The Five-Year Countdown to Retirement

I now have less than 4 years to retire at 66, and every once in awhile I Google “retirement” and find a whole crap-load of links to investment companies that will help me save enough money – ha!

Since I don’t have a lot of retirement savings, my fall-back is to target paying off the house by the time I turn 66, minimize my costs, and be able to live off of the Social Security benefit.

Below is an article I ran across that does more than tell you to save more:  via The Five-Year Countdown to Retirement: How to Prepare.

When it comes to retirement planning, the top regret among American seniors is this: they wish they had saved more. In fact, a recent survey by the National Council on Aging found that this regret outranks all others, including how well they prioritized health and maintained family connections in their younger years.Retirement planning, done well, starts early in a career but intensifies in the five years leading up to your actual retirement. Once you are within that time-frame, you should be pushing hard on saving as much as possible. But this part is relatively easy once you understand what’s required. Before we get to that, let’s talk about a less quantitative factor in retirement planning: what exactly are you going to do with yourself?

Set Some Goals

It might sound like a question for young people: what do you want to do with your life? But a surprising number of folks go into retirement with no idea what they’d like to do with their time. While the money has to be there for retirement to work, happiness in retirement also requires an answer to this big question.

So, make a list of goals. Maybe you want to volunteer your time, and one goal might be to try out several volunteer opportunities. Maybe you’d like a part-time job in a field that you’ve always found interesting — perhaps a bookstore or a library if you are a big reader, an art museum or gallery if you enjoy art, or a tutoring company if you like working with children. I have a client, a retiree, who volunteers with the Red Cross and travels to disaster zones all over the world.

If you are a golfer or enjoy fishing, if you want to spend more time with your grandchildren, if you’d like to travel — some of the more classic retirement activities — then put those goals on the list, and plan out ways you can achieve them. Setting goals and making plans will lend structure to your day-to-day life, which is a very important factor for retirees used to the hustle and bustle of a long, busy career.

Practice Retiring

This may sound a little silly, but it’s actually a great planning tool. Once you are within three to five years of retirement, take a long vacation — consider it a practice retirement. See how you spend your time, and consider what works and what doesn’t. You might find a balance of leisure time and productivity (that volunteer job, for instance) that works well for you, and having that information before you officially retire will make the transition that much easier.

Simply put, human beings are happier when they have a life plan and goals, and that’s not something that goes away in retirement.

The Numbers

As you come within five years of retirement, it makes sense to conduct a feasibility study. That means figuring out what your goals are, how much money you’ll need to meet them, and how much money you actually have. Try this step-by-step process:

Step 1:  Identify your assets, income source and debt

What and how much do you have? Assess all possible sources of income and equity: pensions, retirement accounts, other resources like property and liquid savings. Next, identify your debt, including money owed on credit cards, loans, and your mortgage. Will they be paid off or continue into retirement?

Step 2:  Assess your Social Security options

Identify how much income you will receive from Social Security and explore different strategies to elect your benefits. You can register online with Social Security to obtain your latest statement. Also, use the Retirement Estimator to receive an assessment of your actual benefits, and learn about your different benefit disbursement options.

Step 3: Determine your income needs

How much, exactly, will you need when you retire? This means understanding your spending habits and creating a realistic budget. Most people, surprisingly, don’t have a firm grasp of exactly what they spend from month to month. Your list should be specific and exhaustive, as the rest of the plan is built on it. Once you complete your list, use the PSA Retirement Readiness Calculator tool to help you figure out whether you will have sufficient income upon retirement.

Step 4: Consider your health and where you will live as you age

While most people underestimate the size of their savings necessary to cover retirement income even more fail to plan for rising health care costs or the potential expense of a retirement, assisted living or nursing care facility. The protracted illness of one spouse could leave the other spouse destitute. Will you have enough assets and income to cover the cost or should long-term care insurance be considered?

Step 5: Identify gaps

Do the numbers add up? If not, identify what you must change now in order to meet your goals. Review our blog about avoiding pitfalls by adjusting your plan. You might be able to put more into savings in the years before you stop working, or you might have to adjust your target date for retirement. It is important to conduct the study while you still have time to make adjustments in the plan, rather than a year before retirement.

Step 6: Develop an income distribution strategy

Assuming the numbers do add up, you’ll need to determine from what sources you’ll derive your monthly income. It might make sense to delay taking your pension and live off of your savings for a few months, if possible, until the new tax year begins and you fall into a lower tax bracket.

Step 7: Conduct an estate check-up

The years just before retirement are a perfect time to review your entire estate. Update account titles and beneficiaries, take a close look at your life insurance, annuities, will, power of attorney, advance directives, and the like.

Working through these important steps — and taking some time to set some life goals — in the five years before retirement will help you realize the relaxation and enjoyment a quality retirement affords.

via The Five-Year Countdown to Retirement: How to Prepare.

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