Close your eyes for a moment and think about how you would like to retire? What do you see yourself doing? Who are you doing it with? Are there sandy beaches involved? How’s the sun feel on your face? Looking forward to tea times at noon? Trips across the world you’d always wished you could take? How does that carefree Paris wine taste?
Or maybe it’s the simple joy of a house devoid of kids, not needing to slug into work, and the chance to start dating your spouse once again. Coffee really does taste better when it’s not rushed after all.
Now open your eyes and ask yourself this simple question: how much does all that cost?
Did I ruin it? Hopefully not. Dreaming big dreams are important. We all work too hard not to find enjoyment from life, and retirement should be an exciting part of that.
But how do you go from dreaming about it, to actually planning and preparing for it?
The answer isn’t as complicated as you may think. It’s about turning your dream into a goal. Setting the right target. Taking the vision in your mind and examining it in more practical terms. It’s about quantification.
Let’s explore what that looks like.
Your dream retirement is really the sum of several parts. Each one of those components has a value you can assign it.
For example, you can very easily quantify how much it costs to take a 7-day vacation to Europe. If you plan on taking several a year, just multiply that number. You know what it costs to play golf or take more yoga classes. You can also figure out how much it costs to downsize and move into a condo or beach house.
Each part of your lifestyle is something you can measure, to help create the appropriate framework for targeting your dream.
The dream gets turned into numbers; and numbers are essential for planning.
To demonstrate how powerful this can be, ING (now VOYA) performed a study in 2008 titled ING Retirement Number Study. They also launched a humorous advertising campaign with various people carrying around their “number”.
The goal of it was “to help simplify the process of retirement planning for Americans by encouraging them to identify and calculate the total amount of money they need to have saved by the time they retire. This retirement dollar amount ‘number’ is unique to each individual or couple and depends upon their individual retirement goals”.
Knowing where you are aiming allows you to work backwards to today and setup a roadmap to get there.
If retirement seems too far off to you, or is too much of a fantasy, a better frame of reference may be the lifestyle you’re living today. While it may not be as charming as the fantasy, it can provide you with helpful values to work with.
What do housing, food, clothing, and utilities cost? There are many tangible components of your lifestyle you can measure. Although things may be drastically different at retirement, having a tangible frame of reference to project forward is also helpful.
Whether you’re looking backwards or forwards, the critical first step is establishing concrete goals to target.
The second step is a bit more complex. Preparing for retirement is all about saving. Month by month the challenge is to try and sock away money into an IRA, 401k, or some other account, all with the express purpose of using those funds when we retire. It’s what the financial industry calls “the accumulation phase”. It’s all about building your nest egg.
Savings consistently must be combined with the right investment strategy to optimize your chances for success. Your investments and their associated risks should align with your retirement goal.
Using online risk assessment tools, in conjunction with seeking professional guidance can help you determine the appropriate investment allocations.
In general, the kinds of risks to consider taking tend to be growth oriented, and perhaps somewhat aggressive. While never comfortable, experiencing a market decline during this stage in your life shouldn’t thwart your future plans. You can endure unpredictability because you have a long-term strategy in place.
This part of your financial journey is generally categorized by a stay-the-course, weather the storm, be consistent and let things grow attitude.
It’s not uncommon to look at your 401k account balance and still feel a bit uneasy about your future. If that’s you, you’re not alone.
According to a 2018 AARP survey, most Americans foresee a retirement savings shortfall. Fifty nine percent said it was only “somewhat likely” or “not at all likely” that their savings and Social Security will be enough to last them throughout their retirement, AARP learned.
While things may seem serious, it’s not something that can’t be improved. No matter your circumstance, there are resources available to help you take simple steps to improve your chances of success.
Here are 4 important steps to get yourself on track:
Check your current 401k plan provider’s website for a retirement calculator tool that will help you see where you stand. If one isn’t readily available, Fidelity, a leader in 401k plans has a helpful calculator to gauge your retirement readiness.
After seeing where you are, start making small but important budgetary steps to increase the amount you put away every month. If this means one less cup of Starbucks, or packing lunches instead of eating out, there are many ways to cut expenses and divert funds more strategically. Triage is key, so be honest about your expenses and what things represents needs versus wants. Mint.com provides a helpful free budget tool to support you in monitoring your budget each month to avoid going over in certain categories.
Most organizations provide their employees several valuable retirement tools. First, make sure you’re maximizing all the “free money” that may be available through any matching offered by your retirement plan. If you get to the place where you’re maxing out your contributions, inquire with your HR representative to see if the organization offers a non-qualified plan. Those plans may permit you to save more of your income once you’ve already hit the qualified plan limits. Always squeeze all the juice out of the proverbial orange!
There’s a lot you can do on your own, but don’t downplay the value of working with a financial professional. Making sense of all your options is tricky, and a financial professional can help you see the bigger picture, assess the appropriate options, and provide you with relational support to keep you on track. You may have access to help through your retirement plan provider as well.
By making small practical changes today you can keep your retirement dream alive for tomorrow.
Brian Haney, CLTC, CFS, CFBS, CIS, LACP is the Founder and vice president of The Haney Company, providing employee benefits, comprehensive property and casualty insurance and retirement and personal financial advice for Associations, Small businesses, and families. Brian also produces the “That’s My Financial Guy” podcast discussing a variety of topics.