MONEY workplace etiquette

Should You Give Your Boss a Holiday Gift?

Robert A. Di Ieso, Jr.

Q: Should I give my boss a holiday gift? And what about the people who work for me?

A: Just over a quarter of workers buy for the boss, according to a survey conducted last winter by staffing company Spherion. But you probably shouldn’t follow their lead.

You risk looking like a suck-up to your boss and your co-workers, says Lizzie Post, co-author of The Etiquette Advantage in Business. And the gesture could make your manager feel awkward if he or she doesn’t get you a gift.

The right way to managing gifting upwards—if you are going to do it—is to pool with your colleagues to get one gift from everyone, says Post. Just don’t make it too expensive (no jewelry) or personal (no massage) or offensive (no reindeer sex t-shirt). “Stick with something work appropriate,” says Post.

She suggests a monogrammed business card holder or hand-crafted chocolates.

And what about gifting in the other direction if you’re a boss? Just 9% of supervisors surveyed by Spherion said they planned to give presents to subordinates.

But giving to your direct reports can be a nice thing to do, says Post. “It’s expression of gratitude or recognition for someone’s hard work,” she adds. “And there is nothing wrong with that.”

If you go ahead and buy for your underlings, keep it fair and give gifts of equal value across the board. You don’t want to be accused of favoritism when you’re playing office Santa.

MONEY IRAs

The Best Way to Tap Your IRA In Retirement

Ask the Expert Retirement illustration
Robert A. Di Ieso, Jr.

Q: I am 72 years old and subject to mandatory IRA withdrawals. I don’t need all the money for my expenses. What should I do with the leftover money? Jay Kahn, Vienna, VA.

A: You’re in a fortunate position. While there is a real retirement savings crisis for many Americans, there are also people with individual retirement accounts (IRAs) like you who don’t need to tap their nest egg—at least not yet.

Nearly four out of every 10 U.S. households own an IRA, holding more than $5.7 trillion in these accounts, according to a study by the Investment Company Institute. At Vanguard, 20% of investors with an IRA who take a distribution after age 70 ½ put it into another taxable investment account with the company.

The government forces you to start withdrawing your IRA money when you turn 70½ because the IRS wants to collect the income taxes you’ve deferred on the contributions. You must take your first required minimum distribution (RMD) by April of the year after you turn 70½ and by December 31 for subsequent withdrawals.

But there’s no requirement to spend it, and many people like you want to continue to keep growing your money for the future. In that case you have several options, says Tom Mingone, founder and managing partner of Capital Management Group of New York.

First, look at your overall asset allocation and risk tolerance. Add the money to investments where you are underweight, Mingone advises. “You’ll get the most bang for your buck doing that with mutual funds or an exchange traded fund.“

For wealthier investors who are charitably inclined, Mingone recommends doing a direct rollover to a charity. The tax provision would allow you to avoid paying taxes on your RMD by moving it directly from your IRA to a charity. The tax provision expired last year but Congress has extended the rule through 2014 and President Obama is expected to sign it.

You can also gift the money. Putting it into a 529 plan for your grandchildren’s education allows it to grow tax free for many years. Another option is to establish an irrevocable life insurance trust and use the money to pay the premiums. With such a trust, the insurance proceeds won’t be considered part of your estate so your heirs don’t pay taxes on it. “It’s a tax-free, efficient way to leave more to your family,” Mingone says.

Stay away from immediate annuities though. “It’s not that I don’t believe in them, but when you’re already into your 70s, the risk you’ll outlive your capital is diminished,” says Mingone. You’ll be locking in a chunk of money at today’s low interest rates and there’s a shorter period of time to collect. “It’s not a good tradeoff for guaranteed income,” says Mingone.

Beyond investing the extra cash, consider just spending it. Some retirees are reluctant to spend the money they’ve saved for retirement out of fear of running out later on. With retirements that can last 30 years or more, it’s a legitimate worry. “Believe it or not, some people have a hard time spending it down,” says Mingone. But failure to enjoy your hard-earned savings, especially while you are still young enough and in good health to use it, can be a sad outcome too.

If you’ve met all your other financial goals, have some fun. “There’s something to be said for knocking things off the bucket list and enjoying spending your money,” says Mingone.

Update: This story was changed to reflect the Senate passing a bill to extend the IRS rule allowing the direct rollover of an IRA’s required minimum distribution to a charity through 2014.

Do you have a personal finance question for our experts? Write to AskTheExpert@moneymail.com

Read next: How Your Earnings Record Affects Your Social Security

MONEY Workplace

Why Smart People Send Stupid Emails That Can Ruin Their Careers

Producer Scott Rudin and Sony Pictures Entertainment Co-Chairman Amy Pascal attend the Sony Pictures Classic 68th Annual Golden Globe Awards Party held at The Beverly Hilton hotel on January 16, 2011 in Beverly Hills, California.
Producer Scott Rudin and Sony Pictures Entertainment Co-Chairman Amy Pascal publicly apologized for racially insensitive emails. Neilson Barnard—Getty Images

High-profile email leaks show, once again, the danger of assuming that what you write is for the recipient's eyes only.

What were they thinking?

When Amy Pascal and Scott Rudin were exchanging their now infamous emails, leaked in the Sony Pictures Entertainment hacking scandal, they clearly weren’t worried about what would happen to their careers if anyone else read their notes.

You have to wonder why not: Companies routinely monitor worker communications. Email is regularly used as evidence in lawsuits and criminal investigations. Now hacking is another threat. Email isn’t private. Everyone knows that.

Pascal, who climbed the ranks at Sony Pictures Entertainment to become co-chairman, and Rudin, an Oscar-winning movie producer, are not stupid people. Yet they are just the latest example of high-profile executives who send email without a thought about what would happen if the outside world read them.

Remember David Petraeus, the four-star general and CIA director who resigned from his job after an FBI investigation inadvertently turned up emails that exposed an extramarital affair? Ironically, Petraeus didn’t even send the emails. He wrote them and saved them to his drafts folder. He and his girlfriend shared the password and simply logged in to read the drafts.

Then there’s New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who fired his chief of staff Bridget Anne Kelly after it was revealed that she sent emails joking about traffic tie-ups caused by lane closings on the George Washington Bridge. The closures, an alleged retaliation against the mayor of Fort Lee for not endorsing Christie’s bid for governor, spawned a scandal that continues to affect Christie’s presidential prospects.

And most recently, a Harvard business school professor publicly apologized last week for an epic email rant that went viral, in which he threatened to sic the authorities on a local Chinese food restaurant that allegedly overcharged him $4 for a dinner delivery.

Even though senders should know better, “there’s an illusion of privacy, because the truth is, most of us haven’t been hacked or even know if higher-ups are reading our email,” says Dana Brownlee, president of Professionalism Matters. When it comes to successful people, she says, ego often trumps common sense. “Those with power often reach a point where they let their guard down because they feel somewhat invincible.”

It’s a trap that any of us can easily fall into, particularly in today’s time-crunched workplace, where it’s often easier to shoot off an email or text rather than pick up the phone—or, better still, walk down the hall—to discuss a sensitive issue. “We all have to be really careful about using email almost exclusively to communicate,” Brownlee says. “It’s dangerous.”

Brownlee suggests giving yourself this simple test: How comfortable would you be if your boss, a co-worker or the person you are writing about read it? Not sure? Don’t send it.

“Warning flags truly should go off in your head any time you prepare to hit send on anything you wouldn’t want to read on the front page of the paper,” says Brownlee. “Save the jokes and snarky or personal stuff for one-on-one time. You’ll be glad you did.”

MONEY retirement planning

You’ll Never Guess Who’s Saving the Most For Retirement

rhinestone studded piggy bank
Robert George Young—Getty Images

As Americans delay retirement, they are saving more for their later years.

Americans with investment accounts grew a lot richer last year thanks to the booming stock market—but the 65-plus crowd enjoyed the biggest increase in savings for retirement of any age group.

Total U.S. household investable assets (liquid net worth, not including housing wealth) surged 16% to $41.2 trillion in 2013, according to a report published Wednesday by financial research firm Hearts & Wallets. That far exceeded annual gains that ranged from 5% to 12% in the post-Recession years of 2009 to 2012.

But when it came to retirement savings, older investors saw the biggest gains in IRA and 401(k) assets: Retirement assets for people age 65-74 rose from $2.3 trillion to $3.5 trillion in 2014, a new high.

What’s fueling the growth? Well, a lot of people 65 and older aren’t retiring. So they’re still socking away money for their nonworking years. Meanwhile, others who have quit work are finding they don’t need as much as they thought, so they continue to save, according to Lynn Walters from Hearts & Wallets.

As attitudes about working later in life change, so does the terminology of what people are saving for, Walters says. Rather than retirement, Americans are saving for a “lifestyle choice” in their later years. According to the study, most households ages 55-64 do not consider retirement a near-term option. Four out of five have not stopped full-time work. Says Walters: “The goal is to have enough money for the lifestyle you want when you’re older, not just quitting work.”

Read next: Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda: What You Can Learn From the Top 3 Pre-Retirement Mistakes

MONEY Jobs

Best—and Worst—Cities for Jobs in 2015

Cape Coral Florida along the Caloosahatchee River.
More than a third of employers in Cape Coral, Fla., plan to increase hiring next year. Florida Images—Alamy

These are the places where the most employers say they'll be adding jobs next year. Some of them might surprise you.

Big picture, the job market is doing pretty well. But drill down to the cities that are projecting the most—and the least—hiring when 2015 kicks off, and you find some surprising places.

In its quarterly Manpower Employment Outlook Survey, out today, the employment services company asked 18,000 employers in 100 metropolitan statistical areas how they expect hiring will change in the first quarter of 2015 compared with the fourth quarter of this year.

One-fifth of employers anticipate hiring staff in the first quarter, while just 6% are planning workforce cuts.

The strongest job prospects are expected in Cape Coral, Fla., with 32% of employers projecting more hiring. Better known as a Gulf Coast beach destination, Cape Coral was recently recognized as a top city for startup businesses. Growth in tourism and hospitality is also boosting the job market there.

Mexican border town McAllen, Texas, came in at number two, with 29% of employers projecting an increase in jobs. Thanks to the tariff-free trade agreements between the U.S. and Mexico, American companies including General Electric and Nokia have major facilities there, fueling job growth.

Deltona, Fla., another beach destination, came in third, with 26% of employers expecting to hire. Grand Rapids, Mich., headquarters for several major office-furniture manufacturers including Herman Miller, as well as a hub for aviation and auto manufacturers, also expects a 26% bump up in hiring.

At No. 5, Oxnard, Calif., is another city driven by international trade. Home to a major commercial port between Los Angeles and San Francisco, employers there expect a 24% jump in hiring in the first quarter.

Though the hiring outlook wasn’t negative in any of the 100 metropolitan areas Manpower surveyed, there were weak spots. Despite low unemployment rates, fewer than 10% of employers in these metropolitan areas expect to be adding jobs: Boston; Bridgeport, Conn,; Minneapolis; New York; Portland, Ore.; and Spokane, Wash.

For more places with hot job prospects, check out MONEY’s Best Places to Live:
The Best Places to Find a New Job
The Top-Earning Towns
See all the Best Places to Live

 

 

MONEY workplace etiquette

How to Handle a Co-Worker Who’s a Chronic Complainer

Robert A. Di Ieso, Jr.

Q: One of my co-workers is always complaining about our boss. I have a good relationship with both of them, but I don’t want to seem unsympathetic to my co-worker. What should I do? – Darin, Arlington, Va.

A: Everybody needs to let off steam once in a while. But be careful about getting sucked into a gripe session about your boss. What you say could come back to bite you.

You are probably not the only one to whom your colleague is complaining. So if you join in to say something negative (even if simply in the spirit of sympathy) about your boss, your co-worker may pass on the message to others that you are unhappy, too, says Dana Brownlee, president of Professionalism Matters.

“Make sure whatever you say you would also be comfortable with if someone repeated it to your boss,” says Brownlee.

How best to handle the situation depends on what your co-worker is complaining about, says Brownlee. If you agree with the complaint – maybe your boss is a micromanager—and you want to help, talk about how you deal with the issue. You might say something like, “I know John can be controlling. But I made sure I was very proactive about giving him updates on the project, and he eased up.”

If there’s a serious issue that should be addressed, encourage your colleague to raise the problem with the boss directly—and suggest a tactful way to do it. “It’s not going to solve your colleague’s problem just talking to you about it,” says Brownlee.

On the other hand, if your colleague is a chronic complainer who is more interested in moaning about things than fixing problems, it’s time to short circuit that aspect of your relationship.

Constant complaining wears you down and distracts you from your work. Plus, turning a sympathetic ear will only encourage your colleague to come back to with a subsequent rant. “Complaining is like a fire, it needs oxygen,” says Brownlee. “And complainers seek out people who will feed that fire.”

When you see a bitch session forming, steer the conversation in a different direction. Say something like “I’m tired of talking about work. Let’s talk about something else.”

If your colleague launches in anyway, listen, nod but don’t comment, and then change the subject. Or, play the work card, and just say you don’t have time to chat.

Do this enough times and your complaining colleague will go elsewhere to vent, says Brownlee.

Got a workplace etiquette question you need answered? Send it to drosato@moneymail.com!

MONEY Social Security

Can I Collect Social Security From My Ex?

Ask the Expert Retirement illustration
Robert A. Di Ieso, Jr.

Q: I have been divorced twice and currently am not married. Can I draw Social Security off either of my ex-husbands? I was married to the first one for 16 years and the second for 11. And would I be able to remarry and still draw off the ex? I am 62 now. – Rita Diestel, Bruce, Miss.

A: You can collect Social Security benefits based on the earnings of a former spouse if you were married 10 years or more, and you are at least 62 and not currently married. So, you’re good on all three counts.

But there are a few more wrinkles, says Adam Nugent, managing partner of Foresight Wealth Management, an investment advisory firm in Sandy, Utah.

You can collect benefits from the ex-husband with the larger payout but only if you’re not eligible for a higher amount based on your own work record. You can check how much you’re entitled to and your ex-husbands’ payouts (if you have their Social Security numbers) at ssa.gov.

To collect on an ex, you must be divorced at least two years. The former husband that you base your benefits on must be at least 62, though he doesn’t have to have started receiving his benefits yet for you to get yours.

But just because you may be able to collect now doesn’t mean it’s the best move for you, says Nugent. You are entitled to 50% of your former husband’s benefits but, like anyone collecting Social Security, you’ll get less if you start taking it before your full retirement age of 66. The longer you delay the better. If you decide to take it before 66, your benefits will be permanently reduced, 8% for each year you take it before 66. “You will be rewarded for waiting,” says Nugent.

As for marrying again, if your ex is remarried, that won’t affect your benefits. But if you remarry that’s a different story. Nearly 60% of U.S. divorcees remarry and if you do, you are no longer able to get a divorced spouse’s benefits, unless you get divorced again yourself.

If you remain single, you can use many of the same strategies that married spouses use to boost your payouts, says Nugent. One option is to file a restricted application with Social Security (at full retirement age) to collect a divorced spousal benefit, which is half of what your ex gets. Then, once you reach 70, you can stop receiving the ex-spousal benefit and switch to your own benefit, which will be 32% higher than it would have been at your full retirement age.

The rules are a bit different if your former spouse dies. You are entitled to 100% of your deceased ex-spouse’s Social Security, the same as any widow even if he was remarried. And if you are married when your ex passes away, you can collect survivor benefits as long as you didn’t remarry until age 60 or later. If you are collecting Social Security based on your own work history, you can switch to survivor’s benefits if the payment is larger. Or, if you’re collecting survivor’s benefits, you can switch to your own retirement benefits — between 62 and 70 — if it offers a larger payment.

There’s a lot to think about, says Nugent, but most important is that there are big benefits for delaying. As a woman you’re more vulnerable in retirement than a man because women typically live longer. Of course, your health, expected longevity, and other retirement savings should be factored in as well. “But if you can wait at least a few more years to start collecting Social Security, that will give you more security in the long run,” says Nugent.

Do you have a personal finance question for our experts? Write to AskTheExpert@moneymail.com.

Read next: Why Social Security Suddenly Changed Its Benefits Withdrawal Rule

MONEY charitable giving

How to Get the Most Bang for Your Charitable Giving Buck

Katherina Rosqueta
Joe Pugliese

Katherina Rosqueta, executive director of the Center for High Impact Philanthropy, explains how you can make a meaningful difference with your charitable dollars, even if you don't have Bill Gates' money.

Katherina Rosqueta, 47, is executive director of the Center for High Impact Philanthropy at the University of Pennsylvania. She has led the center, which provides analysis and educates individuals on how to maximize the social impact of their charitable donations, since its founding in 2006. MONEY senior writer Donna Rosato interviewed Rosqueta for the December 2014 issue, from which this Q&A is adapted.

Should I change how I give to charity?
Maybe. It depends on your motives. If you want to make a big impact, it’s not about the money you give. It’s about how well you give that money. The biggest misconception people have is that good intentions and a lot of money mean a lot of impact.

You need to move away from the focus on financial inputs, like how much money a charity has and what its overhead costs are. Instead, focus on the change you want to create, the actual impact. Is it helping people who have lost everything in a major disaster? Getting a child to read at grade level? Ask yourself where you can get the most bang for your buck. Be clear on the results you’re trying to achieve. Then sup­port organizations that are doing that.

Still, I don’t have Bill Gates’ money. Can I really make an impact?
Funders with more resources than you are often addressing bigger, more capital-intensive problems, like developing a new vaccine. But you can make a meaningful difference with a lot less money. It costs $150 to provide home-based health care to poor families in rural India. To help just one newborn, it’s $7. You could be saving a child’s life. The key is finding organizations that are using your money to the maximum effect.

How can I find a charity that is getting results?
There’s no one-stop shop. Sites such as charitynavigator.org, give.org, and guidestar.org let you know whether charities are legit and how much they spend on operations. Other sites, such as myphilanthropedia.org, focus on particular issues and help you judge which organizations have the most impact and cost-effectiveness.

At our center, one thing we do is research which practices lead to the most change. We then identify organizations that use those practices in specific areas such as hunger and urban revitalization. For example, we found that community groups can make a difference with simple landscaping and maintenance of vacant lots. In a program in Philadelphia, gun-related crimes fell 7% and property values rose 17% in neighborhoods where lots were cleaned, greened, and maintained—all for about $1,100 a year per lot.

So have these sites solved the problem of judging effectiveness?
No. There are more than 1 million nonprofits registered in the U.S.  What we do is very labor-intensive. No one has the capacity to evaluate the ongoing results of every nonprofit.

In that case, how should I evaluate a small local charity like a theater group or an animal shelter?
First, do a search on charity-screening sites and Google to check that it’s a registered nonprofit and to see whether there are concerns about fraud or misuse of funds. As for results, ask why this organization exists. Is the group’s goal to enhance the quality of arts and culture in your town? Go to a show and see how many people attend. If you count 10 people, that’s not much of an impact. Or get involved directly. Volunteer to walk dogs at the local shelter. Spend time within a nonprofit to observe its work and see how well it’s run.

Many people spread their giving around. Is it more effective to focus on one charity?
There are always tradeoffs, but spreading out your donations can be quite helpful. If you’re new to an issue, donating to several charities involved in that cause is a smart way to learn how different organizations work. You can decide later if you want to concentrate your giving on one.

What about giving to my college? Why should I if a super-wealthy class­mate is writing huge checks?
Often people give to their college because they feel gratitude for what they got from the school, not because of the impact their donation will have. Giving to your alma mater just serves another purpose.

Let’s talk about a crisis in the news: the Ebola epidemic. How can I help?
There are two types of organizations to consider for a crisis of this scale. The first are large international aid organizations that bring really specialized skills, like Doctors Without Borders. They are first responders who have the networks and experience to work in really tough settings. But they alone can’t solve it. You need organizations working in the region that know the local culture, geography, and language. You need both a top-down and bottom-up approach.

How do I find these bottom-up organizations?
Most of the time you can’t do it yourself. You have to rely on folks like those in our center and others with local connections. But if you yourself know people who work in an affected region or have personal ties to it, they can be a good source of information on what is working.

How should I respond to the next major natural disaster?
Often the best thing to do is send money. When there is a natural disaster, one impulse is to send donated items—food, blankets, or clothes. But needs change quickly. By the time these things arrive, there may be more urgent concerns.

If you know there’s a need in your local community for a specific item and you have an efficient way to get the goods there, you should do it. If you don’t have direct knowledge, what you donate may take up precious space, create transportation costs, and use up volunteer time moving and storing items that aren’t needed.

Many people give to the Red Cross after a natural disaster. A recent report, however, alleged serious problems with the group’s response to Hurricanes Isaac and Sandy in 2012. So what should people do now?
I don’t know enough to say whether you should stop donating to the Red Cross. But you shouldn’t give to an organization you don’t trust. If the only information you have about an organization is that it isn’t using money well, then don’t give.

Disaster relief can be an especially difficult area for giving. Some of that is due to the inherent chaos in the immediate aftermath of any disaster. Organizations that are seen as a “go-to” in times of disaster have increased responsibility to earn donors’ trust by providing a high level of transparency and accountability.

At this time of year, people think a lot about charitable donations. What advice do you have for getting the most out of seasonal giving?
Plan your giving before the busyness of the season takes over. Treat it like an investment decision rather than an impulse buy.

We just published our annual year-end giving guide, which identifies six high impact giving opportunities and provides advice on how to make your giving have a bigger impact throughout the year.

Is there an amount that makes us feel good about giving?
There’s not a particular number. But a lot of research finds that people who give and volunteer are happier and more successful.

Listen to more of Rosqueta’s advice about effective giving:

MONEY workplace etiquette

When It Is—and Isn’t—Okay to Text Your Boss

Robert A. Di Ieso, Jr.

Q: Is it okay to text my boss?

A: The answer depends the signals you’ve received in the past from your supervisor and on the information you’re trying to convey.

With the rapid rise in smartphone usage and the huge number of millennials now in the workforce, texting is indeed becoming more acceptable as a professional way to communicate, says Praful Shah, senior vice president of strategy at Ring Central, which makes business communication products.

“There’s been a huge shift toward businesses using texting for communicating with customers, partners and employees,” he notes. “For the younger generation of workers, it’s a natural part of their life and they are bringing behavior from their personal life into business.”

Still, it’s not right for every situation.

How to Tell if Your Boss Is Open to Receiving Texts

While surveys show that Gen Y is more attached to their mobile devices than older folks, across all generations more than 90% of people who own a smartphone text regularly. So age shouldn’t be a factor in deciding whether to contact your boss in this manner.

Rather, look out for one of these two clues that your boss would be okay with hearing from you by text:

1) He or she has texted you in the past.

OR

2) He or she has provided his or her cell number on the staff directory or in an email signature.

How to Tell if a Text is the Right Way to Communicate

A text is best reserved for situations in which you need an immediate response or want to provide a quick important piece of information, says Shah. But if you need more than a few brief sentences, an email is more appropriate.

Also, when the information is sensitive—such as a project being cancelled—it’s usually better to talk in person or by phone (though you could request the person’s time by text).

Timing is important, too. If it’s late at night or you know your boss in is in a meeting, a text can be intrusive and disruptive, says Shah. “For information that can wait, use email so your boss can decide when to respond.”

Accurate, real-time salaries for thousands of careers.

You should also limit frequency. You may text back and forth a lot with friends. But you don’t want to annoy the person who decides your raises.

Finally, your texts shouldn’t be as casual as the ones you send in your personal life. Use emoticons and abbreviations sparingly. “An occasional thumbs up symbol is fine,” says Shah.

You’re probably not writing full sentences, so grammar isn’t that important. But spelling is. “No matter what form of communication you’re using is at work, you look sloppy if you have misspellings,” says Shah. Read a text before you send it so that you won’t have to blame autocorrect.

Do you have a question about workplace etiquette for our experts? Write to Career@moneymail.com.

 

MONEY Longevity

3 Ways to Have a Happier, Healthier Retirement

141103_RETGUIDE_LastandLast
Dan Saelinger—Styling by Dominique Baynes; Hai

You're likely to have a long run in retirement. Maintaining a lively pace is good for your health—and good for your wallet, too.

Better access to and improvements in medical care mean that you’re likely to not only live longer but be healthier as well. On average, Americans are living in good health nearly two years more compared with retirees two decades ago and have compressed the time spent in really poor health to the very end of life, says David Cutler, a Harvard University professor who analyzed health data from 90,000 Medicare recipients from 1991 to 2009.

There’s a financial payoff, as well as a quality-of-life one, to maintaining good health longer. Although your total health care costs rise the longer you live (see the graphic below), your annual outlay is far less when you’re in the pink: Average out-of-pocket spending on medical expenses is $6,000 a year for people in good health, vs. $7,416 for people in poor health, according to data from the University of Michigan Health and Retirement study. That means you can devote less of your annual budget to health care bills and more to activities that make your retirement enjoyable. And fortunately, you have a lot more control over your health and quality of life in your later years than you may think, even if you have a chronic health condition.

The Key Moves

Stick with the pack: The elderly subjects in the New England Centenarian Study are poster children for the behaviors that are associated with healthy aging. Yes, they typically don’t smoke, follow a diet that is heavy in vegetables, exercise regularly, and manage stress with aplomb. Less obvious: Nearly 90% of the centenarians live independently well into their nineties, retire later than average, often do volunteer work, and have active social lives involving daily contact with family and friends. Says Thomas Perls, director of the study: “We rarely see a lonely centenarian.”

Keep on moving: Just how much exercise do you need to add years to your life? Doing something to get your muscles working every day is critical, but it doesn’t have to be a lot—even as little as 15 minutes a day is enough to add years to your lifespan, according to Maria Corrada, an associate professor at the University of California at Irvine who is part of a study of nonagenarians that aims to identify factors that lead to a longer life. A woman who exercises 15 to 30 minutes a day has a 20% decrease in the risk of dying at a given age compared with someone who is sedentary, Corrada says.

And good news for those who have spent a lifetime watching their weight: A little more padding in your later years—up to 30 pounds for a person of average height, but no more—may be beneficial too. The extra pounds provide some protection against falls, Corrada says, helping to prevent breaks in brittle bones.

141120_POWER_WALKING

Don’t worry, be happy: Reports on aging often focus on the problems associated with longevity. Here’s an overlooked piece of good news: Retirees consistently report being happier than younger folks. Happiness, researchers have found, tends to be U-shaped: People start adulthood feeling pretty good about themselves, but then the glow diminishes steadily as the stresses of life pile on, according to a study published by the National Academy of Sciences. At age 50, though, the trend reverses, and people report feeling better as they age; by 85, they are even more satisfied with themselves than they were at 18.

Smart money management helps you further stack the deck in your favor; a recent Merrill Lynch study found that financial security was second only to good health among factors that make retirees happy. After all, if you make it to 100, you’ve more than earned the right not to worry about money.

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More great tips from the Ultimate Retirement Guide:
6 Ways to Have a Richer Retirement
4 Smart Ways to Give Your Career Staying Power
6 Moves to Make Your Money Last a Lifetime

 

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