7 considerations for redefining retirement

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20 Oct 2023

SOURCE: Lorna Tan

Senior couple blowing bubbles, enjoying retirement

Much has been written about the importance of retirement planning and how to grow our wealth and assets via saving and investing. The objective is to accumulate a nest egg – comprising cash, assets, and passive income streams - to fund our needs and wants in our golden years.


However, certain retirement norms that worked for past generations may not work for us. With a longer lifespan, traditional thinking on retirement has also evolved.


Here are 7 retirement considerations.

1. Balancing health, time, and money

To get the most out of life, the 3 basics we need to have are health, time and money. But for most people, these 3 seldom come together. When we are younger, most of us would have good health, more free time but less money.

Couple enjoying each other's company

If we consider our golden years as the period from age 65 - when we can start receiving our CPF LIFE monthly payouts - most of us would have time and money, but may not be as physically active as before. Of course, how healthy we are differ from person to person.

2. Re-defining golden years

As we age, it’s only natural that our physical abilities weaken as well, even if we are in good health. While we have more wealth, we are less able to do the same types of activities we had been able to do before. For some of us, it might be more accurate to say that our “real” golden years are before the official retirement age.


If we consider our golden years as the period of maximum potential enjoyment because it includes a mix of good health and wealth, these should also be the years where we spend more on what we value or bring us happiness, instead of delaying gratification and hoarding our assets. When we re-define when our golden years are, it will signal the period that we should utilise our money to optimise fulfilment and create more precious moments.


For those who have planned their finances well, this means that they ought to start spending their wealth down much earlier than what is traditionally recommended. If they wait till they’re in their mid-60s to dip into their nest eggs, they may end up working longer than necessary, and for money they may never get to spend.


It doesn’t mean that they need to stop working before the official retirement age, but they can start spending more.

3. Leaving a bequest

Asian societies tend to place a priority on the tradition of passing down family heirlooms and bequests for their loved ones. Perhaps this explains why some CPF members opt for the CPF LIFE Basic Plan, as they want to leave a bigger bequest amount to their loved ones, relative to the other 2 CPF LIFE plans.


However, they must note that that there will be no bequest available under all 3 CPF LIFE Plans after the member hits about age 90. So, if you are going to live past 90, the Basic Plan may be a poor choice as the monthly payouts are lower than that of the Standard Plan, and there is zero bequest.


When it comes to selecting a suitable CPF LIFE plan, consider your own needs first – that is, how willing you are to adjust your lifestyle as things become more expensive - above anything else.


It should be noted that CPF LIFE is a national longevity insurance annuity which insures you against the possibility of outliving your savings, and should not primarily be used as a bequest medium.

Family celebrating a birthday

Sure, we all love our children, but is leaving them money when we die (which likely means our children would be about age 60 and quite settled in life by then) the best way to do it?


For those who can afford to help their children after setting aside resources for a comfortable retirement, it may make more sense to support their children financially when they are still alive - especially with the higher cost of living and their higher financial needs. The same can be said about giving to charity while you are still around, instead of leaving it as a bequest.

4. How much is enough?

There is also the question of how much is enough for a sustainable retirement.


Are we working because we need the money, enjoy our work, or simply because we are on autopilot and have become addicted to our job? Perhaps the thrill of making our first million has resulted in a bigger desire to make more? Over time, we allow ourselves to be robbed of actually living our life. The opportunities to build memories with our loved ones when we are busy making money are lost forever. We will never be young again, and neither will our parents, children, relatives, and friends.

Senior couple taking a selfie

The top 20% of the population can consider how much wealth they should accumulate and how they grow it. For instance, is it worth being stuck in a job they don’t enjoy? By managing their risks better and with proper money management, they can enhance their quality of life.


For the middle 60%, consider investing wisely in a diversified portfolio that is aligned with their life goals, financial situation, and risk profile. This means to take calculated risks while having enough savings for immediate needs and unforeseen circumstances. What goes into this portfolio can also vary from person to person, depending on their risk profile. Thus, it’s important to figure out what type of investment works best for you!


In addition, a sound estate plan will come in handy if mental incapacity occurs, as well as for proper distribution of assets upon death. Doing so will help to minimise any potential loss of assets due to them not being accounted for.

5. Phasing out of traditional 3 life stages

Coupled with longevity and inflation, the traditional 3 life stages of education, work and leisure are losing its relevance. This has many implications on how the government and employers perceive the ageing population, as well as on education opportunities and employment policies. Some employers are friendlier to older staff and there are even some that offer lifelong employment as long as the staff remains relevant.


We need a framework where age does not matter and what matters are interest, capability, and aptitude. For example, the SkillsFuture programme is not biased against age and encourages continuous learning.


For individuals, it presents more flexibility in how we want to pursue our interests throughout life without being shackled to specific timeframes to finish formal education and a fixed career path.


With a comprehensive financial plan to help navigate our life journey, we can afford to hit the pause button in life to smell the roses and come back refreshed to embark on a new venture, if we so desire.

6. Trend of "unretired"

Studies have shown that if you enjoy your job and will miss the social network and identity it offers, your health may suffer after retirement. While this applies to professionals whose jobs are mainly bound up with self-esteem and identity, it is also true for non-professionals.

Senior person at the workplace

Increasingly, there are people who have officially retired but have decided to re-join the workforce and become “unretired”. Reasons are financial and psychological such as the need for routine, mental stimulation and company.


So, focus on getting the most from your longer lifespan by continuing to learn and work. You can stay in work that is aligned with your life purpose and this need not be the same job nor require the same number of work hours, that you had in your younger years.

7. Health is wealth

In our efforts to achieve a sustainable financial future, some of us neglect what’s equally important, if not more important - our health. We know we are likely to live longer lives than our grandparents and parents, but it would be more fulfilling if we are living better and healthier lives too.

Senior couple enjoying a vacation

After all, it is not sufficient to have money alone. We can make more good use of and be able to enjoy our wealth only if we have good health. As such, measuring our years in good health is key. Doing so requires effort and a good understanding of how exercise and diet can translate to more good years.


So, have a multi-prong approach to retire well by re-defining your golden years, empower yourself with financial knowledge, inculcate the discipline to exercise and eat well, and understand what gives you purpose in your life.

The information provided in this article is accurate as of the date of publication.


Lorna Tan is the Head of Financial Planning Literacy at DBS Bank and is the author of four bestselling work – Money Smart, Retire Smart, More Talk Money, Talk Money.