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The key to successful retirement: Know thyself

We’ve lost count of how many times we’ve been asked the same questions: Can I afford to retire? How do I know when I have enough? Or, for those already retired, am I going to be all right?

The answer, of course, is that it all depends on what you intend to do in retirement. Living quietly at home tending to your garden, for instance, is going to cost a lot less than constantly traveling to exotic destinations around the world.

While that much is obvious, our anecdotal evidence from face-to-face contacts and reader mail is that most people haven’t thought through their retirement wishes, and many could use help figuring them out.

So, are you a “high-timer” or a “homebody”? Or something else? A recent study by Nationwide Financial may help you find out.

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The Nationwide “Retirement Decisions Study,” conducted with the research firm Mathew Greenwald & Associates, found that people near or in retirement fell into one of five segments: so-called “High-Timers” (34 percent of the people surveyed), “In-the-Moments” (22 percent), “Self-Sufficients” (17 percent), “Homebodies” (16 percent) and “Connecteds” (11 percent). The survey polled 500 people aged 55 to 70, half working and half retired.

“There’s no such thing as a ‘one-size-fits-all’ retirement,” said Gordon Hecker, senior vice president at Nationwide Financial. According to the survey results, each of the five segments differed in what they found to be most important at this stage of their life (traits are listed in order of importance to each group):

The High-Timers focus on themselves and want to maintain their lifestyle and be able to afford extras, including nursing home care. They are less concerned about leaving an estate and assisting children, and do more planning for retirement.

The In-the-Moments are less likely to think about the future but instead focus on current needs. They want to maintain their lifestyle and afford extras but have less concern with nursing-home care and estate planning. Overall, they do moderate retirement planning.

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The Self-Sufficients focus on their own survival. They want to maintain their current lifestyle but are willing to give up luxuries. They care about nursing home and health care and want to stay in their own homes. They are less concerned about leaving money or assisting children financially, and are more likely to be already retired.

The Homebodies are home- and family-oriented. They want to stay in their current home and are focused on children. They expect to live on less and spend less in retirement, and are less concerned about nursing home or health care. They also expect to live shorter lives.

Finally, the Connecteds want to take care of themselves and their children, and feel it is important to have extras. They are concerned about nursing-home care and want to help and leave money to their children and grandchildren. They are willing to sacrifice their homes and likely to work longer.

As in other similar studies, we see ourselves fitting into more than one category, and we expect most readers will too. Few people exhibit the characteristics of just one group. But these studies are helpful because they can help you discover your dominant traits. We are mostly High-Timers while sharing the family orientation of Homebodies.

“People want different things out of life, which will impact their level of happiness and correspondingly how they should prepare for retirement,” said Mathew Greenwald, president and CEO of the research firm. For example, he said, a High-Timer who wants to afford extras may need to work a little longer than a Homebody who expects to spend less in retirement (in that respect we are not Homebodies, because we expect to spend more).

“The key to a good retirement is summed up in the age-old wisdom: ‘know thyself,’” said Hecker. “The sooner people understand their goals for retirement, the sooner they can begin preparing for the retirement they want.”

Humberto and Georgina Cruz are a husband-and-wife writing team who work together in this column. Send questions and comments to AskHumberto@aol.com, GVCruz@aol.com.