Think retirement is all about having one big long holiday and having enough money to splurge on cruising and European getaways?

It's not, according to Canadian retirement expert Barry LaValley.

LaValley, who is in the midst of a three-week speaking tour of New Zealand, believes people need to shake up the way they see the r-word.

"Look at this period of your life in a different way rather than a long holiday, it is the last phase of life. It's not a 30-year long weekend," he says.

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He says retirement should be about people doing what they want to do, when they want to do it - and if that involves keeping on working, he is all for it.

LaValley says when people are working they tend to see retirement as a reward for all the hard work they have put in.

"We have been taught to demonise work and see retirement as the reward at the end of the rainbow.

"But when people get there they realise it isn't at all."

He says publicly people will never admit to being unhappy in retirement or bored.

"They will say 'I have never been this busy - I don't know how I found time to work before'."

But he says research shows happiness in retirement is not about how much you have saved and how many trips you can take, but non-financial aspects.

"The key to retirement happiness is health - because you can have all the money in the world, but if you don't have your health it's not worth anything."

He says second to that is relationships, followed by meaningful and fulfilling activities.

Money doesn't come in until number four.

Barry LaValley, author of So you think you are ready to retire?, wants to shake up how Kiwis think about retirement. Photo/Supplied
Barry LaValley, author of So you think you are ready to retire?, wants to shake up how Kiwis think about retirement. Photo/Supplied

He says what retirement should be about is having control over what you do on a day-to-day basis.

And he thinks people should continue working if they can and want to.

"It gives you purpose, structure and it's good for your health."

He points to Australian research which shows that for every year a person keeps working over the age of 60 it decreases their likelihood of getting dementia by 1.7 per cent a year.

He says keeping your mind active is an important way to stem off dementia.

"If you love what you are doing, keep doing it.

"Even if you are working for someone else you are choosing to do it. You should do it on your own schedule."

He says one of the opportunities in retirement is for balance. That could be working three days a week or working from home.

However he admits that may not be possible for those who need the money.

For those who have to work for financial reasons LaValley says it is important to balance it out with doing the things you love outside of work.

LaValley is 65 and says he is retired in his mind.

"If you define retirement that I do what I want to when I want then I am retired.

"But I am going to do this as much as I can because it keeps me healthy."

He still travels a lot but often takes his wife with him.

"I have made trade-offs but I would go nuts if I sat at a golf course every day."

Like most people in his younger years LaValley saw retirement as a big holiday.

His wake-up call came nine years ago when he got cancer.

"What it taught me is life is so precious. You are wasting a lot of time if you don't do as much as you can."

He says the biggest mistake people make is to look at retirement as the end of work.

"People are very clear what they are retiring from but don't know what they are retiring to."

And they don't plan for long enough.

Many pre-retirees believe they will probably die in their mid-80s - at a similar age to their parents. But if you are in your 50s and healthy it could be more like mid-90s.

"You have to plan long but live short," says LaValley.

"There has to be long term planning in place."

LaValley also warns people off gambling with their retirement savings to try and win big for a "better" retirement.

"A lot of people roll the dice at this point.

"They have got this idea that they are going to hit the jackpot and spend up large in retirement."

He says in Canada as much as 11 per cent of people think lottery winnings will help pay for their retirement.

But the odds of winning the lottery are much lower.