There is no contest—a retirement exit strategy beats magical thinking every time.
We all hope to be happy in retirement. What is the secret to turning hope into reality? Hitch your dreams to a concrete plan. Think about exactly what happiness means to you outside the full-time work world and start strategizing. It is the best retirement gift you can give yourself as you wind down your career.
Here are some specific gift ideas that go beyond the gold watch to truly create your golden years:
Make a Lifestyle Plan for your Retirement
When the party ends and your colleagues go back to work, what will you do with your time and energy? What is your passion or purpose for getting out of bed in the morning?
Retirees report they are happier when they have a game plan for what they want to accomplish when they leave the work world. If you are unsure about what will inspire you, you can explore options until you discover activities that engage and fulfill you.
Make sure one of them is maintaining an active social life. Science shows that keeping connected to friends and family boosts mental and physical health.
Make a Financial Plan for your Retirement
Your income, priorities, and expenses are likely to shift when you leave the full-time workforce. You will need to adjust your budget and portfolio to reflect your new reality and check in periodically to make sure your plans match your circumstances:
Step 1: Make a retirement spending plan.
Commuting, work wardrobe, and professional obligation expenses will disappear. But you may want to bump up allocations for travel, entertainment, and hobbies. Healthcare and long-term care may loom larger in your expense category. Will you keep your current home or downsize? Will you stay in your current location or move to another area? When you morph your current budget into a rough draft of your future life, how do the numbers need to shift?
Step 2: Develop a retirement income strategy.
Once you calculate what you need and want to spend in retirement, you must balance that figure with how much you can actually earn. Here are some crucial steps to earning maximum income in retirement:
- Optimize your social security and pension benefits.
- Investigate whether it makes sense to annuitize a portion of your investment assets.
- Minimize the impact of inflation and taxes.
- Analyze whether you would benefit from converting a portion of your traditional IRA to a Roth IRA.
- Research a reverse mortgage or home equity line of credit as an option to cover unexpected expenses.
Step 3: Test drive your spending/income plan.
Stick to your retirement budget while you still draw an earned income to get a preview of whether your plan makes sense on a practical level. Can you adjust to the lifestyle?Or have you underestimated the income you will need? A test run allows you to tweak your plan while you still have a steady paycheck. Options include delaying your retirement and considering post-retirement, part-time work.
Protect your Assets
They take on greater importance when you shift to a fixed income. As you approach retirement:
- Review your risk allocation – Conventional wisdom says to lower investment risk as you age. Review your investments to see if that strategy makes sense in your circumstances.
- Review insurance coverage – Does your policies for long-term care, health, liability, and life cover your needs in retirement?
- Review your estate planning/gifting strategies – Do they still reflect your desired legacy?
Pay Off “Bad Debt” Before you Retire
High-interest debt that provides no financial benefit, such as credit cards, is a drain on retirement prosperity. Paying off this debt while still working can relieve stress and free up more income in retirement.
Make a List of the “Tough Questions”
No one really wants to talk about what happens when you can no longer take care of yourself or need to downsize for financial reasons. Confronting difficult, emotionally charged issues and reconciling yourself to tough conversations before a crisis occurs is a wonderful gift for both you and your loved ones.