Many workers look forward to retirement, only to find that it ends up being a stressful period of life. If you want to make the most of your golden years, here are five important steps to take.
1. Go in with adequate savings
Money is one of the main things retirees struggle with, and understandably so. After a lifetime of earning a paycheck, it's hard to adjust to being on a fixed income. A good way to alleviate that potential financial stress, however, is to go into retirement with enough savings to cover your expenses.
As a general rule, you'll need about 80% of your preretirement income to live comfortably during your golden years, which means that if your end-of-career salary is $100,000, you'll want about $80,000 a year in income. Some of that income, of course, can come from Social Security, but unless you're willing to work in retirement, the rest will need to come from you.
The good news is that you can use the 4% rule to figure out how much savings to go in with. The rule states that if you start by withdrawing 4% of your nest egg's value during your first year of retirement and then adjust subsequent withdrawals for inflation, your savings should last for 30 years. Though the 4% rule has its flaws, you can use it as a starting point to get a basic sense of what your nest egg should look like going into retirement.
Returning to our example, say you expect to collect $30,000 a year in Social Security benefits. That means you'll need $50,000 a year from your nest egg. Multiply $50,000 by 25 (as per the 4% rule), and you'll see that you should, ideally, have $1.25 million in savings before you retire.
Of course, there's wiggle room with this formula. If you're willing to downsize or reduce other expenses in retirement, you might get by on just 65% to 70% of your former income each year. But if you want to err on the side of enjoying more luxuries, then go with that 80% target.
2. Boost your Social Security benefits
Even if you save well for retirement, there's a good chance Social Security will be a significant source of income for you during your golden years, so the more you're able to boost your benefits, the more you stand to gain. To start, avoid taking benefits before your full retirement age (FRA), as doing so will result in an automatic reduction. Your FRA is based on the year you were born, and it's either 66, 67, or 66 and a certain number of months.
Better yet, you can delay your benefits past FRA if you don't need the money right away and boost them by 8% a year in the process up until age 70. This means that if you're looking at a full monthly benefit of $2,000 at an FRA of 67, waiting until 70 will give you $2,480 a month instead -- for life.
Finally, check your earnings statements from the Social Security Administration (SSA) annually to make sure they're accurate, since missing or erroneous information could result in reduced benefits. If you're 60 or older, you'll get those yearly statements by mail. If not, you'll need to create an account on the SSA's website and access them there.
3. Know how you'll spend your days
Going from a full work schedule to a completely open one can be jarring. Before you make your retirement official, come up with a list of things you plan on doing with your days. Maybe you'll spend one day a week tending to your garden, another day golfing, and another day auditing a course at a local college. It doesn't really matter what you want to do with your time as long as you have some solid ideas at the ready.
At the same time, make sure your savings can actually pay for the things you're aiming to do. You might want to travel four times a year, but if you don't have enough income to fund those trips, you might have to settle for other activities instead.
4. Live somewhere affordable and retiree friendly
Because being retired generally means living on a fixed income, you'll want to stretch your money as much as possible. And that's why the right location can play a huge role in your happiness. Living in a state with a relatively low cost of living can help you maximize your savings. At the same time, you'll want to live somewhere with solid amenities, like public transportation, parks, and easy access to entertainment and healthcare. And don't forget about weather -- the older you get, the more you might crave mild temperatures. You can check out this list of some of the best states for retirees for inspiration.
5. Take good care of your health
Healthcare can end up being your greatest expense in retirement. To alleviate that burden, make a point of keeping tabs on your health from the moment you enter your golden years. Often, getting ahead of medical issues before they worsen will help you not only avoid hefty costs but preserve your health on a long-term basis.
Once you enroll in Medicare, you'll gain access to a host of wellness benefits, including a free annual checkup at your doctor's office. Be sure to read up on the benefits you're entitled to so that your health stays in top shape as you age.
After spending multiple decades in the workforce, you deserve a rewarding, fulfilling retirement. Check these key items off your list, and with any luck, your golden years will wind up exceeding your expectations.