In a recent study by the Employment Benefit Research Institute retired people between the ages of 62 and 75 were asked about their finances and how content they were with retirement so far. I found many of the answers quite interesting. They were divided up into the five typical categories of income from upper to lower, with 3 categories between them.

The Affluent group consisted of those with more than $100,000 in retirement income and enough assets that 2/3 of them felt their money would outlast them. Most had a variety types of income from pension plans to regular savings, with the majority feeling that they had maintained the same standard of living as before their retirement. Twenty-five percent felt that their lifestyle had increased since they retired, and they gave themselves a quality-of-life satisfaction rating of 8.1 out of 10.

The Comfortable were those with retirement incomes of between $40,000 and $100,000, with financial assets of between $99,000 and $320,000. They also had a variety of income sources, and most had maintained the same lifestyle as they had before retirement. Interestingly half spent under $,3000/ month to do that, showing that one doesn’t need a lot to retire comfortably. Most interesting was the fact that they gave themselves a quality-of -life satisfaction rating of 8.0 out of 10. Showing that having more does not always equate to a higher life satisfaction.

The Average had the same retirement incomes as The Comfortable, just with fewer savings overall, meaning they had under $99,000 put away in total. Half of this group who were surveyed felt that they had saved enough for retirement with the other half wishing they had saved more. Most of their income came from social security but many also had pensions from their previous jobs as well. Half of this group spent less than $3,000 per month and again the majority felt that their standard of living had remained the same as it was before retirement. Interestingly again, they gave themselves a quality-of-life satisfaction of 7.8 out of 10, just a smidge under the two groups above them.

The “Just-Getting-By” group had incomes below $40,000 and very low levels of savings, yet surprisingly, half of this group also believed that they had saved enough for retirement. Most of their income came from social security and very few had any other source of income. Although a third of the group felt their standard of living had gone down since retiring, half felt that it had remained the same as before. On quality-of-life satisfaction scale they gave themselves 7.2 out of 10.

The Struggling group relied on social security for virtually all their income and had little to no other savings to speak of. Most of this group were both single and female, with most feeling that their standard of living had gone down since retiring. Twenty percent of this group also had unmanageable debt, and most were renters who used a high percentage of their income to cover that monthly expense. This group gave themselves a quality-of-life satisfaction rating of 5.8 out of 10.

It is interesting how close the first four groups rated themselves on quality of life. The first two groups were virtually the same with the next two groups only marginally less than the top group.

The two take aways I was able to glean from this survey were: that one does not need a lot to be happy in retirement, in fact contentment seems once again to be the key to a happy life. The other is that having debt, and not having a paid for home in retirement, are the two roadblocks that impede us the most from enjoying our golden years. That may be one of the simplest retirement strategies that I have heard yet.