How to Retire Happy, Fourth Edition: The 12 Most Important Decisions You Must Make Before You Retire

How to Retire Happy, Fourth Edition: The 12 Most Important Decisions You Must Make Before You Retire

by Stan Hinden

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The Washington Post and New York Times Business Bestseller

“Everyone in the workforce today should read this book!”

“Want excellent insights on retirement planning from a professional who’s actually experienced retirement himself? You’ll get just that from Stan Hinden’s book.”

“Provides the most important information you’ll need before and during your retirement.”

Award-winning Washington Post retirement columnist Stan Hinden’s bestselling How to Retire Happy, Fourth Edition, helps you make the right decisions to ensure a happy, healthful retirement. It delivers all the expert advice you need in an easy-to-understand step-by-step style. How to Retire Happy includes everything that has made previous editions the go-to guides for retirees and near-retirees, plus:

  • Brand-new material on health insurance and the prescription drug plan
  • The facts about Medicare Part A (hospital), Part B (tests, doctors, preventive care), and Part D (prescription drugs)
  • The author’s personal experiences with the realities of long-term Alzheimer’s care
  • Fully updated material on Social Security strategies
  • How to handle the financial realities of the post-meltdown economy
  • New resources you can turn to for extra advice

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780071800709
Publisher: McGraw-Hill Education
Publication date: 12/21/2012
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 256
Sales rank: 243,030
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

Stan Hinden (Washington, DC) is the award-winning columnist of the nationally syndicated "Retirement Journal." As a financial reporter for Washington Post and editor of that paper's business section, he was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize.

Read an Excerpt

How to Retire Happy

The 12 Most Important Decisions You Must Make Before You Retire

McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.

Copyright © 2013 Stan Hinden
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-07-180069-3

Chapter One

Decision 1

Am I Ready to Retire?

Are You Ready to Retire?

When the stress levels at work seem unbearable, it's easy to be flippant and shout, "You bet I'm ready to retire. Let me out of here!"

At such moments, it's also easy to fantasize about all the things you could do if you didn't have to go to work every day. You can see yourself soaking up the sun on a tropical beach, whiling away the hours on a golf course, or having gobs of time to read, watch movies, or trade stocks online.

You think about all the things you've wanted to do but never had time for: cruising around the Greek islands, touring Australia and New Zealand, watching the bullfights in Spain, or enjoying Carnaval in Brazil.

And then you suddenly realize that you could even buy a season ticket for your local baseball team and go to games in the middle of the week! What a luxury!

It's also quite wonderful to think about all the things you could give up: all your bosses, all those memos, and all those boring meetings. Gone, too, from your life would be those rush-hour traffic jams and the frustrations of your daily commute. If your job requires you to travel, you could stop bouncing around in airplanes and trying to sleep on lumpy hotel- room pillows.

As a retired person, you'd be free to make your own schedule: to do what you want to do and go where you want to go when you want to go there. Ah, freedom!

But wait! Remember the old adage: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Like a lot of daydreams, these visions of retirement may or may not be realistic. They may not even be what you really want when you retire.

The fact is that when you face the question, "Am I ready to retire?" your answer may have little to do with your fantasies and a lot more to do with your age, your health, your family, the nature of your job, your financial situation, and your outlook on life.

So to be realistic, let's look at the pros and cons of retiring. We'll discuss three good reasons for retiring and three equally good reasons for not retiring.

Then we'll talk about people who have it both ways: they retire and—guess what?—then go back to work, usually part-time. As people live longer and healthier lives, the part-time option is becoming more and more popular.

We'll also look at what life is like for married couples after they retire. And we'll talk about the psychological impact of retirement—how you can go from a busy, even frantic, working life to a laid-back but productive retirement.

Three Good Reasons for Retiring


If there is "a time under the sun for everything," then surely there will be a time in your life when you can look in the mirror and rightfully tell yourself, "I've worked hard all my life. I've met every challenge life has thrown at me. It's time for me to stop working and to start living life my own way. These are the years that belong to me."

If this is how you truly feel, that's fine. Once you retire, you'll be free to shape your life in the manner that gives you the greatest satisfaction and happiness. But to make the most of your new freedom, you'll need a plan.

In a way, retiring is like going on a trip abroad. You wouldn't just pack a suitcase and board a plane. You'd try to prepare for your journey. You'd read guidebooks about the places you plan to visit, study currency exchange rates, and find out what kind of weather to expect. And, of course, you'd prepare an itinerary so that you'd know where you were going and when.

Similarly, if you want your journey into retirement to be successful, you must do two things. First, you need to equip yourself with the information you'll need on your journey into the world of Social Security, Medicare, Medigap, long-term-care insurance, pensions, and 401(k) plans. Second, you need to decide what you want to do in retirement.

Doing nothing is not a viable option for most people. Studies show that people who retire from active careers and become couch potatoes often suffer from depression and other ills associated with feeling useless and unwanted.

Your retirement plan can take many forms. You can spend your time improving your golf or tennis game, coaching a kids' soccer or baseball team, working for a service club such as the Lions or Kiwanis, or volunteering for a charitable or community organization. Many retirees enjoy spending time with their children and grandchildren. I know I do.

Retirement is a great time to complete some of your long-delayed personal projects. You may want to take some college courses, learn to play a musical instrument, or try your hand at writing mystery novels or painting. Many retirees—even those starting at late ages—demonstrate unusual creativity and artistic skills.

Whatever you decide to do in retirement, your plan should have one main objective: to keep you mentally and physically active and in close contact with other people. That is the way to achieve a successful retirement.


As we age and gain experience, we often find that our goals in life become clearer. So it was with my friend Jane Hoden. Religion, faith, and community service had long been the cornerstones of her life. Inwardly, she knew that when she retired someday, she would find a way to fulfill her personal commitment to be of service to others.

"I believe God has a plan for our lives, which is revealed in time," Jane says.

"In 1999," Jane recalled, "my mother lived with us. It gave us great insight into what life is like for a person who is elderly, has significant health and financial issues, and feels that life is not within [her] control."

Jane said she soon realized that while churches focus on the needs of youth, the newly married, and active adults, they rarely address the needs of seniors. The more Jane studied the problem, the more she became convinced that forming a ministry for seniors was destined to be her calling in retirement.

In 2001, Jane, who was then 55, retired from the federal government, where she had worked for 31 years as a public information specialist and as the manager of the news division in her agency. Her government pension was reduced somewhat because she took "early retirement," but she didn't believe money would be a problem. Her husband, Paul, was a retired Air Force colonel with his own pension.

"We looked at his income and my income in retirement, at our savings and our expenses, and we decided we could afford to retire," Jane said.

To enjoy an active retirement and pursue Jane's ministry for seniors, the couple moved to Virginia Beach, Virginia, where they became co-leaders of the Senior Adult Ministry at Spring Branch Community Church. The programs, Jane said, are designed for people 50 and older and are intended to help "retirees who need a connection to people who will provide support and caring." Jane believed that she and other volunteers would be able to brighten the lives of many seniors who were lonely and isolated.

Retiring at 55 was "a golden opportunity," she said.

And so it seemed until 2006, when Jane's dream was interrupted by a diagnosis of breast cancer. Three surgeries were followed by months of chemotherapy and radiation and by some deep reflection about what she wanted out of life. In November 2007, the Hodens left Virginia Beach for Fort Myers, Florida, where they bought an apartment at the Shell Point Retirement Community. Shell Point is a continuing-care retirement community (CCRC) where Jane will have whatever assisted living or nursing care she might need in the future.

Jane's reflections on the course of her life led to a decision to devote more time to personal pursuits, including photography and travel. "There are times," she said, "when you have to look into yourself and decide what makes you happy."

One thing that makes Jane and Paul especially happy is their regular fellowship, prayer, and Bible study meeting with other Shell Point residents, an activity sponsored by the Sanibel Community Church on nearby Sanibel Island. Jane, who is 67, has been cancer- free for five years, an important milestone for cancer patients. With her health stable, she and Paul have been touring the United States in an RV. "Each year from May through September," Jane said, "we escape Florida's heat and hurricanes and head for the open road. It's an adventure, and every day is different. Our summer sojourns have enabled us to live in the shadow of Mt. Rushmore, to be captivated by the sand and surf of North Carolina's Outer Banks, to experience mile-high living in Colorado, and, at this writing, to be thrilled by the Lakes area of Maine. The scenery is stunning.

"We visit areas of the country we have not seen but would like to explore and look for campgrounds where we [can] find employment," Jane noted. "Usually, we work about 20 hours each week in exchange for our site, which includes water, sewer, and electricity. If we work additional hours, we are paid a modest salary, which helps with the price of fuel. Because the jobs are seasonal and part-time, we have been fortunate to have had many offers and opportunities. In fact, many campground managers have told us how much they enjoy having seniors on their staff. RVing and working at campsites have been great experiences and are fun ways to meet interesting people from all walks of life. We are loving it," Jane said.


My friend Larry, who is a scientist, retired from the federal government after 35 years. He was 60 when he decided to leave. He told me that he had been undecided about retiring that early, but that organizationally, his agency was in a state of flux that he felt was not personally satisfying.

A year before he left, Larry said, potential budget cutbacks had caused major personnel reassignments in the agency, and he had been moved to a position that was far afield from his specialty. In addition, old-timers were being offered buyouts to encourage them to leave.

So he assessed his situation and tried to figure out whether he could afford to retire. He decided he could. His government pension would be about 45 percent of his salary, and in two years he would be eligible for a small monthly Social Security benefit because he had taught college classes part-time for many years. He also would continue to earn money from teaching, and he planned to accept a three-year research fellowship that paid fairly well. "The money and research combined made it interesting," he said of the fellowship. At that point, Larry said, it seemed like a good time to leave. And he did.

"It was time for me to be unhooked from an unchallenging position and to get more involved in what really interested me, which was teaching and scientific study," Larry said.

Three Good Reasons for Not Retiring


It sounds contradictory: you can be ready to retire but not ready to give up work. What does that mean? It means that work is a habit that is hard to break. As strange as it may seem, especially on those dreadful days when everything is going wrong, work is an integral and even a necessary part of our lives.

Many of us began working as teenagers and have never really stopped. In our early years, our jobs provided the money that made it possible for us to pay for the necessities of life. Later on, our work made it possible for us to pay for some of the luxuries of life. But for most of us, the meaning of work goes far beyond our paychecks. Our jobs and careers have given us our greatest challenges and our highest achievements. They have helped us find our roles in society. And, for better or worse, our work has become our identity.

Soon after I retired, I began having identity problems. For 23 years, I had been calling people on the telephone and saying, "This is Stan Hinden of the Washington Post." After I left the newspaper, when I made a phone call, I was just "Stan Hinden," and I felt that I had lost a piece of my identity.

This problem sometimes cropped up at social gatherings when I was meeting people for the first time. At these affairs, people looking for conversational openings often ask each other, "What kind of work do you do?" In American life, it is common for people to measure the worth and value of other people by their work and their titles. This tendency is unfortunate, but it happens all the time.

After I retired and people asked me what kind of work I did, I tended to stumble. I found myself saying, "Well, I'm retired. But I used to be a writer at the Washington Post." The phrase "used to be" didn't come easily to my lips. It was like saying, "I'm a has-been." And I didn't like that feeling one bit.

Thus, I found that not only did retirement tamper with my identity and my image of myself, but it put me in a "has-been" category that was uncomfortable for someone who had led a vigorous working life.


The idea of not having to go to your job every day may seem mighty attractive, but ask yourself this question: "Am I really ready to give up working and everything that goes with it?" That "everything" includes not only the challenges and frustrations of your job, but also the familiar, even welcome, daily routines at work.

Ask yourself also, "Will I miss the people I work with?"

These are not facetious questions. Although we like to scoff at the idea that we love our jobs, work plays an important role in our lives. It provides us with a sense of purpose and accomplishment and, of course, a place to go in the morning. For many of us, our workplace is our home away from home, the place where we spend time with a network of friends and colleagues.

That network tends to dissolve quickly when you retire and step out of the working world, as I found when I retired from the Post after a 45-year career as a reporter, editor, and columnist. So it's not surprising to me that many retirees say that they miss work—or at least, they miss the friends and shared experiences that they had at work.

This sense of loss hit me after I retired from my job as a financial writer at the Post and before I went back to writing part-time. It took me quite a while to figure out why, even though I loved retirement, I seemed to miss working. I was puzzled.

I knew, of course, why I liked retirement: it gave me that wonderful sense of freedom that I mentioned earlier. After 45 years of working, it was delightful to be able to live by my own timetable. But why, then, did I miss working? Eventually, it dawned on me that what I really missed was not my work, but my workplace.

My office had been my second home, a place where I could chat with friends, catch up on gossip, swap office rumors, and help the other Monday morning quarterbacks decide what to do with the Washington Redskins. When I left the paper, I left all that behind. And I missed it.


My friend Bert Ely is 70 years old, an age at which most people either have retired or are thinking about it. But Bert is not headed in that direction. A prominent Washington consultant in the field of banking and financial services, Bert has run his own business for 40 years. And he plans to continue to do just that.

A man of high energy, Bert says he does not ever want to retire. "While eventually I might like to trim my present 60-hour workweek to 50 hours or even 40 hours and take a few longer weekends," he told me, "continuing to work full-time still seems much more attractive, invigorating, and fun than the alternatives." At the same time, he has found striking a good balance between his professional and his civic activities to be a challenge. "When you don't charge for your services, it is easy to give away too much time, to the detriment of one's professional activities," he said.

Bert says he is aware that if he wants to avoid retirement, especially as he ages, he will face certain professional challenges. He focuses on those challenges by asking himself some hard questions: "How do I stay relevant in my field? What is the best way to maintain professional contacts and to interact positively with much younger peers while maintaining their respect? How do I avoid coming across as an old fogy who is trying to hang on when he should hang it up?"

A top priority, he says, is staying in touch with the people and the issues in his industry. "I'm a great believer in schmoozing, staying in the loop, knowing who the players are, being current on the gossip," he says. Staying up to date technologically is important, too. "My BlackBerry is always close at hand."

Staying relevant, Bert adds, has little to do with age and a lot to do with "not thinking old." "I suspect," he says, "that there are people out there at the age of 85 who are more relevant, more in the loop about what's going on, than some people age 50."


The line between work and retirement is becoming more blurred all the time. The fact is that many people who retire go back to work part-time, and some even go back full-time. People are living longer and want to remain involved and productive.

Several of my retired friends have gone back to work part-time or full-time.

Bill Backer retired after 38 years at General Electric and then went back to work at GE under the company's Golden Opportunity program, which allowed retirees to work up to 1,000 hours a year. A marketing specialist, Bill worked about 1,000 hours a year, helping GE organize trade shows and exhibits.

Now 86, Bill worked part-time for 14 years and was enthusiastic about his "retirement" job. One main reason: "I had longstanding friendships where I had worked." These days, he said, he continues to see those friends and former GE colleagues at regular retiree luncheons.

A few years ago, Bill and his wife, Lori, sold the house in which they had lived for 42 years and moved to a nearby retirement community. The community offers a full schedule of social and intellectual activities—more than enough, Bill said, to keep him and his wife busy.

My friend Jerry Goldberg, who is 85, completed a 30-year career in the dry-cleaning business. He then worked full-time for 15½ years as a school-bus driver and bus attendant in Montgomery County, Maryland.


Excerpted from How to Retire Happy by STAN HINDEN Copyright © 2013 by Stan Hinden. Excerpted by permission of McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Foreword John C. Bogle ix

Preface xv

Acknowledgments xix

Decision 1 Am I Ready to Retire? 1

Decision 2 Can I Afford to Retire? 19

Decision 3 When Should I Apply for Social Security? 37

Decision 4 How Should I Take My Pension Payments? 65

Decision 5 What Should I Do with the Money in My Company Savings Plan? 79

Decision 6 When Do I Have to Take Money out of My IRAs? 97

Decision 7 How Should I Invest During Retirement? 113

Decision 8 What Should I Do About Health Insurance? 141

Decision 9 What Should I Do to Prepare for an Illness That Requires Long-Term Care? 167

Decision 10 Where Do I Want to Live After I Retire? 195

Decision 11 How Should I Arrange My Estate to Save on Taxes and Avoid Probate? 211

Decision 12 How Can I Age Successfully? 231

Index 251

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