4 Essential Retirement Planning Questions

Everyone understands the value of careful financial planning prior to making the move into retirement. But it is equally important to plan for the daily life you will live as a retiree. An effective retirement plan addresses both the financial and the lifestyle side of retiring. These four questions will help you finalize your retirement plans.

How much will you need to live the retirement lifestyle you want? Many of us have a vivid picture of the life we hope to live in retirement. There are things we want to do and places we want to go. Most of us hope to experience and take advantage of our well-deserved status as free-wheeling retirees. A fulfilling retirement should allow us to pay our bills as well as enjoy the pursuit of our passions and dreams.

How much you must save to allow you to do the things you want is based upon the retirement lifestyle you envision. A good plan should include an element of frugality along with plenty of common sense. But we do not want to miss out on things we have always wanted to do now that we finally have time to enjoy ourselves. I find it helpful to think in terms of having paid my dues and earned the freedom to do what I really want. Sometimes I have to do without one thing to subsidize another. And don’t overlook the fact that you could enjoy 20 or 30 years of retired living. Both your time and money need to be budgeted for the long term.

At what age do you hope to retire? Not everyone is able to retire at age 65. Some of us wish to continue working while others may be forced to retire early due to a job loss or health issues. But if you can decide, when would you start your second act? You don’t want to delay retirement so long that you find yourself too old to enjoy the things you planned for. And you don’t want to retire prematurely without sufficient savings to fund your future. The age you decide to retire will significantly impact your financial situation. You will also need to determine when to start receiving Social Security benefits and begin to tap into IRA and 401(k) plans, all of which will factor into your retirement budget. It is a complex decision with lots of moving parts that should not be taken lightly.

If you are married, you also need to factor in your partner’s retirement timing. Chances are slim that you will both retire on the same day. Differences in ages can make it financially beneficial for one of you to keep working. A partner who retires earlier can test the waters to get a better understanding of what retirement truly entails. Their firsthand experience may smooth the transition when the time comes for their spouse to join them.

How will you make each day interesting? If you roll into retirement unprepared to make the most of your free time you could run out of things to keep you engaged. You have to know what you are going to do once you retire. After saving for so long, no one wants to find themselves bored in retirement.

Now that I am retired, I am learning what it takes to keep each day interesting. To occupy myself I need a variety of things to do, including hobbies, passions and new adventures. I have also discovered that if I do not keep myself mentally active I begin to slow down. I need challenges and new situations to keep myself engaged. I try to dedicate a part of each day to physical activity to encourage good health. I have a routine of daily exercise and walking, blogging and writing, online history classes, an iPhone app to learn French, my newly discovered interest in cooking, reading, playing the piano and gardening. My wife entertains a passion for jigsaw puzzles, yoga and Sudoku. And we typically converge at some point in the day for a heated round of backgammon, Scrabble or gin rummy. It is important to keep adding activities, and we are always on the lookout for new avenues to explore.

Will work be part of your retirement? Not everyone is happiest away from work. Some people get a kick out of the job. Co-workers provide a social tie that can be hard to replace. Achieving goals and meeting challenges can keep you feeling alive and important. Unfortunately, not everyone has the option to keep working as companies change direction or hire younger employees eager to be promoted. Retirement can be the chance to try your hand at running your own business, especially if you have always dreamed of taking a shot at becoming an entrepreneur. Even if you are not working full time, some part of your day dedicated to a regular job could make you happier in retirement.

When it comes to planning for your retirement, the important thing is to get started. Don’t wait until you arrive to begin planning how you will spend your time. Deciding what you will do before retirement gives you the opportunity to test things out and make changes so that all you need to do is fine tune during your retirement years.

Written for US World & News

How to Find Tune Your Retirement Plan

When we begin our retirement journey, we do not always know exactly where we are going. Since this is a new beginning, we have little experience to reference. And although we may have some general ideas about what is ahead, there is a certain mystery enshrouding a lifestyle we have not yet experienced firsthand. As a result, our second act is often a work in progress where we learn as we go.

No longer are the day’s activities laid out as was the case while pursuing our respective careers. Back then, each day had clear objectives, and we kept busy getting it done. But as we shift gears and enter retired life, that familiar guiding hand is no more.

We want to get retirement right and avoid any delay in enjoying what we have worked so hard to realize. Here’s how to do a realistic examination and fine tune your retirement plans:

Take a closer look at how you spend your days. Now that you are retired, you get to choose what you want to be doing. One of the great attractions of retirement is realizing the freedom to decide how to spend your time. Rather than dread what you have to do, this is your chance to focus on what you enjoy. To best take advantage of your newfound liberty, set aside some time to understand how you spend your hours and days. See if what you are engaged in is what you really want. If not, what would you rather be doing? Try to remove any clutter or distraction that stands between you and what you enjoy. Prune away whatever is not enhancing your retired life to make room for new growth and experiences.

Revisit your budget once you are actually living in retirement. You probably ran the numbers a variety of times before making the move to retire. Comparing your expected retirement income to your projected retirement expenses can help you establish a level of comfort before retiring. Once you have spent a few years living as a retiree, you may want to revisit those numbers to do a reality check. Perhaps you underestimated the amount you spend on travel or are not eating as much food as you originally planned. A little fine tuning reflecting how you are actually spending can help keep you within acceptable bounds.

Have fun with it or move on. Coping with the inconveniences of aging is likely to be a big part of your retirement years. As we grow older, simple things that used to require minimal effort can begin to present challenges. But that is no reason to relegate ourselves to the Retirementrole of observer. We can still play the game, albeit maybe at a slower pace. We can still travel, explore, experiment, engage and try new things. Don’t put off until tomorrow the grand plans you could begin on today. Retirees have the free time and flexibility to make the best of the moment. And since we are in control, there is no need to continue with something we no longer enjoy. If you are not having fun with what you are doing, turn the page and move on.

Stay on course to where you want to be. Not everyone has specific goals they hope to achieve in retirement. But most of us would like to avoid wasting the next 20 years of our lives. Maybe we would like to make improvements to the person we are, perhaps chiseling away at bad habits that have dogged us over the years. Or we may desire to add to our knowledge or experience in a particular area. Keeping track of progress toward your targets helps maintain a focus that can improve your chances of getting there. If you know where you stand, you can tell how close you are getting to what you want.

Remember you are the boss. Friends and family may have thoughts about how retirement should play out, which is just fine when it comes to their own retirement. But well-intentioned advice about how you should live your retired days should be taken with a grain of salt. Listen politely and incorporate what makes sense to your situation. Don’t get pressured into doing what you do not want to be doing. Getting to retirement has been a long trip. Now that you are here and control your future, it is time to take advantage of your ability to do as you please.

Written for US News & World