Ahh retirement. Just imagine sitting on the beach feeling the warm sun on your face and sand beneath your feet. The gentle breeze is blowing through your hair and as you look out on the ocean you think: "I really did it. I saved enough for retirement and now I'm enjoying the good life, I deserve this." Then the alarm clock blares and you wake up to face the daily grind of work. What happened? Perhaps you saved enough for retirement, but you failed to plan for life's curveballs.
Unexpected life events can eat up your precious savings and force you to delay retirement. In planning for retirement, you -- like most -- are probably focused on how much money to save and where to stow it. After all, not having enough money saved up is a major reason people delay retiring. But it is not the only reason. Circumstances can occur that cause you to retire later than you'd hoped, and they may be situations you didn't anticipate in your golden years. You can't account for every risk to a successful retirement, but there are some major obstacles that crop up pretty often for retirees, and you can, and should, plan for them. After all, you don't want to trade in your beach chair for a desk chair in retirement. Here are three real-life reasons people cut their retirements short and how you can plan for them.
To say divorce is expensive is an understatement. Between the lawyer fees, court fees, alimony, splitting your nest egg in half and even losing your house, if you have one, divorce can be a financial armageddon that significantly dents your retirement security.
The divorce rate for people over 50 has doubled since the 1990s, according to the Pew Research Center. It's a real possibility for baby boomers, even if your marriage is happy today.
I'm not saying avoid divorce at all costs, by any means. Staying in an unhealthy marriage can take years off your life and is usually not worth the misery that comes with remaining in an unsatisfying relationship. But if you do decide to end your marriage, your newfound happiness could come at the cost of working long into your later years and making do with much less once you have retired.
Being aware of this risk can help you get in front of it. Don't fall into the trap of "it won't happen to me," but instead take steps now to work on your marriage. Or, if you think divorce is inevitable, start looking for opportunities to save money for your independent future. Find ways to offset the devastation of divorce and its accompanying loss of assets and slash in income. For instance, I once worked with a divorced female client who sought a job that offered a pension, to give her a measure of retirement security. Starting a side gig could help you save enough money to leave the marriage, if that's your goal.
Marriage trouble is not something to deal with later. You may want to seek the advice of a marriage counselor if you have relationship struggles. Not all relationships are salvageable, especially if there is any kind of domestic abuse. So if that's the case, stay proactive about extricating yourself from the situation to avoid being blindsided by divorce papers.
For lovebirds who are not yet married, it's worth considering a prenuptial agreement for these reasons. A prenuptial agreement, or prenup for short, is a contract between two people before they get married listing all the property between the couple and allocating the rights to the property in the event of a divorce. A prenup can save you a lot of money on legal costs spent on fighting out who gets what, and signing one can help protect you from being financially vulnerable if the marriage ends.
2. Sudden illness
One of the most devastating and impactful events in a person's retirement is the onset of a sudden and severe illness like Alzheimer's disease or multiple scelorisis. Sickness can turn any retirement upside down from the financial strain that medical expenses put on your budget.
Caring for a loved one who is suffering from illness can be challenging both emotionally and financially. The cost of care can significantly eat away at a nest egg. The lifetime cost of care for someone with dementia is $341,840, according to the Alzheimer's Association.
Take steps now to plan for the risk of what a prolonged illness could have on your retirement savings. Consider long-term care insurance to help cover any future care you or your family members may require. If long-term care insurance is not affordable, then start setting aside money today for future healthcare costs.
A Health Savings Account (HSA) is a great place to save for future healthcare costs including long-term care. Contributions to a HSA are tax-deductible in the year you make them, can be invested in the stock market, grow tax-free and the withdrawals are tax-free, as long as you use the money for qualified healthcare expenses. And the funds never expire, so you can leave the money in the account to grow, until you do need it.
However, not everyone has a HSA available to them because only people with a high-deductible health plan (HDHP) are eligible. If that's the case, then you can set up a separate investment account through a bank or brokerage company. Regularly save using this account and invest it for the long-term. Only tap this account for healthcare expenses like long-term care.
Don't fall into the trap of avoiding, overlooking, or downplaying the risk of future illness in retirement. Health issues can affect any of us, and experiencing health problems can be a curveball for your retirement. Be prepared and think about your options now.
3. Money sabotagers
I call this last obstacle to retirement security "money sabotagers" or places you put your money and it never returns. These are all the leaks in your retirement spending that add up over time. There's no shortage to this list but the major ones are vacation homes, needy children, bad business deals, and senior scams.
A vacation home often sounds enticing. A place for the family to gather in a desirable climate to enjoy each other's company year after year? Sign me up! But can you really afford the upkeep on a second home? Consider all the expenses like property taxes, maintenance, homeowners insurance, utility bills, repairs and homeowner association fees. Each bill is a drain on your retirement nest egg. Plus, you may grow tired of vacationing in the same place, or your kids and grandkids might become too busy with their own lives to visit. Consider renting for your vacations or taking a cruise instead.
Does the 'bank of mom and dad' ever really close? If you have needy adult children who continue coming back to the well, it may be time for a talk. The allowance you're doling out may be enabling them to live beyond their means and encouraging them to develop bad budgeting habits. The family bank should act as the Federal Reserve Bank, the lender of last resort that's there if you need it, but it's not for day-to-day spending. Giving handouts to your grown kids can add up over time to substantially hurt your own retirement nest egg.
Finally, be aware of bad business deals and scams. This kind of sabotage can start innocently enough. After becoming bored in retirement, a retiree may decide to buy a franchise or start a business. Then, slowly over time this dream becomes more of a nightmare. Your retirement savings can dwindle as you continue to tap it for your new business.
Remember that most new ventures fail and you're still at risk of developing a sudden illness. What would you do then? Know your limits both financially and mentally for starting a business in retirement. If you go down this route, talk with others that have started a business about their experiences, be sure you have ample cash on hand for emergencies, and be prepared for long stretches of not making money as you get up and running.
One particularly unfortunate money sabotager is the growing trend of financial abuse targeting older folks. Seniors are often approached by scammers and fraudsters with great sounding business deals, which are not what they seem. To protect yourself or someone you care for from financial elder abuse there are several steps you can take.
First, never jump into any promising business venture immediately, but first discuss it with your friends, family, and professionals like your accountant or lawyer. Do not respond to emails requesting money or cave in to pressure from a person on the phone asking you to send money. These scammers can get creative and prey on your emotions. A popular senior scam is a caller who impersonates a younger relative who says they are in jail and need bail money. Take the time to check with a family member or loved one about any questionable communication. Don't let a scammer insist you need to send them the money before doing your due diligence.
Having a plan in place for making your money decisions once you get into your later years is a good way to make sure you won't be susceptible to any scams. Speak with your spouse, family, kids and professionals to evaluate your ability to manage money decisions as you age, and be willing to ask for help if you find that you're struggling. Having some kind of money supervisor or advocate, either professional or personal, can be the difference between getting scammed and losing your hard-earned savings.
Protect yourself from risk
Having an adequate nest egg is important, but it's not the only contributing factor to a successful retirement. Some of the more overlooked reasons people may financially struggle in retirement include divorce, sudden illness, a failed business venture, a second home that turns into a money pit, financially needy children and being duped by senior scammers.
Manage these risks like you would manage any risk to your retirement. Determine its probability and outline the steps you'll take if the worst happens. Doing this will put yourself in a better position to navigate life's unexpected events.