Retirees Say They Made Financial Mistakes Before Leaving Work

July 24, 2021
  • Retirees wish they'd spent less on houses and cars, and saved more instead. 
  • They wish they'd had more money and retirement conversations with their spouses sooner.
  • And they wish they'd paid off their mortgages before retiring. 
  • Read more Personal Finance Insider coverage »

Planning for retirement isn't always easy, but you only really get one shot at doing it well.

Learning from others who have retired is critical, and, luckily, many people who have retired comfortably are willing to share the things they've done well — and what they wish they'd done differently. 

Here, retirees share three mistakes they made on the road to their golden years. 

1. They spent too much on their homes and cars

Jim White retired at age 43 but says he made some spending mistakes along the way. At the top of the list: spending too much on a home and buying new cars. 

His family's home was a bit bigger than they needed. "There were rooms we rarely used at all, but you're stuck paying for them in a mortgage payment, plus maintenance, repairs, and cleaning," he told Insider. Additionally, he and his wife bought brand-new cars while he was saving for retirement. New cars depreciate in value quickly, and meant spending more than they needed to.

Now retired, he's planning to change these things. When he and his family return from living in Panama, they're planning to buy a smaller, more modest home, and a used, older car in cash. 

2. They wish they paid off their mortgages

Tommy, an early retiree and blogger at Leisure Freak who doesn't use his last name online, told Insider's Tanza Loudenback that he wishes he'd paid off his mortgage before retiring. 

Paying off a mortgage is something that many people in the early retirement community suggest, and is even popular among those retiring at a traditional age. Tommy, however, chose not to follow that path. "[Tommy and his wife] didn't prioritize it because they assumed their investment returns would exceed any mortgage interest saved," Loudenback wrote. 

He regrets the decision, though. "Being mortgage-free certainly adds another level of mental freedom," said Tommy.

3. They wish they'd started having conversations about retirement with their partners sooner

James R., a partially retired professor who doesn't use his last name online, says he wishes he'd had more money conversations with his spouse about retirement earlier in their marriage.

"I'd tell my 35-year-old self to not neglect that discussion about money," he told Insider. 

Especially with a partner, retirement planning isn't only for one person. It's something that will affect both people, and requires both people to tackle. Having conversations about how you plan to spend and live in retirement, in addition to how you plan to save for it, all should happen sooner rather than later.