Some people plan to work well into their 60s or even beyond. But if you'd rather retire on the early side -- say, the first half of your 60s or even your late 50s -- then it'll require some careful planning on your part. Here are a few critical moves to make this year if you're hoping to leave the workforce sooner rather than later.
1. Ramp up your retirement plan contributions
Social Security won't provide enough income for you to live comfortably as a senior. These days, the average beneficiary receives a little over $18,000 a year. If your goal is to retire early, you'll need to make sure you have enough independent savings to support your senior lifestyle, and so the sooner you start getting closer to maxing out your IRA or 401(k) plan, the more likely you'll be to exit the workforce when you want to.
If you're already 50 or older, you can sock away up to $7,000 in an IRA this year, or up to $26,000 in a 401(k). Take a look at your expenses and see where there's room to cut back and make more room for savings. The higher your retirement plan balance, the easier early retirement will become.
2. Make sure your assets are invested appropriately
Botching your investment strategy could force you to not only delay retirement, but wind up cash-strapped as a senior. When it comes to investing for your golden years, you'll need to strike an ideal balance of taking on enough risk to grow your money without exposing yourself to too much risk that results in losses.
If you're within 10 years of retirement, it's probably time to start thinking about shifting some assets toward safer investments, like bonds. But if you still have a decade or more until you're planning to leave the workforce, keep going heavy on stocks, because you'll need strong returns to boost your savings to a healthy level.
3. Find an affordable state to call home as a senior
The state you retire in could have a huge impact on your finances during your senior years. If you're hoping to retire early, find a place to settle down that allows you to maximize your savings and various income streams. You may, for example, want to favor a state that doesn't charge its own income tax or a state that doesn't tax Social Security benefits. Overall cost of living is important, too, so take the time to research your options.
4. Shed your debt
Nagging debt -- even the healthy kind, like a mortgage -- can put a strain on your financial resources during retirement. If you want to end your career early, work on eliminating your various sources of debt. Your best is to start with your credit card balances and other costly, credit-zapping types of debt, and then eventually work toward paying off your home.
You might think early retirement is only for the ultra-wealthy, but actually, plenty of average earners manage to leave the workforce well ahead of their peers. If that's a goal of yours, make the above moves this year to get yourself on that path.