Not that long ago, people looked forward to retirement as a time of relaxation and leisure when one might travel the world or take up a new hobby. Increasingly, however, people preparing to retire are doing the math and realizing that the future doesn’t look so bright financially. The following 10 guidelines will help you enjoy a more comfortable retirement even in an uncertain economy.
1. Have a Plan But Stay Flexible
Retiring successfully takes planning. Take an honest inventory of your assets, savings, investments, and set some goals for your retirement. Consider what you’d like to be doing, where you’d like to live, who you want to be near, and what kind of lifestyle you prefer.
While you need a plan you also need to be flexible and open to unexpected changes. Keep yourself informed about the latest developments in areas such as the cost of living, tax laws, investments, real estate trends, and other areas that are likely to have an impact on your life.
2. Watch Your Spending
Overspending is a common mistake for many retirees. The paradox about not working is that you have less money coming in but more time to spend your money. It’s natural to want to fill up all your free time with eating out, shopping, traveling, and other leisurely pursuits. It’s important to set a budget and stick to it. You don’t have to cut out all entertainment and treats. However, make sure you don’t spend beyond your means.
3. Find New Sources of Income
It’s an unfortunate fact that people in the United States and many other countries are postponing retirement because they can’t afford to stop working. Some employees, meanwhile, are forced into retirement. There are, however, alternatives besides working full-time and complete retirement. Here are a few possibilities.
4. Get Out of Debt
Reducing or eliminating debt is one of the best ways to improve your financial situation. Debts are especially draining after you retire. Do whatever you can to cut down on what you owe, especially high-interest debts such as credit cards.
Paying off debt provides two main benefits. On the one hand, it reduces the burden of making high payments when your income may be decreasing. Additionally, you have a chance to improve your credit score which is useful if you want to apply for a mortgage, business loan, or another type of loan in the future.
5. Don’t Touch Your Retirement Account Early
Withdrawing money from your retirement account early may be tempting but it’s seldom a financially wise decision. You also incur tax penalties if you take money out of an IRA or 401K before retirement age (currently 59.5). If you’re thinking about raiding your retirement
account, make this an absolute last resort. You’ll be glad you held out a few years from now.
6. Downsize Your Lifestyle
For most people, mortgage, rent, utilities, and other home-related costs are their costliest expenses. Consider how much space you need and whether it might be practical to downsize. If you have your own home, you could sell it and buy a smaller one or relocate to an area with a lower cost of living. Renting or moving to a condo helps you cut down on home maintenance costs. An extreme way to reduce your cost of living is to retire to a country with very cheap living expenses such as Ecuador or Panama.
There are other ways to downsize and simplify your lifestyle aside from housing. Consider moving to a location where you don’t need a car. With ride-sharing services and short-term rental options, more people are finding that owning a vehicle is an unnecessary expense.
7. Take Care of Your Health
Medical expenses are one of the biggest reasons people fall into financial difficulties later in life. Aside from getting regular checkups, pay attention to your habits and lifestyle. If you smoke, drink heavily, use drugs, or don’t exercise, consider transforming your lifestyle.
Bad habits tend to catch up with you when you can least afford it. Eating a healthier diet, exercising regularly, and avoiding harmful substances will cause you to feel better while also saving you money on health care costs. You can also manage health expenses by researching the most advantageous health insurance options.
8. Invest Wisely
It’s never too late to start investing or to improve your investing strategy. As a general rule, you should invest more conservatively as you approach retirement.
Diversifying your holdings is the best strategy. Spreading investments between small and large-cap stocks, bonds, mutual funds, and real estate trusts increases your chances of reaping steady returns. An annuity can provide you with predictable payouts after you retire. If you need help, consult with a CPA or investment counselor.
The other side of the coin is to be wary of dubious investments. Older people are often targeted by scam artists selling fraudulent “investments.” Even legitimate investments that are highly speculative such as futures, Forex, cryptocurrency, and others carry significant risks. Make sure the bulk of your holdings are in more stable assets before you start speculating.
9. Don’t Be Overly Generous
Many older adults are victims of their own generosity. As younger people face rising housing and education costs, they sometimes turn to their parents and grandparents for help. While it’s great to help your kids buy a home or pay for your grandchildren’s college tuition, make sure you don’t overextend yourself. Before you give away large sums, look into the future and ask yourself how this will impact you 5 or 10 years from now. Sometimes you just have to say “no” even if it’s painful.
10. Take Advantage of Senior Discounts
There are many financial advantages to being a senior (though the exact definition differs depending on the situation; it may be 55, 60, 62, or 65). If you’re not a member of AARP, join now and learn about more benefits. Your local public library is also another good place to learn about programs. Before spending money on anything, from healthcare to travel to transportation, find out if you can get a discount based on your age.
These are some ways to help you manage your finances when you retire and even before. It’s important to look at your situation and devise a workable strategy. People get into trouble when they live day-to-day and ignore impending problems.
Our BALANCE Financial Guide is dedicated to helping you balance life’s important decisions.