Most people (69% of men; 81% of women) experience some sort of unexpected event after they retire, according to a recent survey conducted by Age Wave and Edward Jones. As a result, a very high percentage of retirees (93%) agree that preparation, flexibility, and willingness to adapt are keys to thriving in a potentially long retirement. That’s a good definition of retirement resilience.

The report notes that the most common types of serious challenges experienced are having a family member or close friend pass away, health issues for yourself or your spouse/partner, and significant financial setbacks. It also reveals that the most disruptive challenges for most people are divorce and widowhood, both of which can cause significant financial setbacks.

If you’re married or have a committed partner, it’s sobering to realize that at some time in the future, one of you will pass away and the other one will be a survivor. As a result, it makes a lot of sense to plan for the inevitable.

Another sobering result from the survey is that less than one-third of respondents (30%) said they could afford a comfortable and secure retirement that lasts more than 20 years; that percentage drops to about one in seven (15%) when asked if they could afford a 30-year retirement. Yet a 20- to 30-year retirement is entirely possible for retirees currently in their early to mid 60s.

Let’s look at financial and lifestyle action steps to help you build retirement resilience.

Enhancing your financial resilience for a long retirement

What can you do to prepare and plan for life’s inevitable financial setbacks? Here’s a list of possible action steps you can take:

  • Make sure you have reliable sources of protected and variable retirement income that will last the rest of your life (and that of your spouse or partner), no matter how long you live.
  • Determine if you or your spouse will be financially OK after one of you passes away. Estimate the retirement income the surviving spouse would receive as well as their living expenses. All too often, the retirement income for the survivor drops by a larger amount than their living expenses do.
  • Estimate how much your variable retirement income could decrease during a market downturn. That might help you determine how much you might need to reduce your living expenses should that happen. Keep in mind that you’ll most likely experience a handful of stock market crashes, recessions, and downturns during your retirement.
  • Many retirees will also experience some form of cognitive decline in their later years. Develop a plan now for protecting your finances, well before the time you might need such a plan.
  • Determine whether your current home and community will be supportive when you or your spouse becomes frail in your later years. If it won’t be, you’ll want to find a home and community that can support you in your frail years, while you still have the vitality to make such a move.
  • Establish a plan to pay for personal care if and when you or your spouse become frail. Such a plan could include savings set aside for that exact purpose, home equity that’s held in reserve for such a need, the potential of taking out a reverse mortgage, or purchasing a long-term care insurance policy.

Building life resilience in retirement

While the above steps are important financial strategies, here are three lifestyle steps that are equally—if not more—important:

  • Maintain and improve your health by keeping a healthy weight, exercising regularly, eating nutritious food, and getting sufficient sleep.
  • Nurture a supportive network of family and close friends who can provide a convoy of support when you experience any of life’s inevitable challenges. And before that time, they’ll enrich your life as you enjoy their companionship.
  • Develop compelling reasons for getting up each morning and getting involved with other people. Reasons can include pursuing interests, volunteering, working part time, and activities with family and friends—it’s highly personal for you.

It might seem like a lot of work to prepare for a long retirement, but it’s well worth the effort. Nobody promised that it would be easy to live for 20 to 30 years in retirement.

This post just scratches the surface of exploring retirement resilience. The entire Age Wave/Edward Jones survey report is very informative and a critical read for retirees who take seriously the challenge of surviving and thriving during a long retirement.

PS: My father is the hurdler winning the race in the photo that accompanies this post. This photo aptly symbolizes the challenges of living well throughout retirement—inevitably life will present hurdles that you must negotiate. Imagine a hurdler who says “I would have won the race if not for the hurdles in the way.” My father trained diligently for his races, and I encourage you to prepare and train for your “retirement race” so you can come out a winner, too.