The first couple of years in retirement are often the most difficult. But it also can set the stage for how you’ll fill the years ahead—both financially and psychologically. Stephen Kreider Yoder, 66, a longtime Wall Street Journal editor, joined his wife, Karen Kreider Yoder, 67, in retirement in late 2022. In this monthly Retirement Rookies column, they chronicle some of the issues they are dealing with early in retirement.


“No doubt you are being bombarded with advice and suggestions resulting from your recent column,” a reader emailed us from Wisconsin.

Oh, my, was she right. And we loved getting every bit of it.

We are into our second year of joint retirement but still feel like rank rookies. Fortunately, we have many experts at retirement among readers who thoughtfully share their perspectives and advice with us. We’d like to pass along a sampling.

The Wisconsin reader, Barb, 61 and retired for six years, was responding to our debate over whether to move to Kansas from San Francisco, and she was among many who encouraged us not to rush into it. As Wayne, 82, wrote from California, “Once you move there is probably no going back. That is why I suggest testing the water for a year before plunging in permanently.”

Others urged us to move soon. “You are going to go downhill physically faster than you think—that’s a certainty,” said one. “If you wait until you need to move to someplace that offers help with household services (cleaning, yardwork, home repairs) you will have waited too long to accomplish a move with ease.”

A Nebraska reader and many others sang the virtues of living in a small college town. Some letters read like travel brochures, encouraging us to settle in places like Bend, Ore., and Lindsborg, Kan.

Richard, 81, in Louisiana, advocated for moving near children and grandchildren. “Never move for the money,” he said. “Always think of family—that is priceless.”

The spectrum of responses we get to each installment has helped us see that there are few “right” answers in retirement—that this life phase offers a rich array of choices.

After we wrote that breaking my arm in Tunisia led us to ponder our impending frailty, one reader chided us. “Pretending you are 40 because you have time and money to do cool trips doesn’t mean you should choose things a person 30 years younger would do,” she said. “You missed that window.” She recommended cruises.

A sharply different view: “Yes, unforeseen circumstances can happen to anyone at any age,” said Brad, 70, of Texas. “If you live your life in fear of what may happen when you are enjoying any stage of life you are robbing yourself of the life you have today.”

An intriguing metric of approaching frailty came from Colorado reader Marty, 77. “My college roommates and I devised a formula. We called it QTR. It stands for quality time remaining. Take your age and subtract it from the age of your last living parent when he/she passed away. Subtract 2-3 years for the final fatal illness and that is your QTR.”

Reader Laura of Texas, 55, said she’s rethinking fitness and age. “Instead of thinking about it in the moment—as in, I’m fit now, etc.—I realize that I have to stack the deck to allow for things that are out of my control. I have to be on the higher end of fit because I won’t be able to regain what mother nature takes away very easily—if at all.”

I love it when readers take my side, as many did after we wrote about how Steve worries about running out of money while I’d like to spend a little to make home life more enjoyable. Our circa-1980 wood cabinets became a symbolic point of contention: I want new ones with glass fronts to showcase our lovely dishes. Steve thinks the old ones work fine.

“Life is short, replace the cabinets first!” urged Tim, 71, in North Carolina.

He advised us to trust our financial planner and withdraw a monthly amount from our assets. Doing that, “In the five years since I retired, our nest egg hasn’t shrunk. That’s the beauty of an advisor who knows how to protect your retirement portfolio.”

Thanks, Tim! I’m about to solicit bids for cabinets.

California reader Mark, 63, budgets money annually for the fun events. “My wife and I set up what we call our Life Experience ATM every year. We set an amount in Jan[uary] and the goal is to spend it all. Takes out guilt. Changes the discussion. And you don’t decide item by item each time, you just set it and go.”


Because my wife is kind, she didn’t cite the guidance my friends will deem most apt for me.

“It’s not unusual for some new retirees to feel a loss upon retiring, and many times it manifests itself with expenditures and the sense of losing money even when the money manager indicates you’re safe,” wrote Florida reader Chuck, 84. “It might be worthwhile for you to visit with a good psychologist and get to the root cause of your loss.”

That’s good advice not just because I’m fretful. I’ve also found that one of retirement’s surprises is how many anxiety triggers it presents. (Wait, aren’t these supposed to be my years of contentment?)

“Yes, downsizing is a good part psychological,” emailed Robert and Eleanor of Washington state, both 83, after we fretted in our column about what stuff to get rid of. “Like playing sports is a good part mental.”

Readers including Ed in Virginia cited the peace of mind that downsizing can bring. “Go further than you think you should or are comfortable with in the thinning out process,” recommended Ed, 72. “There were things we thought we couldn’t live without or part with, but, for us, that feeling passed quickly once items were gone.”

Not so fast, advised North Carolina reader Julie, 68, who says it’s OK to keep stuff until you absolutely have to get rid of it. “Forget letting it stress you with its shoulds and concerns,” she says. “Sometimes it’s best to just let that moving van show up and do the frenzied necessity of chucking out ‘perfectly good stuff.’ So feel no angst keeping the comforts of your life while you enjoy them.”

One compelling solution: “Take pictures of your special objects that stir your memories,” counseled Illinois couple Marty and Jan, 78 and 75. “Then it is easier to let go of the objects themselves.”

I’ve taken inspiration from readers who’ve self-diagnosed, including Joel in Pennsylvania, 72, who identified with our urge to remain highly productive. Driving that urge is “the satisfaction of a job well done. That pleasure derives from a dopamine surge,” he theorizes. “We have been turned into addicts.”

Having that explanation is comforting, he said. “I don’t wake up every day with projects on my mind and wonder why I’m mentally ill because I don’t want to just veg out.”

We wrote in December about how increasing our charitable giving in retirement stirred my money jitters anew, what with no salaries to replenish savings. Florida reader Jeff, 65, suggested that the real concern is market volatility, and he offered a hedge. “While paychecks are relatively constant and provide some assurance you can comfortably donate to charities, retirement portfolios (apart from reliable incomes) can and do vary,” he said. “Some great years…some not so great.”

He recommended a donor-advised fund, into which we can put money and earn tax deductions “when times are good” and wait to distribute the funds to charities in later years when weak markets dent our portfolio.

Several readers suggested we enrich our giving with that other asset we have in abundance. “When you stop ‘working’ what you do have is time,” wrote one. “It is incredibly valuable to these same charities.”

Last month, we posed an agonizing question: Should we each have a Plan B for if the other unexpectedly dies? Readers with experience offered priceless perspectives.

“Plan ahead for what will happen because it will. Don’t wait,” responded Peg in Florida, 67, who lost her husband. In addition to reviewing financial information together yearly, she urged, “Establish friendships. Maintain those friendships…. Find activities you can enjoy with your spouse. Find activities you can enjoy with your friends.”

On the other hand, she said: “Don’t think you know what you’ll do when your spouse dies…. Quite honestly, you don’t know what you’ll do until it happens.”

“You actually need a Plan C,” proposed Randy, 63, of British Columbia. “Consider another alternative future, one that in some ways may be worse than Plan B. For Plan C you need to answer the question, what if one of us becomes debilitated in some way that prevents both of you from living your life in a way that you wish?”

And then came some gut-wrenching counsel: “The most important thing you can do in the near future is having a heart-to-heart conversation about letting the surviving partner find companionship and love again,” wrote Maryland reader Lisa, 63.

Her husband, during his terminal illness, told her she should remarry after he was gone. “I had no intention whatsoever,” she said. “But after two years, I reconnected with a college crush at reunion. We are now extremely happily married.”

We’ve broached that scenario a few times but quickly concluded we couldn’t imagine it. We’ll put it on our agenda.


The Yoders live in San Francisco. They can be reached at [email protected].

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