Lessons from retirees: the 2016 TIAA Voices of Experience survey



The Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association of America (TIAA) recently issued its 2016 Voices of Experience survey report. For the survey, TIAA reviewed responses from over 1,500 retirees, the majority of whom (55 percent) had worked in higher education. A small percentage had also worked in public education or health care. Three-fourths of survey respondents had earned a college degree, and more than half (60 percent) held a masters degree or higher.

Although the results may not be representative of retirees as a whole, the results are consistent with survey responses of other groups and offer useful lessons and insights for retirees and pre-retirees of all ages.

The vast majority of respondents (93 percent) reported feeling “very satisfied” or “somewhat satisfied” with retirement overall. The attitude people bring into retirement seems to have a big effect: 76 percent of those who had been looking forward to retirement reported being very satisfied in retirement, while only 29 percent of the people who weren’t looking forward to it said they were very satisfied after they retired.

Planning ahead, financially and otherwise, also has a large bearing on how satisfied people are in retirement. Three-quarters of survey respondents who had started planning for retirement before age 30 reported being very satisfied.

What kind of planning did they do?

The highest financial priorities for retirees were planning to have enough income for essential living expenses (91 percent) and having enough to cover healthcare (87 percent).

How do retirees help ensure they have enough income? Seventy percent of them have an annuity to provide a steady source of retirement income, and 92 percent say they’re satisfied with their decision to buy an annuity.

As for healthcare, most respondents (90 percent) have medical insurance to supplement Medicare: 52 percent have coverage under a group plan from a former employer or other organization, 33 percent have self-purchased individual insurance, and 4 percent have both a group policy and individual coverage.

Twenty-one percent have purchased a long-term care insurance policy.

Compared to other Americans, TIAA members tend to be much more prepared for retirement. The average contribution to retirement accounts for TIAA members is 14 percent of pay, which is within the 10-15 percent recommended by many financial advisors. The majority of survey respondents (86 percent) reported being “very satisfied” or “somewhat satisfied” with their financial health. Less than 25 percent of respondents were concerned about running out of money.

More than half (54 percent) reported they didn’t make any financial adjustments to their lifestyle after retirement, and another 20 percent said they made only minor changes. Some of the financial changes that were made were buying fewer clothes and accessories (59 percent), dining out less (43 percent), and traveling less (52 percent), and 21 percent moved to a smaller house.

Nonfinancial planning was equally important to satisfaction in retirement. One big factor is keeping busy: 76 percent who have 10 or more retirement activities are satisfied with retirement, while only 52 percent who have one to four activities report being satisfied.

It’s also important to include your spouse in retirement planning. Greater satisfaction was reported by those who understand retirement is a partnership. Eighty-five percent of people who found it easy to transition to retirement had discussed their retirement vision with their spouse or partner, while 53 percent of those who had a difficult transition had done so.

Whom did respondents work with in their retirement planning? Most consulted multiple parties:

  • Spouse and other family members (69 percent)
  • Colleagues and friends (57 percent)
  • Professional financial advisors (50 percent)

Additionally, 67 percent had conducted personal research with books, magazines, articles, and retirement websites, and 73 percent had attended pre-retirement planning or counseling sessions.

Of those who relied on a financial adviser, 53 percent were satisfied with their retirement planning, compared to only 32 percent who hadn’t relied on an adviser.

The survey listed 15 retirement planning tasks. The majority of respondents (two-thirds to three-fourths) had engaged in each of these tasks.

  • Anticipating how I would occupy my time every day
  • Considering the possibility of working after retiring
  • Anticipating the effect of retirement on my spouse/partner and other family relationships
  • Understanding my Social Security options
  • Understanding my other sources for regular income
  • Managing my savings or investments
  • Maximizing retirement and benefit options through my employer
  • Anticipating my emotional or psychological adjustments
  • Understanding my health insurance coverage
  • Anticipating the potential for providing for long-term care/assisted living
  • Coordinating retirement timing/transitions with a spouse/partner
  • Determining whether to move and where to reside
  • Preparing for the possibility of declining mobility during retirement
  • Preparing for the possibility of a declining cognitive state during retirement
  • Planning for my financial legacy

Although the majority of retirees choose to stay in their homes, this becomes less common as people age. Sixty-eight percent of those age 66 to 69 are still in their homes, but just 40 percent of those age 80 or over. The reasons for moving include finding a home with a more suitable size or layout (17 percent), to be closer to family (16 percent) and to reduce maintenance costs (11 percent).

The surveys included space for respondents to offer suggestions to future retirees. Here are some responses:

“There is nothing like feeling financially secure to enjoy retirement.”

“Know your precise monthly income. Be realistic about the lifestyle that income can support, and begin to ease into it 18 months before retirement.”

“Try to ease into retirement. I consulted half-time for one year and quarter-time for another year.”

“Expect a period of missing the activities and interaction with people at work.”

“Remember that you cannot control everything. Allow for unexpected events with contingency plans.”

“We must keep inventing our lives as we age. The life I imagined when I first retired is no longer possible after 20 years, so I have changed my priorities.”

“Do not wait until you have enough retirement money to live in luxury. Retirement itself is a luxury.”


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