If you’re considering retirement within the next five years or so, you’re in the retirement “zone.” This is a critical time period during which you’ll be faced with a number of important choices, and the decisions you make can have long-lasting consequences. It’s a period of transition: a shift from a mindset that’s focused on accumulating assets for retirement to one that’s focused on distributing wealth and drawing down resources. It can be confusing and chaotic, but it doesn’t have to be. The key is to understand the underlying issues, and to recognize the long-term effects of the decisions you make today.
Tip: If you’ve recently retired, you’re also in the retirement zone. You’ll want to evaluate your financial situation in light of the decisions that you’ve already made, and consider adjusting your overall plan to reflect your current expectations and circumstances.
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Are you ready to retire?
The first question that you should ask yourself is: “Am I ready to retire?” For many, the question isn’t as easy to answer as it might seem. That’s because it needs to be considered on two levels. The first, and probably the most obvious, is the financial side. Can you afford to retire? More specifically, can you afford the retirement you want? On another level, though, the question relates to the emotional issues surrounding retirement--how prepared are you for this new phase of your life? Consider both the financial and emotional aspects of retirement carefully; retiring before you’re ready can put a strain on the best-devised retirement plan.
Start with the basics:
• If you do not already have a projection of the annual income you’ll need in retirement, spend the time now to develop one. Factor in anticipated costs relating to basic needs, housing, health care, and long-term care. If you plan to travel in retirement, estimate a corresponding annual dollar amount. If you’re financially responsible for other family members, or plan to make monetary gifts, you’ll want to include these commitments in your calculations. Be as specific as you can. If it’s been more than a year since you’ve done this exercise, revisit your numbers. Consider and account for inflation.
• Estimate the income that you’ll be able to rely on from Social Security and any benefits from a traditional employer pension, and compare the result with your projected retirement income need. The difference may need to be funded through your personal savings and/or work in retirement.
• Take stock of your personal savings. Are your personal savings sufficient to provide you with the annual income that you’ll need?
• When will you retire? The age at which you retire can have an enormous impact on your overall retirement income situation, so you’ll want to make sure you’ve considered your decision from every angle. Why does the timing of your retirement make such a difference? The earlier you retire, the sooner you need to start drawing on your retirement savings. You’re also giving up what could be prime earning years, when you could be making substantial additions to your retirement savings. That combination, even for just a few years, can make a tremendous difference.