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Let’s look at the four types of retirees: Which one will you be?

Last week, we addressed the question about what’s new about retirement and discussed trends shaping the retirement experience. It was based on the report, “Longevity and the New Journey of Retirement” by Ken Dychtwald, co-founder and CEO of Age Wave and Ken Cella, a principal at Edward Jones, a financial services firm. Based on the same report, this week we describe four types of retirees categorized by their attitudes, ambitions, circumstances and characteristics that often lead to desirable or undesirable outcomes. As you read these descriptions, consider what model is close to where you are in your life and what you can do to emulate the Purposeful Pathfinders. It is never too late.

Purposeful pathfinders: These folks can be considered role models. They were the most prepared for retirement and had the easiest transition. Among all groups, they were the best prepared financially and started saving at the age of 34. They have the greatest sense of purpose and highest level of activity including the highest rate of travel and vacations. They chose the time of their retirement. According to the report, they lead active, engaged, happy, purposeful and contributory lives. Pathfinders focus on self-improvement and rated themselves the happiest, most fulfilled, and most liberated among all retirees – looking forward to the years ahead. This group is thriving.

Relaxed traditionalists: These folks feel that life is good and are pursuing what is considered a traditional retirement, focusing on rest and relaxation. They are well prepared financially although a little less than the Purposeful Pathfinders; they started saving at the age of 37. This group enjoys being free of obligations and past responsibilities. While having a strong interest in having fun that includes travel and vacations, compared to the other three groups, they are less interested in trying new things. They rate themselves happy and fulfilled but a little less than the Purposeful Pathfinder group. They were the most open to relocating, that included adult-living communities.

Challenged yet Hopefuls: These folks are making the most of retirement despite the lack of financial planning and saving; they started saving for retirement at age 45. Similar to Purposeful Pathfinders, they focus on continual self-improvement, especially around health. They enjoy many activities with a major emphasis on spending quality time with family and friends. One of their major problems is the constraint and uncertainty caused by insufficient financial preparation. Although they are satisfied with their lives today, more than half are worried about outliving their money. This group may need paid employment and or spend less money in order to survive in their later years, as indicated in the report. They are trying to make the most of their retirement.

Regretful Strugglers. This is the largest of the four groups, almost one-third of the 11,000 participants. They are the least prepared for retirement and consequently feel the least positive about life. They started saving for retirement at age 42 with about 18 percent seeing retirement as the “beginning of the end.” Only about half spend time with family and friends. They are in financial trouble and worse off in retirement than in their working years. Yet, many experienced struggles prior to retirement being economically and financially disadvantaged for decades. Some have suffered setbacks because of illness, caregiving, divorce, widowhood or forced retirement – losing years of potential earnings and savings. They are the most anxious and disappointed with their lives. They live with many regrets and overall feel life has dealt them a bad hand.

Five habits of the most highly successful retirees were identified in the report: They (1) paid attention to their health, (2) were socially engaged, (3) have a clearer sense of purpose, (4) are mindful of finances and (5) are flexible to make changes as needed. These are notable goals for anyone planning for their retirement or for those already retired.

Although financial planning is a key element of a successful retirement, note that one-third of the 11,000 participants were Regretful Strugglers who likely are just surviving and in many cases because of circumstances that may be beyond their control.

Retirees in the study also offered advice to younger generations:

  • Plan for finances and include dreaming and planning for family, fun and purpose.

  • Save as much as you can as early as you can; know it is never too late.

  • Find work you enjoy, ideally something that you can continue to do part time in retirement, if you need it or just want to work.

  • Find mentors and advisors from all walks of life who can guide you.

I spoke with Dychtwald, and at the end of our conversation, I asked him for a singular message. He replied, “Enjoy your longevity bonus and try to be the best you can be — in every conceivable way.”

Stay safe everyone and be kind to yourself and others.

Helen Dennis is a nationally recognized leader on issues of aging and the new retirement with academic, corporate and nonprofit experience. Contact Helen with your questions and comments at Visit Helen at and follow her on


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