What do you really want in retirement? Time? Money? Or both? Many people who retire become bored and go back to work. If you spend a little time thinking about your life after retirement now, you might save yourself some second-guessing and dissatisfaction down the line.

“Retire to something instead of retiring from something – people often find themselves bored because they have nothing to retire to. Start thinking about a passion or a ministry that a retiring person can do to make big differences in people’s lives,” says Ted D. Snow, CFP®, MBA, Snow Financial Group, LLC, Addison, Texas.

For starters, consider the steps you took that put you in a position to leave the workforce and begin life as a retiree.

Consider How You Got Here

Before you retired, you likely had retirement-related goals, many of which had to do with your finances. First, there was the matter of how you would pay living expenses after you no longer received a paycheck.

Whether it was through a pension, 401(k), Social Security, individual retirement account or other savings, you sat down, crunched the numbers and came up with a plan. You may have even created a retirement budget.

Your planning likely included reducing or eliminating debt, creating an emergency fund and buying life insurance and possibly long-term care insurance. (See also Do You Need Life Insurance After You Retire?) You may have written a will and made advance funeral arrangements.

List Retirement Lifestyle Goals

Now that you are officially retired – or very near to it – what do you want to do with your time? What do you want to achieve? If you haven’t written down a list of retirement lifestyle goals, do so now. Get out a piece of paper and make a “What I want to do now” list.

“I have had clients who didn’t plan well for what to do when they got to retirement, and they went downhill – some both mentally and physically – quickly,” says Martin A. Federici, Jr., AAMS®, CEO of MF Advisers, Inc., Dallas, Pa. “I now suggest to all my clients to make a list of things they want to do during retirement (often I remind them that working part-time has social and mental benefits besides the obvious monetary benefits) and see to it that they keep themselves mentally and physically sharp once they retire.”

Your list can include both short-term and long-term goals. It doesn’t have to be detailed. Anything and everything is fair game including sleeping late, travel, gardening, fishing, you name it. It’s your list.

Entertain Other Possibilities

To your original list, add any of the following that interest you but that didn’t occur to you earlier. This list includes input from many sources and suggests some of the most common retirement goals people have.

  • financial independence
  • travel/recreation/sports
  • healthcare
  • a second career
  • gifts to – and time spent with – family
  • education/self-improvement
  • organizations/social interaction
  • peace of mind
  • donations of time/money

This additional process allows you to expand your original list, if appropriate, but still ensure the list includes what is important to you.

Divide Your Goals into Groups

Divide your goals into three groups from most to least important. The number of goals in each group is up to you, but for most people the most important group will be the smallest and the least important group the largest.

By grouping your goals, you can focus on what's really most important to you without having to prioritize each goal separately. For thoughts, see Why Working After Retirement Is Good for Your Health, Retirement Travel: Good and Good for You and 15 Mistakes People Make When Planning for Retirement.

“You might not be able to accomplish all the goals you were aiming for. And that’s OK. Focus on the most important one, because life happens and you might find new goals to set your mind on,” says Patrick Traverse, founder of MoneyCoach, Charleston, S.C.

Consider the Downside

A recent poll uncovered seven misconceptions people have about retirement. One relates to the common expectation that retirees experience less stress in their lives. Although 55% of respondents age 50 or older expected retirement to be less stressful than working, only 39% found that to be true.

Other misconceptions included the notion that travel and hobbies would fill their days, that they would take better care of themselves and their health would hold up, that their standard of living would remain the same and that their relationships with family members would improve.

Knowing about these potential pitfalls can help you prepare and avoid the disappointment of a retirement that doesn't meet your expectations.

Do a Worst-Case Scenario Test

To that end, consider each retirement lifestyle goal on your list under both a best-case and worst-case scenario. Imagine, for example, whether your goal to travel and see the world would be possible if your health declined or your financial situation deteriorated.

“Risk management is about planning for all risks and trying to mitigate as many as possible. One way to do this is to look at worst-case scenarios with your retirement planning. Think about variables you cannot control, like the amount of pension or Social Security payment you are expecting to receive, what happens if the stock market drops 50% right before retirement, or what happens if your health expenses double and are not covered by health insurance,” says Kirk Chisholm, wealth manager at Innovative Advisory Group in Lexington, Mass.

For goals you’ve deemed least important, the scenarios will not matter so much. For those that are most important, you may want to consider alternative goals, adaptations or coping strategies, just in case.

The Bottom Line

After going through this exercise you will have more than just a list of goals. You will have a plan. Your plan will take into account not only your circumstances now, but possible changes to health and wealth in the future.

“What makes your life purposeful after you retire? Many retirees turn their focus to their family (grandchildren), hobbies, sports or volunteering in the community. It doesn’t matter what you choose to maintain purpose in your life, but choosing something is essential for a fulfilling retirement,” says Eric Flaten, founder and senior advisor, ePersonal Financial, LLC, in Bellingham, Wash.

The more complete your plan, the less chance you will face roadblocks, boredom or, worse, depression. In the process, you may discover that all that financial preparation was just that – preparation. The money, it may turn out, was not an end, but a means to an end.

Want to learn how to invest?

Get a free 10 week email series that will teach you how to start investing.

Delivered twice a week, straight to your inbox.