When people are looking to the horizon and seeing retirement at the crest of the hill, they want to know the answer to one question: What should I be doing to be ready? It depends on where you are in your retirement planning. If you’re 10 years away from retirement, there are things to do if you’re on track, but there are different actions to take if you’re behind. And depending on your age, there are some things you need to be doing no matter how much money you have in the bank.
What Do I Do If I’m On Track With My Retirement?
Congratulations! All that hard work, focus and dedication are paying off! With your dream in sight, make sure you take these actions to guard that retirement dream.
1. Sharpen your retirement budget. Sit down with your spouse or a friend and create a mock retirement budget using your current monthly budget. Some expenses will go down (dry cleaning, commuting and clothing, for example), but other items may go up, like utilities. Be sure to add in a little extra for inflation—about 3% a year.
2. Be on the lookout for stupid. This decade can be tricky. You can see your goal in sight, so it’s easy to let off the gas a little and reward yourself for your hard work. If you hear yourself saying the the words “I deserve . . .”, you’re treading on thin ice. A fancy vacation or a speedboat aren’t too far away. Get out of that territory—you’re close to Stupid Land. Stay focused on your retirement dream and don’t let anything get in the way.
3. Take advantage of the catch-up option. At age 50, you can put an extra $6,000 in your 401(k); you can put $1,000 more in your IRA. There are also catch-up contribution options if you have a SIMPLE IRA or 401(k) or a 403(b). Throw as much as you can into your investments. A decade of supercharging your savings will pay off in the long run!
Now, keep reading on. There are more action steps below that you might want to consider even though you’re in a good spot—and some you need to do in your 50s no matter what. Knowing that ahead of time puts you at the front of the pack.
What Do I Do If I’m Behind on My Retirement?
Take a deep breath. You may not be where you want, but there’s still hope. You can take some steps to shore up your retirement fund and put yourself in a better financial position. But I have to be honest: You need to get cracking!
1. Get out of debt. If you haven’t paid off all debt, including your house, you need to get rid of your debts quickly! Any debt will drain your retirement fund quicker than streaming a movie on your cell phone will eat up your data plan. If necessary, take a second job. Sell everything that doesn’t breathe and cut your budget to the bone. Debt is that destructive.
2. Make investing your top priority. Once you’re out of debt, throw everything you can into your investment fund. Take advantage of catch-up contributions the IRS offers for those 50 and above. If you max out your 401(k) and IRA, then put any extra money into a mutual fund.
3. Think about relocating. Some areas of the country are expensive to live in! If you’re behind on saving for retirement, you need to evaluate the pros and cons of living in another region or state. You might even want to live there during retirement for the lower cost of living.
4. Downsize. I know your home holds a lifetime of memories with those you love. But those memories won’t pay the heating bill in 10 or 20 years. If you’re seriously behind on saving for retirement, you need to downsize to a smaller home and put the profit in your retirement fund.
5. Work longer. You may need to keep working longer than you’d planned. That’s okay. Lots of people are choosing a longer career. If a few extra years on the job means a solid and secure retirement, then the extra work will be worth the payoff.
Some of these decisions will pull at your heartstrings. I get that. But consider the long-term implications. Making serious sacrifices now could literally save your retirement later on.
Things You Need to Do No Matter What
If you’re 10 years or so from retirement, chances are you’re in your 50s. If that’s the case, then there are some specific steps you need to take no matter how much money you have in your retirement account.
1. Check in with your dream team. By now, you need to have your dream team in place—that group of professionals who are helping you grow and protect your wealth and your legacy. Now is a good time to check in with them. Your estate plan or will may need to be updated. You need to check in on the tax implications of your investments. You need to evaluate your insurance. It’s time to huddle together and get a game plan for the coming years.
2. Learn about and sign up for Medicare. It’s a confusing program (hello, it’s from the government), so being informed is crucial! If you turn 65 in the next 10 years, learning about it should be on the top of your list. There are some rules about sign-ups around your 65th birthday, so make sure to read that section carefully. Be sure to get in touch with your private health insurance administrator before you start the enrollment process.
3. Check into your Social Security benefits. The Social Security Administration has an online tool that estimates how much money you’ll get each month when you apply for Social Security retirement benefits. This number may change a little, but knowing the amount is helpful when planning a monthly budget. Remember, though, this money is icing on the cake. Don’t rely on it as your sole source of income in retirement.
4. Research long-term care (LTC) insurance. Getting LTC insurance is non-negotiable. It helps pay for the cost of assisted living, nursing home care, in-home care, or associated costs. With people living longer, you’ll probably need LTC insurance at some point. Use this decade to find a policy that meets your needs. The premiums go up the older you get, so sign up at age 60.
Your retirement is in sight. Your plan is in place. Take advantage of the next 10 years to make supersonic progress to reach your financial goals. Don’t let up on the gas. Keep charging ahead. Cross the finish line knowing you did everything possible to build a secure future. You can do it!