Some Thoughts on the Stages in Retirement

I was listening to a recent Earn and Invest podcast episode about the 5 stages of retirement and it got me thinking about this myself. They were discussing this Kiplinger article about how to skip some of those steps.

The core of these posts is that there are several stages that happen before and during retirement, sort of like the stages of grief. Some of these stages can be skipped and that might be a goal someone plans for.

I thought we’d talk about this and my own plans for this when it comes.

What are the Stages of Retirement

To quote from the Kiplinger post with some formatting from me:

“1. Pre-retirement.

Before the actual retirement phase begins, individuals envision their new life and strategically plan for it. This pivotal stage sets the foundation for a successful transition. Skipping this step positions the retirees for steps three, four and five. Implementing this step makes this a two-step process.

2. Full retirement.

This is the phase where the blissful reality of fully experiencing one’s wealth sets in. This is a time of calming yet exhilarating sensations as retirees immerse themselves in the fruits of their labor. Enjoying one’s wealth is more about relationships, identity and purpose than it is about money. The exhilaration of full retirement is rarely experienced because most retirees skim or skip over step one.

3. Disenchantment.

Unfortunately, the retirement journey isn’t without its challenges. Feelings of unmet expectations, disillusionment and disappointment may surface during this stage, requiring introspection and adjustment. When retirement is not properly planned, the transition to retirement life immediately impacts mental and physical well-being. Life expectancy is negatively impacted if this stage lasts too long.

4. Reorientation.

This is a crucial period for resetting expectations, reviewing goals and planning anew. Retirees navigate this stage by adapting to changes and embracing a more realistic outlook on their retirement. In other words, they must start over with step one and start planning their retirement with increased diligence and awareness.

5. Reconciliation and stability.

The final stage involves restoring a sense of purpose and direction in life. Finding stability in day-to-day living becomes paramount, leading to a balanced and fulfilling retirement. This is only possible with expectations that are in harmony with preplanning, identity and purpose. This is step two, take two.”

To summarize them in my own words:


This is your daydreaming at your job about what you’ll do when you retire. Be it travel or hobbies or anything else and making plans for when/how you’ll retire. Stage 1 from above.

The honeymoon phase

This is when you actually retire and start doing all these things. This is when you take that year long vacation to Europe or whatever your plans were. Ideally with the stresses of work gone. This is Stage 2.


This is when you start to get used to being retired. You’ve gotten used to the lower stress levels and gotten into your routine. But it’s not as good as the honeymoon phase. Ideally this leads to introspection. This would be stage 3 and parts of 4. We’all say stages 3-4.5


You’ve introspected and now you’re acting on the changes you came to. Maybe this is returning to work, maybe it’s volunteering, or something completely different. This would be Stage 4.5-5.

Are the five stages bad?

Like any big life change, I think retirement can be jarring. But that doesn’t make them bad.

But I think a lot of that is due to setting expectations. To draw another analogy, changing jobs, something I at least have experience in at the moment.

When you’re at a job you dislike, you daydream and plan about a job that you’ll enjoy more. Maybe you’re already looking.

When you get to the new job it’s so much better than your old one. None of the problems you complained about are there.

After a while you start to notice that the things you disliked about the old job are (sometimes) present at this one or new annoyances pop up.

You get used to it and plug along.

I think that these 5 stages of retirement are just a natural extension of setting your expectations too high. You set them at the moon for the new job since you hate your current one. But after a brief honeymoon period you start to realize that it still has things that you don’t like, or maybe you don’t like the job at all just like your old one.

So I don’t know if the 5 steps are inherently a bad thing. I think it’s just a sign that someone needs deeper introspection or to have thought more about what they want out of life. At the end of the day, you can’t be happy 100% of the time.

I think the transition to retirement is similar. You have the expectation that you’ll always be happy once you retire and all the bad things about your life are your job’s fault. However after some time you get bored or used to the new level of happiness and all of a sudden you’re considering going back to work.

The timing of all of these stages, or if they happen at all, depends on the person. But personally I don’t think they’re inherently bad. It just depends on your goals.

Should we skip the 5 Stages?

I think that if possible, yes, they should be avoided. But I think they point at something deeper, a lack of introspection, planning, or goals.

I’ve never had a job where I went through these five stages. I’ve known people who have though. Maybe it’s just that I’m too much of a pessimist for them. But at every real job I’ve had when it comes time to leave, I try to sit down and think about why I want to leave. Is it that I don’t like the work? Is it something about the work environment? Why? The area I live in? The pay?

These and more are all valid questions to ask. With the yesses to these questions answered I ask the following for each. Will changing jobs fix this issue? Be it pay, the area, or work environment. If the answer is yes, dig a bit deeper. For instance, there will always be bureaucracy so moving jobs won’t eliminate that. But maybe it will lessen the amount I have to deal with.Maybe moving to a new area is what I’m looking for. If so, what kind of area? More mountains? Easier access to the outdoors?

I think planning for retirement should be the same way. Why are you retiring? Because you hate your job? Why do you hate your job? 

You might find that FIRE is the wrong answer. I do believe that it isn’t for everyone. Maybe it’s just that you want more free time to work at x. You can dig down to your why and that should help you avoid these stages.

What about me?

In some ways, I plan to avoid the 5 stages myself. At least at the moment, I plan to continue my podcast, maybe this blog, become a master blacksmith, pick up glassblowing, and more. Will I actually do all of these things? Maybe not. Some of them I may achieve before retirement, some I may never achieve.

But they’re all meaningful to me in some way. I’m sure over the next 60 years these goals will shift and change too. Some will be added and maybe some will be dropped. But I’m constantly thinking about why I’m retiring and whether retirement will actually let me achieve those things.

The things you may find meaningful upon reflection may be work, maybe part-time is the answer for you. While others may not consider that retired, I think it’s valid to call yourself retired and to keep working.

Wrapping it Up

So there you have it. Some of my thoughts on the “5 stages of retirement.” I think they’re more just a failure of introspection, something I think the average person already needs to do more often in life not just as they approach retirement, and less a failure to “retire properly.”

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