The following is adapted from the book, Keen on Retirement - Engineering the Second Half of Your Life.
Many people wait until they are on the brink of retirement--or worse, already retired--to figure out their retirement plan. This is akin to flying a commercial jet without a flight plan. One mistake and the plane can go down.
To create a retirement that’s fulfilling and as stress-free as possible, you need to build a retirement blueprint, ideally as far in advance of retirement as you can. Of course, you need to consider your retirement income and expenses, but there’s more to it than that.
Follow this four-step process to reverse engineer your retirement based on your life goals, not just your money.
1. Establish Objectives
What do you want your retirement to look like? Have you given any thought to what your ideal day-to-day life would be like?
Most people think about big milestones, like trips and holidays, but they haven’t taken the time to imagine a normal day once they’re not working. Retirees who don’t think about their daily schedules could end up rearranging the furniture and shuffling boxes around the garage between naps. Before you know it, there’s a new item on the calendar: meeting with the marriage counselor.
Setting retirement objectives is essential in creating a comprehensive retirement blueprint. How do you know how much money you need to live on if you don’t know what that life entails? Maybe you’d like to just sit on the sofa and watch movies all day, but if you have a hobby you want to indulge or major travel dreams, those activities are going to require time, energy, and money.
Also … it’s probably not a good idea to just sit on the sofa and watch movies all day!
You’ve been working, saving, and investing most of your adult life so that you could have the freedom to do what you love with the people you love during retirement. Make some plans for things you’ve always wanted to do but couldn’t because you were too busy working or raising a family. Set some goals if that works for you. Indulge yourself a little as your spending plan allows. And above all, stay active.
Consider these factors when drawing up your blueprint:
- Your spouse’s retirement goals
- Your health and that of your spouse
- Your residence and location
- Your family situation (siblings, kids, grandkids)
- Your short-term and long-term desires
Don’t just think about a year or even five years from now. Consider how you would like your life to look 10 or 20 years in the future, as well as what you can best predict your family will be doing.
What kind of social life would you like? How active do you want to be? How much do want to travel? As you slow down, how do you want life to unfold?
2. Set Goals
Once you have a glimpse of your ideal future, it’s time to set some clear goals. It’s hard to achieve what you can’t measure. The more specific you can be, the better.
For example, it’s nice to say you want to travel with your partner, but you need to drill it down even more. Create a bucket list, such as, “I want to spend a month in Paris, take an Alaskan cruise, and tour New Zealand.” Maybe you want to learn a new language or take up painting.
Whatever your goals are, get them down on paper. Vague goals often get lost in the fog of life. Specific goals inspire specific planning that gets you where you want to go.
3. Create a Timeline
After you have your goals delineated, you can create a timeline for achieving them. Again, the more measurable something is, the more accountability it carries.
So, in the case above, you might decide you want to spend a month in Paris for your 70th birthday, take an Alaskan cruise at 75, and visit New Zealand during your first year of retirement, while you still have the vitality to appreciate it and can withstand the rigors of such lengthy travel.
Beyond hobbies and trips, think about your timeline for staying in your home or moving to a warmer climate. Perhaps you’d like to be closer to grandchildren or be able to exercise outdoors year-round. What is your schedule for accomplishing that beyond “someday?”
4. Reduce the Risk of the Unexpected
Now that all the pieces are in place for your retirement, you can start to build the funding you need to make these dreams come true. The further out you are from retirement the more flexibility you have in creating a retirement income stream to match your desires.
But even if you are fairly close to retirement, there are steps you can take to ensure the money is there to fuel your plans. The biggest one is to reduce the risk of unexpected expenses. You’re more likely to enjoy greater financial freedom when you’re not constantly bracing yourself for life’s curveballs. This is an area of your financial planning where you have more influence than what’s happening in the markets or global politics. The more disciplined you are about your spending habits, the more stable your finances will likely be throughout retirement.
Therefore, the final step in developing a retirement blueprint is to set up a budget for retirement life, eliminating as many unexpected expenses as possible. How? By making sure your healthcare coverage is adequate. By getting a handle on seasonal expenses like holiday gifts. By budgeting for the big things you want to do early in your retirement so that you have enough in the tank to take care of you when you slow down later in retirement.
Perhaps you even want to consider selling your home and renting a place or living in an RV while you travel the country. Freeing yourself from surprise roof and furnace repairs can liberate you to spend your money on more enjoyable pursuits and get you back to those initial goals you set--goals that make retirement so worthwhile in the end.
Retirement doesn’t have to be worrisome, nor does it have to be a blurred vision of the future. Build your retirement blueprint working backwards towards the finances to fund it, so that you’re more likely to find the best really is yet to come.
For more advice on building your retirement blueprint, you can find the book, Keen on Retirement - Engineering the Second Half of Your Life on Amazon.
Bill Keen is a CHARTERED RETIREMENT PLANNING COUNSELOR℠ and independent financial advisor with more than 25 years of industry experience. As the founder and CEO of Keen Wealth Advisors, a registered investment advisory firm, he specializes in providing personalized retirement planning designed to help people thrive before and during their retirement years. With a passion for educating others, Bill regularly blogs about retirement planning, hosts the podcast Keen on Retirement, and has contributed to U.S. News and World Report, Reuters, Wall Street Journal’s Market Watch, Yahoo Finance, and other publications. Based in Overland Park, Kansas, Bill and his team work with clients throughout the greater Kansas City area and across the nation. To learn more, connect with him on LinkedIn or visit www.keenwealthadvisors.com.
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