Get in a Retirement Frame of Mind

Is retirement mere decades away? Even closer? Instead of panicking about all the little details that you've let slide -- such as those 401(k) accounts still spread across your eight former employers -- concentrate on the big picture: You're probably going to retire someday, and you should probably do something to prepare for it.

Don't click that back button on your browser so fast. We're not going to make you calculate the future worth of your money or track down dusty old brokerage statements. We'll just ease you into a retirement frame of mind with these six general rules.

1. Stay with stocks.
You'll be retired for decades; make sure you don't outlast your money. The traditional asset allocation models aren't necessarily the best tack to take. We say invest in stocks as long as possible. Only money you'll need in the next five or 10 years should be couched away in a "safer" place such as a money market account, certificate of deposit, or Treasury bill.

2. Be prepared for emergencies.
Disaster can strike whether you're 20 years or 20 days from retirement. It's essential to have your critical papers up-to-date and where loved ones can quickly find them. Here's a quick way to get your important stuff (e.g., durable power of attorney, disability insurance, etc.) organized.

3. Do some retirement reconnaissance.
Take time in your travels to try out hobbies and habitats that you may want to pursue in retirement. Think you want to live on a boat? Take a weeklong sailing trip to see how you fare at sea. Want to spend 24/7 on the links? Take a few golf vacations and see whether your trick elbow holds up.

4. Consider your loved ones... every step of the way.
Give your family the power they need to make it through any tough times. Get adequate health and disability insurance. Discuss power of attorney, update beneficiary info, provide a list of all your accounts, your last wishes, and anything they'd need to know to keep things running smoothly should you become unable to. If all that seems so impersonal, consider composing an ethical will. And let your kids read it with you while you're still alive.

5. Make the most of your cash.
Make sure your short-term savings aren't languishing in a low-interest account. Earn as much interest as you can on the cash you need in the next five or 10 years.

6. Regret not, retiree!
If there's something you want to do in your lifetime, do it now! You don't need to be retired to bike across Brazil or take a paper-making class. Live life to the fullest, Fool.

The only way to make these tips pay off is to take a baby step or two today and start planning.

If we've lit a fire under you, take a free trial to Robert Brokamp'sRule Your Retirementnewsletter and join other procrastinators (and goody-two-shoes, on-top-of-it planners) on the member-only discussion boards.


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