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YOU CAN PLAN FOR IT, dream about it and try to visualize it, but there’s no way to tell for sure what retirement will be like for you until after you’ve actually pulled the trigger and left the job. As you contemplate this major life change, remember to prepare for these potential retirement surprises.

The luxury of time. Initially, many retirees keep on doing what they’ve always been doing, except they don’t go to work. There’s more time for shopping, doing home repairs, seeing friends and playing golf. But after a while it begins to sink in: Time is a precious resource. People begin to reflect on their lives, start to say no to activities they really don’t want to do and consciously focus on the important, more purposeful things in their lives.

The need to re-establish some structure. Eventually the fantasy of never again having to punch a time clock or rush to the commuter train gives way to the reality that most people actually like structure in their days. Most retirees develop some sort of new schedule for themselves, whether it’s twice-a-week volunteer work, a semester-long evening class, a regular golf or tennis game with a group of friends or even a part-time paying job.

A search for fulfillment. Work often gives meaning to your life. Some retirees experience a kind of post-work crisis as they search for a new purpose that will give them a sense of fulfillment. Most retirees find the answer in helping other people in one way or another. They may volunteer to help kids with their homework, serve meals to elderly widows and widowers, coach a sports team or help raise their grandchildren.

What happened to my friends? Many retirees are surprised to find that their relationship with old work colleagues fades away as their interests begin to diverge. Other friends may die or move away. However, new friends come along with new activities. And many retirees reconnect with old school pals or long-neglected family members.

Who am I married to? Many couples are surprised to discover new sides to their spouse – sometimes for better, sometimes for worse. Couples often have to redefine their relationship after retirement, remembering why they fell in love with each other in the first place, and realizing that they don’t have to share every interest or spend every minute of the day together.

I don’t need this old house anymore. Some people expect to stay in the family home forever, dreaming of the grand kids coming over to spend hours in the basement looking at old family photos. But the reality is, the grand kids are probably not that interested. The aging house may also need a lot more maintenance than you initially thought. Some retirees find that living in a condo complex or renting an apartment where someone else takes care of maintenance and repairs makes life easier.

Where does the money go? Many retirees are surprised to discover that their money goes a lot further than they thought. Some areas have tax breaks for retirees. Commuting costs are gone, and maybe you don’t need a second car anymore. And now that the kids are on their own, you no longer have to spend so much money on them. Many retirees find that they have extra money to travel, donate to charities, join sports clubs and go to the theater. But be careful. Keep some money in reserve for medical bills, because one common thread among retirees is that health care costs increase as you age.

The biggest surprise of all. Many people wonder why they didn’t retire sooner, because retirement turns out to be even better than they thought it would be.