When you're planning for life after working, chances are you're only anticipating one retirement. That can be a big mistake, though. For most people, retirement can be broken into three distinct parts. And you need to prepare for all three phases to avoid a potential financial disaster. 

Here's what you can learn about the three retirements you should be ready for. 

Older couple walking barefoot on the beach.

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How your retirements are likely to play out

For most people, these are the three distinct phases of retirement:

  • Early retirement: You're still pretty healthy and can travel or enjoy hobbies. Spending tends to be fairly high, with most of your money going toward enjoying your newfound freedom. 
  • The middle years: As you get older, you may start to slow down. As you cut back on traveling or go out less often, spending generally falls since you simply aren't engaging in as many expensive activities. 
  • Late retirement: In the last phase of your retirement, you may have significant health issues that require management. For many retirees, a nursing home or long-term care becomes necessary. But even for those who can care for themselves independently, there's often an increase in doctor appointments or prescription drug costs. Spending tends to increase in this phase of retirement from healthcare services and potentially long-term care. 

It's imperative you plan for all three of these different retirement phases. Otherwise, you could overspend during your early years and end up with too little left when you really need the money for health issues.

How to prepare for three different retirements

To make sure you're prepared for all three of your retirements:

  • Be aggressive in your savings goals: Throughout your career, aim to invest at least 15% to 20% of your income for your later years. Making substantial contributions to your retirement accounts and investing the money wisely should help ensure you have enough to enjoy your early retirement and  your late one. 
  • Plan to cover healthcare: Health costs must be factored into your savings goals. When possible, invest money in a health savings account (HSA) to make pre-tax contributions, grow your money tax-free, and withdraw money tax-free for care. If you aren't eligible for an HSA, consider opening a separate IRA for medical expenses. 
  • Look into insurance options: When you retire, make sure you shop carefully for the right coverage, which could include traditional Medicare, Medicare Advantage, and/or a Medigap plan. And think about long-term-care insurance to cover nursing home services or home care if you need it.
  • Determine a safe withdrawal rate: Devising a strategy for how much you can afford to take out of your retirement accounts should help you avoid spending too much on travel and hobbies early on and leave you plenty for your late retirement. 

With these steps, you should be ready for early, middle, and late retirement and hopefully won't struggle financially during any one of them.