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Helping Clients Through The Honeymoon Phase of Retirement

February 4, 2020

A part of our series, 8,000 Days



At the turn of the century, a new mysterious device, code named “Ginger” was expected to change the world. Steve Jobs said it would be “as big of a deal as the PC.” But after the Segway Human Transporter was introduced in 2001, it never quite lived up to the hype of revolutionizing personal transportation.

Likewise, retirement is touted as paradise, a time filled with fun and leisure. Yet for many, it initially turns out to be as much of a disappointment as the Segway.

Entry into Retirement May Be a Letdown

Clients work to save for retirement for most of their lives. They anticipate having the time and freedom to do what they want when they want. However, when retirement happens, many of them struggle with the transition. About two-thirds of recent retirees (69%) say they had challenges adapting to retirement.1

Retirement Is Supposed To Be Fun, Not Challenging

4 Phases of Retirement

Source: Retired Baby Boomers face emotional adjustments Baby Boomers Face Emotional Adjustments, USA Today, 2/3/15. Most recent data available used.


What’s the Honeymoon Phase of Retirement?

According to Dr. Joseph Coughlin, director of the MIT AgeLab, retirement is made up of four phases. The Honeymoon Phase is the first one. Advertising portrays this time being filled with beaches, bike riding, and golf. It’s true that if clients have stopped working, they’ll have more time for leisure activities. They might even think, “This is the life. This is what I want my retirement to be like.” But after a while, these activities can become routine. They might not provide the happiness clients expect.

The Four Phases of Retirement

4 Phases of Retirement

Instead of planning for ‘retirement’ as a single state, it may be beneficial to reframe the conversation to reflect a four-phased concept of retirement. Each is characterized by the tasks and issues individuals are most likely to be managing. Source: MIT AgeLab, 2017


The Highest Levels of Resources

In each of the four phases, clients will have varying levels of resources in the following categories: financial, cognitive, physical, and social. These resources tend to diminish the longer they’re retired.

Financial resources tend to be highest in the Honeymoon Phase, since retirees have just started spending their retirement savings. For most, aging hasn’t taken its toll on bodies and minds, therefore, clients’ cognitive, physical, and social resources also tend to be at their highest level. As a result, their lifestyle and well-being is often comparable to their life during full-time work.

So, What’s The Problem?

Despite clients’ resources potentially being at their highest level, the Honeymoon Phase comes with transition challenges related to clients’ routines, roles, and relationships.

Breaking a Routine That Began in Kindergarten

Get up. Get dressed. Get breakfast. Go to school or work. Come home. Eat. Go to bed. Retirement can break this routine. There’s nothing forcing clients to live like this anymore. They’ll have a lot more time on their hands. They may enjoy this freedom, but if they’re not sure what they’re going to do with it, boredom can set in. Thirty two percent of recent retirees struggle with getting used to a new and different routine.1

Our 60-Year Routine

60-Year Routine Graphic

Retirement can break this routine. There’s nothing forcing you to live like this anymore.


Clients’ Relationships Change

If a client stops working, they may miss the socializing, intellectual stimulation, and sense of accomplishment resulting from collaborating with co-workers on projects. Among recent retirees, 37% miss the day-to-day social interaction with co-workers.1

In the Honeymoon Phase, clients will spend less, if any, time with co-workers, and way more time with their spouse. This adjustment can put a strain on relationships if couples don’t share similar interests or social circles. New conflicts can pop up about the sharing of chores, how to spend leisure time, and how to manage the household.

Many retirees in this phase find themselves caring for parents, children, or grandchildren. Two thirds of parents over the age of 50 financially support their grown kids.2 They provide an average of $6,800 annually.2 Twenty five percent of boomers care for aging parents.3 Trying to care for either grown kids, parents, or both, under the constraints of a retirement budget, can cause stress on relationships as people wonder if they’re overextending their resources.

Their Role Will Change

Work can give clients an identity, a sense of purpose, and respect. In the Honeymoon Phase, if they stop working, they may miss that identity and sense of accomplishment. The might feel under-appreciated and like they’re in a state of limbo after leaving the structured world of work. Their family members may expect more from them, more of their time and attention, maybe more than they’d like. Their previous identity, built over their career, was clear. Their new identity is foggy.

Timing Is Important

If clients are nearing retirement, they may be a bit anxious about entering the Honeymoon Phase. Sixty three percent of people feel stressed about retirement leading up to that decision.1 Retirees usually have a smoother transition if they enter it in a planned way, where they choose a retirement date. They tend to experience more anxiety if they’re forced into this phase by a layoff or health problems.

Help Clients Make a Smoother Transition

Create a new routine
Even though clients know retirement is coming, most of them don’t spend much time planning what they’ll do when they get there. Ask clients: “How do you plan to spend your time? What are your hobbies? What activities will fill your days?” Help them set some long-term and short-term goals. Moving towards these goals can provide a sense of purpose and control in your new routine.

Find your new identity
Help clients find ways to be productive. Suggest that they consider volunteering, working part-time, taking a class, or learning a new skill. For more ideas, checkout encore.org. Help clients struggling in the Honeymoon Phase by finding them a retirement mentor, someone who’s thriving in retirement. Retirement mentors should meet regularly with clients to discuss transition challenges and options for their new role.

Discover new relationships
Identify ways clients can build new relationships to replace work relationships. Suggest they take a class, work part-time, or join a group where they can meet people. Browse to meetup.com with them, enter their zip code to find groups in their area.


Encourage them to give themselves time
Help them understand that they shouldn’t expect to hit their retirement groove right away. It may take six months or a year or two to find their new roles, routines, and relationships.

Provide clarity about finances
In the Honeymoon Phase, they may not be bringing in a paycheck. They might start withdrawing money from their savings for income. They may wonder if they’ll run out of money in retirement. You can help them understand their financial situation and retirement income plan.

Why the Honeymoon Phase Can Feel Like a Lot of Work

Finding a new role, routine, and relationships will take planning, time, and effort. And it will push clients out of their comfort zone. But it’s worth it. Help clients consider the possible alternative—a boring and lonely retirement.

To Summarize, We’ve Covered:

  • What’s the Honeymoon Phase of retirement
  • The Honeymoon Phase sounds pretty good. What’s the problem?
  • How you can help clients smooth their transition into the Honeymoon Phase

Retirement Doesn’t Have to Bomb Like the Segway

Sure, the Segway never lived up to the hype, but if clients have bought into the propaganda that rest and relaxation are the keys to a great retirement, they may be disappointed. Now you know more about the transition to the Honeymoon Phase of retirement. Help clients start planning now for their new roles, relationships, and routines when they get there.

Next Steps

  1. Help clients research groups in their area. Visit meetup.com with them, enter their ZIP code, and search for groups that match up with their interests.

  2. For clients struggling in the Honeymoon Phase, find them a retirement mentor. Consider creating a retirement mentoring program. Match retirement mentors, clients who are thriving in retirement, with clients who are struggling. Mentors should meet with retirement mentees regularly to share their secrets to retirement success.

  3. Help clients find volunteer opportunities in your area. This article has some great ideas to get started: 9 Tips to Find an Ideal Volunteering Gig


1Retired Baby Boomers face emotional adjustments, USA Today, 2/3/15. Survey included 1,000 people, ages 60 to 73, who retired in the last five years from their primary profession and who have at least $100,000 in investable assets. Most recent data available used. 

2How to stop your grown kids from ruining your retirement, Forbes, 11/29/17

3How to take care of aging parents and yourself, Fidelity, 9/27/17

The information in this article is provided for informational purposes only. Hartford Mutual Funds may or may not be invested in the companies referenced herein; however, no endorsement of any product or service is being made. 

The MIT AgeLab is not an affiliate or subsidiary of Hartford Funds.