Not everyone has the same idea of what "retirement" should entail. One person might dream of taking cruises around the world and visiting all the places from his bucket list, while another might prefer to spend retirement lounging around the house and catching up on his or her reading. A big part of planning out your retirement savings is deciding just what you want and need to spend your money on.
1. What you'll do in retirement
If you've never thought about what you plan to do during your retirement years, now's the time. You don't have to make out a list of specific activities, just consider more or less what you want to do. Travel? Volunteer in your community? Family activities? Go back to school? There are tons of possibilities, each of which comes with its own price tag. Having a sense of what you'd like to do in retirement will help you to get an idea of how expensive your retirement will be, which in turn will help you to draw up a realistic saving plan.
2. Where you'll live
The options for retirement living are endless. Some retirees grab an RV and hit the road. Others find a retirement community in a low-cost area and settle down. Still others move to be as close as possible to friends or family. And some settle right down in their current homes for the long haul. The day you retire is not the time to decide where you're going to go; this is a decision you should make at least a couple of years in advance. That will give you time not only to research and visit the place you're considering, but also to put together a realistic budget based on your chosen destination.
3. Health considerations
Once you hit age 65 you'll be eligible for Medicare, but that won't necessarily end your healthcare financial concerns. For one thing, Medicare isn't exactly perfect; just consider the dreaded "donut hole," the period between where basic drug coverage runs out and catastrophic drug coverage kicks in. If you have a lot of prescriptions, which is increasingly likely as you age, you could end up with an impressive drug bill at the end of every year. And Medicare does little to help cover long-term care costs, since these are technically not considered medical expenses. It's important to set aside extra money in your retirement savings just for medical and long-term care expenses; how much you'll need to set aside will depend on your state of health, your likely longevity, and your other resources (such as long-term care insurance).
4. Family planning
If your spouse became seriously ill or died a couple of years after you retired, would you be able to get along financially? Or if something happened to you, would your spouse be all right? For most couples, one spouse has a significantly higher income than the other and that higher income will typically mean higher retirement income as well. If the higher-income spouse dies, that extra retirement income might dry up, so it's important to plan for such a disaster. Life insurance is usually the first option that people think of, but not the only one; for example, many long-term care insurance policies come with a death benefit that will pay the surviving spouse a set amount of money if the other spouse dies, and some annuities come with a similar option. Pensions often have a surviving spouse option that will transfer some or all of the pension's benefits to the spouse if the covered retiree dies; signing up for this option usually requires the covered retiree to accept a smaller benefit check during his lifetime.
5. Economic woes
Imagine you're just a couple of weeks from your planned retirement date when you open the newspaper and see that the stock market has just taken a massive tumble and your retirement savings have dropped in value by one-half. Think this sounds unlikely? It's what happened to many people in 2008, at the start of the Great Recession -- indeed, some retirement accounts have yet to recover all the value they lost during that period. You can't control the market or the economy, but you can reduce your risk of suffering such a catastrophe by diversifying your sources of retirement income. Don't depend wholly on the stocks in your 401(k) plan: consider other income options, such as real estate, part ownership in a business, annuities, skills that you can transform into a side job, and so on. Having different sources of income that will react differently to the economy's didoes will give you a sort of "income insurance."
6. Ease into retirement
Going straight from working 60-hour weeks to doing nothing can be extremely jarring. Many workers base a large part of their identity around what they do for a living; when the career goes away, they feel a bit lost. Instead of jumping straight into retirement, try dipping a toe in the water first. You might cut back your hours so that you're working part time, and dedicate your free time to the kind of activities you planned for your retirement. Slowing down your transition in this way can help ensure that you enjoy every moment of your retirement, plus help you save a bit more towards the day when you fully quit.
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