Aging Options

The Problem with Traditional Retirement Planning

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What are your biggest hopes and dreams for your retirement years? I’ve asked a variation of this question thousands of times—on stage at seminars, on camera at webinars, on the radio, and on television.

Most of us have a good idea about the things we want from retirement. Almost everyone can articulate their hopes and dreams. The people I interact with on this question seldom have trouble painting a vivid picture of how they want life to be. They can articulate their ideas like eager children in a classroom, thrilled because they know the right answers. Answers such as travel, new hobbies, time with family, and adventures always end up on the list. I can see the excitement in their eyes.

While I love hearing about the fun things people plan to do with their retirement years, that’s not what interests me most. Their excitement isn’t the reason they signed up to hear me speak.

They signed up because they’re afraid.

Would you come to a retirement planning lecture because you’re confident?

No. You show up because, like millions of other people, you have doubts. There’s a niggling fear that you can’t quite articulate; there’s an anxiety you can’t quite shake.

Anxiety about the retirement years is what motivates people to listen to what I have to say. 

After everyone has listed the exciting who, what, and where of their plans for their retirement years, I pivot to the real reason people came to hear me.

I want to know what they fear most about retirement.

This is where the conversation gets real.

What we want to avoid in retirement doesn’t get talked about very often. Almost no one focuses on what we want to avoid, because it means confronting realities that most Americans would rather not talk about—things like declining health, loss of control, frailty, and death.

So, when I ask this question—What do you fear most about retirement?—there is usually a long pause before anyone is brave enough to answer.

However, after the first courageous person speaks, the floodgates usually open.

What Scares You Most about Retirement Planning?

What do you fear most?

Over the last two decades, tens of thousands of people in my seminars, webinars, and workshops have answered this question.

Their answers boil down to three things:

  • They are terrified they will end up in a nursing home.
  • They are afraid they will outlive their money.
  • They are afraid they will be a burden on their family.

Do you have these fears?

Should you be afraid?

Researchers say the answer is yes.

Though most Americans hope to be able to live out their lives in their own home, the reality is that less than 30 percent will be able to do so[i]. There’s a 70 percent chance that you will not be at home when you are taking your last breath. You will be in some care facility, a place almost no one wants to end up. There’s a 69 percent chance that when you fall ill you will become a burden on your family, something nearly everyone wants to avoid[ii]. And many people who deal with incapacity will have reason to worry about losing their hard-earned assets to uncovered long-term care costs, an outcome no one wants[iii].

How can so many Americans be experiencing such dismal results? And, more importantly, why is there a deafening silence when it comes to planning around these issues? 

The way we define success in retirement is largely based on a marketing bait-and-switch scheme. The photoshopped images of older people living the dream as often depicted in glossy retirement planning brochures don’t paint an honest or realistic picture.

Where are the brochures selling retirement dreams that include older adults in the throes of cognitive decline who have set fire to their house yet again, lost thousands to scam artists, or who have taken a wrong turn on their way to the grocery store? Where are the photoshopped images of older adults learning to walk in rehab after suffering a stroke ? Where are the promotional images of older adults whose needs are consuming the lives of their family members?

You won’t see those images because that’s not what retirement planning is about in this country. Retirement planning the way it’s done today assumes your later years will unfold in one gleeful, adventure-filled phase. You live a healthy and active life until you die in your sleep.

Unfortunately, that’s not how it will go for most of us. Most of us will spend some (possibly many) of our retirement years dealing with health problems that gradually increase our dependence on others.

Yes, a few people will go out with a bang. They will be the lucky ones. For the rest of us, retirement will be a long, slow, downward skid toward an undignified end.

Broke. A burden. Stuck in a nursing home. All these outcomes can be avoided with proper planning.

That’s what makes today’s approach to retirement planning  such a tragedy. We aren’t planning for the reality of sickness and frailty, yet most of us will experience these things. If success in retirement is pitched as having the money to live your best life when you’re healthy, shouldn’t that best life include the years you spend in failing health? Wouldn’t you want to have control over where you live, how your affairs are managed, how your money is used, and how your needs impact the lives of your loved ones even as your independence is waning?

If your retirement plan is successful, you should be able to live where you choose until the moment you take your last breath, even if your health fails, without being forced to move to an institutional care setting like a nursing home. You should be able to protect your nest egg from unplanned long-term care costs so you don’t end up broke. You should be able to grow old without becoming a burden on your family, or a source of conflict and disorder among your family members.

If you can nail those three things, you’ve grabbed the brass ring.

Why will so few of us accomplish this?

The moment you lose your health, your retirement dreams will turn into retirement nightmares. There is no escaping it. You can’t wish is away. You can’t talk it away.

THIS is why people come to my seminars, webinars, and workshops. THIS is why people choose to work with me – to develop a plan to avoid the negative outcomes that traditional planning fails to address.

It’s not that we don’t plan for life in retirement. Americans do more planning than just about anyone else, yet most of us are unable to achieve our basic retirement wishes.

The traditionally accepted planning formula for retirement success is focused on money . Conventional wisdom says that if you have a paid-for home and a hefty nest egg by the time retirement rolls around, you should be okay. Social Security will provide additional monthly income. Maybe you even have a long-term care insurance policy to foot the bill for future long-term care costs. Other than possibly moving to a sunny climate, most Americans don’t do any special planning for their housing  in retirement. More than three-quarters of Americans plan to age in their own homes. Planning for health  care in retirement focuses around enrolling in Medicare and possibly getting a supplemental policy. Legal planning for retirement means getting estate planning documents such as Wills, Trusts, Powers of Attorney, and Advance Directives.

Will this planning keep you from being forced into a nursing home, going broke, or becoming a burden  when your health fails?

Probably not.

This happens to millions of people who thought they had a solid plan for retirement. I know why.

What the Traditional Retirement Planning Process Gets Wrong

After working with thousands of clients over the last two decades, I have seen firsthand the problems inherent in our nation’s retirement planning system . There is a little-known yet immensely powerful disconnect  between the goals you have for your life as you age and the goals professionals in the retirement planning industry have for their clients. This disconnect is one of the main reasons why so retirement turns to disaster for so many.

What if I told you there was a radically different way to approach the process of retirement planning? What if I told you that there was a way to empower you to harness what is good in the American system so it works for you, while taking control of the planning process (and the professionals you trust to guide you) in a way you never dreamed possible? 

There is a way. You CAN create a better plan for your retirement, one that gives you a fighting chance of living out your years on your own terms – with dignity and independence.

Learn more at AgingOptions.com


[i] Amos Bailey and VJ Periyakoil, “Where do Americans die?”, Multi-cultural Palliative Care, Stanford School of Medicine, quoted in Michael Long, “Do the math: The chances of a swift, easy death are slim,” Matters of Life and Death, LancasterOnline, August 2, 2020, https://lancasteronline.com/features/do-the-math-the-chances-of-a-swift-easy-death-are-slim-column/article_1f518d60-033e-11eb-949e-03b07ed13985.html.

[ii] Amy D. Sullivan, Katrina Hedberg, and David Hopkins, “Legalized Physician-Assisted Suicide in Oregon, 1998–2000,” New England Journal of Medicine 344, no. 8 (February 22, 2001): 605, https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJM200102223440811.

[iii] Sudipto Banerjee, “Utilization Patterns and Out-of-Pocket Expenses for Different Health Care Services Among American Retirees,” EBRI Issue Brief, no.411 (February 2015): 1, https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2570582.

[iv] Joanne Binette, “2021 Home and Community Preference Survey: A National Survey of Adults 18–Plus,” Livable Communities, AARP Research, November 2021, https://doi.org/10.26419/res.00479.001.

From Your Retirement: Dream or Disaster? by Rajiv Nagaich, published by Hasmark Publishing. Copyright© by Rajiv Nagaich 2023.

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