4 Phases of Retirement

4 Phases of Retirement


In your retirement planning, do you think about what you are going to do? For 8,000 days? Or 22 years – one third of your adult life.

Many focus on what they are retiring FROM. Not enough emphasis is placed on what they are retiring TO.

Dr. Joseph Coughlin of the MIT Aging Lab has divided the 8000 days of retirement into 4 phases.

1.Honeymoon Phase

You spend time doing the things you wanted to do but work interfered. Many do a lot of travel. Their Facebook posts are full of the places they have been.

You may discover the many roles work played in your life. The Rand study reports the top 4 reasons people continue to work.

90% Staying healthy

87% Money for extras

82% Staying socially active

79% The challenge


Work provided a structure – something that got you up in the morning. It gave you a sense of purpose and for many, a sense of identity.

In retirement, you will need to explore a new purpose.

  • What are your interests, hobbies
  • What causes are you passionate about?
  • Do you want to try a different career?
  • Are there civic organizations where you would like to volunteer?

I have observed that those who explore their interests while working, stay engaged in retirement. Those who are consumed with work frequently flounder in retirement. Often going back to work.

Work is often a person’s social setting. How will you replace your relationships when you stop working? Studies are showing social interactions is important for your sense of well being. It impacts your health and your cognitive abilities. Don’t wait until you retire to replace that social network.

2.Big Decision Phase

This phase pops up throughout the 8000 days of retirement.

“Where will you live?” is a question that gets answered 3 to 4 times on average in retirement.

Will you live near the grandkids? Will you downsize? Have less home to care for, free up equity. Or are there too many memories to leave behind? Or do you need the large home for family to come and visit?  

Do you have a home you can age in place? Live with a family member? When is the right time to move to a retirement facility?  Many facilities have independent living, assisted living and memory care, allowing you to age on the same campus.

In the aging process you want to think about maintaining your lifestyle, transportation to community activities, social engagements, doctor appointments.

Family dynamics can be critical decisions in retirement. 61% of parents are helping adult children. 28% of adult children are helping their aging parents. These are financial decisions that can derail your own retirement if you are not careful.

3.Navigating Longevity

Managing your health is important in all phases. As you age, that can consume more of your time. You may have multiple doctors to confer with.

While you are now eligible for Medicare, the paperwork is still tedious. Area Offices on Aging have advocates to help you resolve issues. Or they may direct you to Senior Services.

Caregiving becomes a bigger factor to consider. Frequently one spouse is caring for the other. Are you going to use outside help or expect family to help? How do you maintain your home with the added responsibilities of care giving? 

If you are in your 60’s and newly retired, handling the aging process may seem to be a distant future. If you have been the caregiver for aging parents, it may be more relevant to plan for it now. Awareness of the aging issues is important to have throughout your retirement years. Detailed planning can come as the need presents themselves.

4.Solo Journey Phase

When a spouse dies, your world changes. Grieving can be cushioned by caring family and friends; numerous support groups are also available.

You may be living alone if you are not in a retirement community or assisted living. The following are tips for living alone:

  • Care for a pet – Having an animal at home can stave off loneliness.
  • Become aware of what’s available for delivery. Everything from fresh groceries to meals from your favorite restaurants can be brought to your door.
  • Whether it’s a medical emergency or a fire, technology can help in times of peril. Emergency response systems and GPS locators are easy to obtain.
  • Host regular activities in your home. You can turn your home into a hub of social activity. You can host a card game, exercise session, book club or regular Sunday meals with the family. The important part is that you stay socially engaged.


As the intensity of the grief lessens, you can begin to reclaim your life. What are your interests and hobbies? Where would you like to travel? What organization would you like to volunteer?

I have seen widows begin to travel after caregiving responsibilities are gone. I have observed homes being remodeled to the remaining spouse’s preference. Hobbies are pursued with a passion; shared with new friends with like interests. I have observed new companionship blossom.

The solo journey may return you to a previous phase of retirement – like big decisions.

Giving time, thought and energy to planning what you are retiring TO will enhance your enjoyment of the 8000 days of retirement.


Related Blog Post:

The Quality of Life




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