Over the course of your lifetime, your financial plans gradually evolve. When you first begin saving and investing, your focus may be solely on making sure that you have enough money to take care of yourself. Later, if you have children or become interested in philanthropy and other charitable pursuits, you may start to expand your vision of your financial plan to include the needs of others. With age, many people start to look beyond their own death to look for ways to make a lasting impression on their families and communities. Financial services companies are increasingly emphasizing the idea that retirement planning can extend beyond a person's lifetime.

If you're interested in leaving a legacy after your death, you'll want to pay close attention to the different ways in which you view your investments during the various phases of your life. You will likely find that the way you see money changes dramatically over time, and you'll need to adapt your investing strategies accordingly. In addition, you will want to consider using your assets in different ways in order to maximize not only your own personal benefit but also the value your money has to those to whom you will leave it.

Working through the accumulation stage
In many ways, the simplest time for investors is when they're just getting started with a savings plan. When you're a young beginning investor, you can focus primarily on where you can find enough money to start investing. Most novice investors don't have the luxury of having enough savings to think much beyond their own needs; they often feel as if it will be impossible both to provide for their own long-term financial well-being and to have something left for family or others who depend on them. Even after a year or two of saving money for the future, you still may not have much confidence that you're saving enough to take care of your own basic needs, let alone the needs of anyone else. No matter how many financial advisors or savings calculators tell you that your monthly investments are likely to grow fast enough to pay for your retirement expenses, it's hard to have faith in the power of regular savings and compound interest until you see it for yourself.

After enough time passes, however, it's impossible to ignore the positive impact that an ongoing investment program can have on your financial situation. More experienced investors have seen for themselves how even modest regular contributions to an investment account can add up over the years. Gradually, your periodic contributions to your accounts become less significant in comparison to your overall account balance. Ordinary market fluctuations can make the value of your portfolio go up or down by a year's worth of savings or more. As this becomes familiar, your perspective changes, and you see financial goals that used to be mere pipe dreams start to become reality.

Moreover, as you gain experience with investing, you learn to avoid mistakes that can hinder your investment performance and hold back your financial success. The common investing mistakes that beginners make, including trading too frequently, investing in companies or types of securities that you don't understand, and being impatient about your investment results, are things that more experienced investors learn not to do. You still might make losing investments in companies like Affymetrix (NASDAQ:AFFX) or Sirius Satellite Radio (NASDAQ:SIRI), but you'll more often counterbalance those losses with winners like Healthcare Services Group (NASDAQ:HCSG) and FBL Financial (NYSE:FFG). Even if you have to learn the hard way, you'll still learn, and that knowledge will help you improve your results throughout your investing life.

The view from the finish line
By the time you've saved enough to retire comfortably, you may be amazed at the magnitude of what you've achieved. Many guidelines that are designed to be conservative in setting savings goals for retirement require a nest egg that may seem incredibly large. For instance, long-time Fool contributor John Greaney described his 4% withdrawal rate goal in a previous issue of Rule Your Retirement, the Fool's retirement newsletter (free trial required to view article). Using that guideline, if you estimate that you'll need $100,000 each year during your retirement, you'd need $2.5 million in retirement savings. With discipline and perseverance, it's not unreasonable for you to expect to reach this goal.

All the same, you may feel as though there's no chance that you'd ever spend that much money. Indeed, in many years, including 2006, you'll probably find that even after you make your annual withdrawal, your account balances at the end of the year may well be significantly higher than they were at the end of the previous year. On the other hand, there will be some years in which you not only lose portfolio value from your annual withdrawal but also because your investments don't perform well. In the long run, the margin of safety that comes from using conservative guidelines allows you to anticipate having money left over at the end of your lifetime in all but the worst-case scenarios. This gives you the flexibility of planning to leave a legacy for those you care about after you're gone.

Depending on your intentions and resources, how you manage your money during retirement will change from how you managed it while you were still accumulating wealth. The second part of this article goes into more detail on the specific considerations you should take into account in making decisions about your legacy.

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Fool contributor Dan Caplinger hopes to leave something behind for his daughter, but not for a long while. He doesn't own shares of the companies mentioned in this article. Affymetrix is a Rule Breakers pick. The Fool's disclosure policy puts its money where its mouth is.