As much as we all imagine that retirement is a time of leisure and easy living, it is actually charged with meaningful and sometimes difficult decisions about how we manage our finances. And those decisions can have a lasting impact on the kind of life we have in retirement. It’s not about choosing to drink Dunkin’ vs. Starbucks, it’s about understanding what you want, what you have and what that means. Are you overfunded or underfunded for your goals? At what point might you need to make trade-offs? Do all of your income sources in retirement cover your monthly expenses, such that you CAN take that extended vacation without worry? Is it realistic that your current financial condition will last you to and through retirement?
One of the key ingredients to a successful retirement plan is having a roadmap and a checklist to manage your finances throughout your retirement years. This roadmap would ideally be a one-page summary of all of your finances on a given day, that highlights all of your accounts, where they are held, what they are worth and who owns them. The questions posed by the checklist would act as “financial fire-drills” to address 7 key areas that can sabotage even the best laid financial plans.
Being able to easily access, update and review these financial data points periodically will help you better understand if you have enough gas in the tank to get you where you’re going, if you need a pitstop or if you might need a different plan altogether. You should review your retirement plan at least annually to compare and contrast how well your finances held up over the last 12 months, despite what happened in the economy or stock market. It’s a good litmus test to see if you’re spending too much, or too little. Your annual review should include a thorough analysis of key issues like, cash flow, healthcare, insurance, taxes, asset and debt valuations and long-term planning items (like beneficiary designations and estate planning imperatives). Having all of this information and data up to date will certainly create some peace of mind and help you worry less about the uncertainty of the future. You should also consider updating your retirement plan anytime you have a life-changing event, or if you have meaningful changes (positive or negative) in the value of your assets. Inheritance, divorce, birth of a grandchild would be perfect examples of events that might alter or reshape your retirement nest egg.
Having a financial roadmap and a smart retirement plan won’t completely guarantee a smooth ride throughout your entire retirement journey (after all, we can’t see past the road just ahead), but it will provide a thoughtful and practical field guide for making good choices at all of the milestones you make along the way.
Along the path to retirement, there are plenty of choices to be made, all of which are unique to each one of us. A place to start is whether you are considering early retirement. You also have the choice to decide what your retirement will look like in terms of whether you fully retire or semi-retire and work part-time. Once you’ve planned out the shape you’d like your retirement to take, another consideration is to reflect on whether you feel comfortable in your current and future financial condition. From here, you can plan potential changes in residency during retirement, or any retirement milestones you have always wanted to achieve (like buying a boat, taking a special vacation, or funding an endowment).
As you approach retirement, you should take the time to thoughtfully consider the multiple aspects of this impending, life changing event.