Income, Not Age

You can’t just stop working at 60, 65 or even 70 without a retirement income plan to pay your bills. Seems simple enough. Still, it surprises me how few people who seek our help with retirement planning have a budget prepared or a retirement income plan in place. They’ve spent years focused on growing and saving their money, and they haven’t yet flipped their mindset to how they’ll manage that money when they no longer have a paycheck.

So they choose an age — 62, 65, 66, 70 — because those are milestone years for Social Security and Medicare, and they’re the ages when most people retire.

Now, I’m not suggesting that instead of saying, “I’m retiring at 65,” you should say, “I’m retiring at $1 million.” Choosing a dollar amount without a retirement income plan is almost as random as choosing a retirement age. You’re going to have to work a little harder than that.

You should begin looking at your current fixed-income sources — Social Security, defined-benefit pensions (if you and/or your spouse have one), and/or annuities — and how you can help maximize those payments with the proper timing and claiming strategies.

You also should put together an approximate but realistic retirement budget. Don’t assume you’ll spend less in retirement than you do now — many people actually spend more in the first few years, when every day feels as if you’re on vacation.

Major expense categories include your mortgage and car payments (if you’ll still have those, or if you expect you might have them in the future), food, transportation and health care. And don’t forget the fun stuff: travel, gifts for the grandkids, golf and other hobbies. Keep in mind, too, any services you might need as you age — from yardwork to home repairs to nursing care.

Once you know your fixed income streams and your budget needs, you can determine whether there is a gap. If you have more than enough money to cover your expenses, you may be able to retire earlier than expected. If not, you’ll have to figure out how you’ll draw from your retirement nest egg to fund that gap. This is where you may need a little help, and a financial adviser can guide you by building strategies that cover asset allocation, inflation and tax implications. Furthermore, we can help you update your plan as time passes.

Ultimately, no income plan, no matter how comprehensive, can predict all the twists you might encounter during a long retirement. But if you start with a solid plan and remain flexible about refining it as you go, you’ll increase the odds that your financial future will be secure.