Image source: Flickr user Florian Schwalsberger.

It's challenging to save for retirement, and success takes a lot of work and discipline. Yet all too often, people make planning mistakes based on common misconceptions about how best to prepare for your golden years. Below, we'll take five popular myths about retirement and strip away the falsehoods to get to the truth you'll need to plan correctly.

Myth 1: Your retirement date will be entirely up to you
Many people plan to retire at a specific age or on a certain date. However, unforeseen circumstances tend to arise and make you move your planned retirement date. Getting laid off at work, suffering an unexpected health problem, or needing to leave your job to care for a loved one are just a few of the many situations that can force you to adjust your expectations of when you'll retire. The best course of action is to have a plan that's flexible enough to withstand the unexpected while still giving you the ability to follow through on your original intentions if things work out the way you hope.

Myth 2: Your taxes will automatically be lower when you retire
Many retirees figure that once they stop earning a salary, their tax rates will naturally go down. However, it's important to understand that, depending on where your retirement income comes from, you might have just as large a tax bill as you had while you were working. Most private pension income is fully taxable, and distributions you take from a traditional IRA or 401(k) will be added to your taxable income as well. In some cases, even Social Security benefits can be partially subject to tax. Add all those items up, and it's not uncommon for retirees to find that they're in exactly the same tax bracket they were in while they were working full-time.

Myth 3: You should get out of the stock market when you retire
As you age, getting more conservative with your investment portfolio makes a degree of sense. After all, the older you are, the less time you have to recover from the inevitable market downturns and bear markets that the stock market throws at you from time to time. Nevertheless, getting entirely out of the stock market doesn't make sense for most retirees. Because people are living longer, your retirement portfolio has to account for the possibility that your retirement will last 30 years or more. So you'll need to have some growth potential among the investments you own, and stocks are the best bet, in measured amounts, to give you the risk-return profile you want.

Myth 4: Medicare will cover all of your healthcare expenses in retirement
Medicare is an extremely useful program for seniors, and tens of millions of Americans use Medicare as a crucial support mechanism for paying their medical expenses. However, Medicare isn't free, and it doesn't cover all of your healthcare needs. Although hospital coverage is generally provided without a premium to those who qualify, medical coverage for things like doctor visits and outpatient services requires paying monthly Part B premiums. You'll also need to cover copayments of up to 20% on many services, along with deductibles for hospital stays and other items. You can often get Medigap coverage or take advantage of Medicare Advantage plans to fill in some of the gaps in your healthcare needs.

Myth 5: My retirement nest egg needs to meet a magic number
Many people aim for a specific number, thinking that if they can't reach it, they can't afford to retire yet. However, all the assumptions in the world won't guarantee that a certain amount is enough, and you can often find ways to cut back and economize when you need to. Spend less time worrying about the one perfect number and instead focus on broader guidelines for things you truly need and things you would like to be able to do in retirement. Setting priorities will give you the flexibility you need to be smarter with your money.

Don't let retirement myths get in the way of your financial planning. By being aware of these common misconceptions, you can steer clear of them and improve the quality of your retirement.