Avoid this common retirement planning mistake

What do you dream about doing in your retirement? If you're like many people, you'll say "travel." That answer is by far the most commonly reported retirement dream (42 percent of respondents) in the 16th Annual Transamerica Retirement Survey. Indeed, it's a good answer.

Now let's suppose you're able to travel for four weeks a year during retirement. What will you do during the other 48 weeks?

The second most commonly reported dream is to spend time with family and friends (21 percent). This is another good answer, but it's doubtful that you'll spend 48 weeks with them every year. Maybe you'll spend another four weeks annually with family and friends. So, what will you do during the other 44 weeks?

The third most commonly reported dream is to pursue hobbies and interests (15 percent). If you really love your hobby or interest, it's possibly you could spend a lot of your time pursuing it. But 44 weeks' worth?

By now, you get the picture. For many people, the most commonly reported dreams about how you'll spend your newfound freedom won't take up even half of it. Focusing on their retirement fantasies and overlooking their ordinary, day-to-day life in retirement is a common mistake for near-retirees.

What will you really do with the rest of your life?

If you're in your 50s or 60s and thinking seriously about retirement, it's a good idea to give some thought to how you'll spend the typical 16-hour day when you're not sleeping, traveling or hanging out with your family and friends.

Here are some possibilities:

Work or volunteer

Over half (51 percent) of the Transamerica survey respondents reported that they plan to work in their retirement years (39 percent want part-time work and 12 percent want full-time work). Work could indeed fill up a good chunk of your retirement time. A reasonable life plan would be to work part-time and spend the rest of your time following those dreams.

Take care of your health

Exercise and improving your diet are the closest we'll come to the fountain of youth. You could easily spend an hour or two each day walking, swimming, attending yoga classes, going to the gym -- whatever is your activity of choice. You could spend equal amounts of time learning about healthy nutrition, shopping for the best possible foods to eat and preparing three nutritious meals per day. In the process, you might reduce your medical bills.

Help family members

Most likely, helping family members wasn't what survey respondents had in mind when they reported wanting to spend more time with them, but many new retirees need to take care of frail parents or babysit grandchildren while their parents work. If this is the case for you, taking care of family can indeed fill up a lot of your time. There are many possible ways to think about this time -- some people find it gratifying, others find it frustrating and many simply feel it comes with the territory of being a family member and are glad to help.

Complete postponed projects

Need to clean out the attic/basement/garage/family room that's filled with the "junk" you've been accumulating? Edit and organize your 20,000 digital photos? Finally get around to the you-name-it project, such as preparing your estate plan, organizing your financial files or learning how to cook more healthily? Many new retirees report they're busier than ever, and they wonder what they did with their time before they retired. But the "honey-do" list might take only a year or two to get through -- then what?

It's neither feasible nor realistic to map out your entire life before pulling the retirement trigger. And it's good to be open to new possibilities for how you'll spend your time. But it's also a bad idea to be clueless about what you'll do during the first weeks, months and even years after you retire.

When it comes to retirement, many people focus primarily on the financial challenges, and it's certainly important to deploy a realistic plan for financial security for the rest of your life. And dreaming about what you'll do with your retirement freedom will give you something to look forward to. But planning your daily life in retirement is equally important. You'll find it's well worth the effort to give serious thought to the structure of your life during retirement so you can fill that time with the people and activities that give you the most pleasure.

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    Steve Vernon helped large employers design and manage their retirement programs for more than 35 years as a consulting actuary. Now he's a research scholar for the Stanford Center on Longevity, where he helps collect, direct and disseminate research that will improve the financial security of seniors. He's also president of Rest-of-Life Communications, delivers retirement planning workshops and authored Money for Life: Turn Your IRA and 401(k) Into a Lifetime Retirement Paycheck and Recession-Proof Your Retirement Years.