The Penny Hoarder can help with that part, including calculating how much you’ll need to retire, staying on track financially to retire, choosing the right retirement accounts and avoiding financial slip-ups.

But once you clear the financial hurdles, there’s still the matter of preparing mentally and physically for retirement. Because if you’re like most people, you’ve been working for a while. Like, most-of-your-life a while.

Want to retire without looking back? Here are six tips you can use now to make the transition a happy one.

Retirement Tip #1: Make Plans Before You Retire

Before his last day on the job, Poznanski says he made decisions about what was important to him. Tops on the list: fishing.

“Way before I retired, I joined a local trout club,” Poznanski says. “You could go day or night, and I thought that would be fun, and it is.”

Poznanski found a place only a few minutes away from his house, thus avoiding the stress — and increased risk — of driving for half a day to find a spot at more congested fishing holes.

By researching places before he retired, Poznanski avoided the frustration and didn’t waste his money — unlike some of his fellow retirees.

I have a lot of friends who get frustrated because they have the money, but they’ve done some things they really didn’t enjoy because they didn’t know what to do,” he says.

Creating a routine is a key to a successful retirement, according to Julia Alexis, vice president of AARP Public Policy Institute, but that requires taking some time and effort to contemplate what you really want from retirement.

“It’s something people should anticipate and plan for,” Alexis says. “What brings you joy? What are some of the things you want to do as you start this next phase of your life?

“Think about the skills you brought to the workplace. How do you bring those skills to your community?”

Retirement Tip #2: Stay Social… or Get Social

Two women chat during happy hour.
Carol Gentry (left) and Sandy Tuite (right) attend the ASPEC social at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Fla. Tina Russell/The Penny Hoarder

Name someone you’ve hung out with in the past month who wasn’t a coworker.

If you’re having trouble remembering the names of any people who aren’t in your work sphere, you could be setting yourself up for more than just a lonely happy hour.

Socially isolated older adults are at greater risk for poor health, including depression, compared to their well-connected counterparts, according to a study published by the AARP Public Policy Institute. It found that social isolation results in medical conditions that cost an estimated $6.7 billion in additional Medicare spending annually.

Reconnecting with old friends is one way to create a network, especially with people from your age group who can relate to what it’s like during the early stages of retirement.

Poznanski says he convenes with former classmates regularly.

“We still get together every month on the third Wednesday for dinner, and we have 40 or 50 people show up,” Poznanski says. He points out that, while he appreciates his alone time, “that would get boring if I didn’t have my friends.”

And if you’re not in touch with your old friends, there are opportunities to make new ones through social organizations.

Groups like the Academy of Senior Professionals at Eckerd College, or ASPEC, in St. Petersburg, Florida, offer built-in social connections, says the organization’s director, Ken Wolfe.

The group, which has approximately 300 mostly retired members, offers four ways to participate — lifelong learning groups, community outreach, social events and mentoring and teaching opportunities at the college.

Sandy Tuite, formerly a registered nurse in Rochester, New York, says she and her husband Bob joined the organization in 2012 shortly after moving to St. Petersburg. Their interaction with students and faculty at the college has become an integral part of their busy social calendar.  

“I have found I’m so active with ASPEC,” Sandy says. “I play golf three times a week; I’m in organizations with our association… We are just having a ball.

I am never bored,” says Sandy with a laugh, adding that she and Bob were planning their annual four-month trip back north for the summer. “I can’t wait to go and rest.”

Retirement Tip #3: Exercise Your Body

Hogan is pictured on a hiking trail
Poznanski and his dog Hogan walk an average of two miles every day. Photo courtesy of Bill Poznanski

Depending on your job, you might have sat at a desk all day or, like Poznanski, were used to walking a used car lot.

Regardless of your job, after you retire there’s a greater likelihood that your lifestyle will become more sedentary, which is associated with increases in obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease, according to a 2018 study conducted in Finland.

Poznanski says he anticipated the drop-off in activity before he retired, so he bought a special kind of “exercise equipment.” One with four legs.

I decided that I need to get some exercise, so I bought a big, big dog,” Poznanski says. “He was a puppy when I bought him, but he’s 225 pounds now, and he’s exactly what I wanted. And we go walking an average of two miles every day.”

If you need a little more organized exercise routine, and a little less fur, you can find fitness challenges designed for seniors. One to consider is AARP’s Fit and Fun Challenge, which offers cheap and easy ways to start a fitness plan that keeps you accountable, according to Alexis.   

“It’s really to get people to walk 30 minutes a day,” Alexis says. “If you can get someone to walk with you — like a buddy, a sister, a daughter, a mother — to motivate you and keep you accountable, you’re success rate is going to go up tremendously.

Retirement Tip #4: Exercise Your Brain

Three men converse while drinking wine.
Patrick Dalsemer, Ken Wolfe and Bob Tuite (left to right) attend the ASPEC social at Eckerd College. Tina Russell/The Penny Hoarder

There’s a good chance you’ve taken on additional job responsibilities as you approach retirement. Whether you’re the vice president of your division or the veteran team member everyone goes to for advice, your brain gets a daily workout.

And although you may be looking forward to the relief from daily job stresses, using retirement as an excuse to veg out in front of the TV can have dire consequences for your health. A 2015 Italian study found that the more years a person spent in retirement, the higher the risk of cognitive decline associated with dementia.

Choosing to engage your brain can make the next part of your life as enriching as your previous work life, says Alexis.

“The first day you walk out of the office with your gold watch, it really is about the social network and also learning new things,” she says. “Make sure you’re working those muscles — your brain as much as exercising your body.

“It’s all about keeping refreshed. Learning a new language, reading different types of books, journaling or writing will really help you refresh.”

One option for stretching your neurons is to get that degree you never had time for when you were working every day. Check out where to find free college courses for senior citizens in this post.

And groups like ASPEC offer not only a social outlet but the intellectual stimulation that might be missing, according to Wolfe. Members pay dues to participate in programs that range from social hours to educational lectures to kayaking excursions.

“A lot of these people were bosses at one time or another — whether it’s an operating room or a corporation — and they’re having to adjust,” Wolfe says. “[Joining a social group] is not the total answer to retirement, but it does provide particularly that piece of intellectual stimulation that might be hard to find elsewhere.”

Retirement Tip #5: Consider a Slow Exit From Work

An older man smiles.
Gene Skluzacek attends the ASPEC social at Eckerd College. “When I retired, I did some tutoring and odd jobs like that for a couple years,” Skluzacek said. Tina Russell/The Penny Hoarder

Retirement doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing proposition.

Cutting back to part-time or becoming a consultant can provide extra income along with connections and stimulation, says Gene Skluzacek, a retired physics professor who taught at the University of Nebraska Omaha until 1999 and at St. Petersburg College until 2004.

“When I retired, I did some tutoring and odd jobs like that for a couple years,” says Skluzacek, now ASPEC’s elected president. “When I first quit working full time, it took a while to adjust. I was surprised how important work seemed to be in my life. I took that as a negative — that my work was sort of defining me. And that’s not true anymore.”

In fact, retirement can offer the opportunity to pursue something you’re passionate about, including a money-making gig or a whole new career.

And even if you haven’t updated your resume since the Bush administration — no, the other one — that doesn’t mean you can’t market yourself for another career.

Brandy Huderson, assistant professor at the University of the District of Columbia, says that even in a workplace that seems to rely heavily on technology, retirees’ soft skills and experience are needed.

“We have this technological world, but we still need a support base,” Huderson says. “We’re always going to need some of those basic skills that a lot of the retirees have and that they can bring in and integrate into the company in a new way.

If there’s something you’re passionate about, there’s always an avenue for you to do it.

Retirement Tip #6: Volunteer Your Newfound Time

Volunteering can provide many of the same benefits a job gave your brain, but perhaps in a less stressful way, according to Alexis.

Volunteering almost engages your brain the way a job does — it helps you with interaction with others; it helps you coordinate plans; it helps you think about how to complete tasks on schedule,” she says. “It’s really much akin to a job but with some benefits of having some fun.”

Peter Kent says the transition from work life to retirement could have been particularly difficult for him as a recovering workaholic who still attends Workaholics Anonymous meetings every week via phone.

At 73 years old, Kent is still president of AptaMatrix Inc., a biotechnology company, although he says he’s retired from day-to-day duties. He credits his participation in ASPEC as a major reason he’s enjoying retirement and estimates he attends at least 10 events every week.

Being a part of ASPEC has even allowed him to discover a new talent: public speaking. He volunteers to lead a couple of discussions each week.

“My wife and my son always laugh about this because I was so shy that they cannot believe I get up in front of a group and talk,” Kent says. “I wouldn’t even have joined a group like this if I’d been expected to talk 10 years ago.”

What changed?

“I don’t know what happened,” Kent says. “It’s a highly intelligent group; it’s a lot of fun of talk to and it’s a lot of fun to get a conversation going with them.”

He says the social group has given him a new outlet to pour his energies into. He spends 10 to 20 hours preparing for his group presentations.

“I’m still working a 40-hour week — probably more — like seven days a week,” Kent says, adding in his volunteer work. “It’s fun. I always thought work was fun, but it’s a much more comfortable, more relaxed life.”

What’s Next

Preparing for retirement allows those leaving the workplace to see it as less of an end and more of a “what’s next,” according to Alexis.

“Retirement means different things to different people,” she says, noting that whatever a retiree’s interests, “it’s about learning new things, it’s contributing to the community and it’s staying engaged.”

Tiffany Wendeln Connors is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. Her retirement plan includes plenty of cheese.