The Retirement Planning Checklist
As you start to think about retirement planning, you might quickly feel overwhelmed or unsure about what to plan for. Retirement is made up of many different elements, and you’re going to have to make decisions about all of them – but where do you start?
We realized that many people approaching retirement don’t know what they should be thinking about or what questions they should be asking. So, we’ve put together a checklist of the nine most important things you need to consider before retirement.
You can watch the video on this topic above. To listen to the podcast episode, hit play below, or read on for more…
In this post, we walk you through each of these nine elements and help you better understand some key retirement planning aspects. You can make notes on these yourself, use them to talk to your financial advisor, or even see them as retirement planning conversation starters between you and your family. Let’s dive in.
List your retirement goals
You only retire once, so make sure you’re prepared for it! You might have lots of big plans and ideas about what you want to do in retirement. This might include going on a trip, spending more time with grandkids, or anything that you’re initially very excited to do. But often, people don’t plan beyond their first year of retirement. We call this the “retirement honeymoon phase.”
You need to think about what you want to be doing in retirement long-term. We’re talking for 10-20 years! After that first year or “honeymoon phase,” what would you like to be doing regularly, or what would you like to accomplish? Take a pen and paper and write some ideas down in a list or create a retirement journal. Here are a few questions to get you thinking.
- Do you want to work part-time or volunteer? Are there any organizations that you’d like to work with?
- Where do you want to live? Perhaps you want to downsize, move into your retirement transition home, or look into other retirement accommodation.
- Do you want to travel? If so, will it be one long trip, annual vacations, or frequent getaways to places nearby?
Having a list of all the things you want to do in retirement is a great way to get excited about your future. It can also help you make the right choices so that you get to live your dream retirement.
Know your numbers
You may have opened many different bank accounts throughout your life. Perhaps you have multiple 401ks or have various assets. One of the first steps to preparing for retirement is gathering up all of this financial information.
When you’ve consolidated these accounts, you’ll be able to see how much you’ve got, and start building your financial retirement plan. From here, you can find out how much guaranteed income you can expect to receive when you retire.
Your incomings are one thing to know, but you should also be aware of your spending. If you’re working, you may be less worried about how much you’re spending month-to-month, but after you’ve retired, you’ll no longer have money coming in the door. It’s important to know what your fixed expenses will be so you can budget accordingly.
Ideally, your guaranteed income (e.g., your Social Security and pension) will cover all of your fixed expenses. But remember, the unexpected can happen. Sudden healthcare costs or inflation, for example, can affect your retirement plan. So, while we can make illustrations and help get your finances in a good place, we can’t predict the future.
Social security: look at the big picture
People usually want to know how they can get the most money from Social Security. While this is completely understandable, we want to urge you to look at the big picture.
If you wait and start taking Social Security at age 70, then you will receive more money in total – if you live into your 90s. However, if you’re withdrawing more on your assets because you’re not taking Social Security yet, this could have a massive impact on your finances 10-15 years down the road.
It can be easy to fall into the trap of wanting more from Social Security, but we strongly advise you to look at what waiting will do to your assets in the long-term. A comprehensive, written retirement plan can show you and help you understand how something like this will affect your overall finances.
Take an interest in your investing
You don’t need to be a stock-guru, but we recommend that you find out what strategy best suits your money goals and risk tolerance. There are many different ways to invest, but we break these down into two main categories: passive and active.
The passive, or buy-and-hold strategy, is more suited to those who want to invest their money and leave it. This is typically a long-term strategy, where you’ll invest over many years and (hopefully) your money will accumulate. However, when the stock market is volatile, you need to have a high-risk tolerance to weather the storm.
For those approaching retirement, we advocate a more active strategy. This is where you make adjustments depending on market shifts. It’s more suitable for those with a lower risk tolerance, as it attempts to protect against any downturns or crashes that may have a big impact on your retirement savings.
If you’re not sure where to start, consider what your risk tolerance is. If you lost 5% of your invested money today, for example, how would that make you feel? What percentage would you be comfortable with losing?
Understand your Medicare options
You will start receiving Medicare at age 65. However, there will be many, many options to consider. We suggest that you don’t wait until the last minute.
A year before you’re due to receive Medicare (around age 64), start finding out what options will be available to you and get an idea of what to expect. This way, you won’t be as overwhelmed when the time comes. We also recommend speaking to an expert, if you can.
On the Secure Your Retirement podcast, we spoke to Medicare specialist Lorraine Bowen about navigating its complexity. To hear Lorraine answer some of our questions, please listen to the podcast episode “Navigating Medicare in Retirement.”
Get your legal documents in order
It’s imperative to update all of the legal documents you may have before you retire. There can be complications if your documents don’t match up or if there is conflicting information in them, so make it a priority to get these in order.
Check that your power of attorney, will, and account beneficiaries are all correct. If these are not aligned with each other, one may usurp the other in case of an event. For example, a beneficiary form can be more powerful than a will – so it’s necessary to make sure that these are all in line with your wishes.
If you have trust documents or think you may need a trust, you should also start having a conversation about if this is a good option for you.
Plan your long-term care options
You may already know that you need long-term care insurance, but, again, there are many options, and it can be complicated.
You could opt to self-insure, or you could purchase traditional long-term care insurance or hybrid insurance. Traditional long-term care insurance has previously presented problems with sharp rate increases making it less affordable for many. Meanwhile, hybrid insurance premiums do not increase, but the insurance model itself can be a combination of many things. It could be part annuity, part life insurance, and part long-term care.
To learn more about long-term care and the differences between hybrid and traditional insurance, read our post “Long-Term Care Insurance: Traditional vs. Hybrid.”
Understand your taxes
Taxes will always be a part of your finances, so you need to plan for them. When you’re consolidating your accounts, it’s a good idea to note how each one will be taxed.
Many account types are taxed differently. For example, if you take withdrawals from a pre-tax IRA, that will be considered taxable income, so you’ll need to plan for this. If you have a Roth IRA, this will grow tax-free and can be a big tax advantage in the future. Annuities and brokerage accounts are taxed differently again – it’s up to you to find out the implications of each on your retirement plan.
Get your retirement income plan in writing
Finally, we strongly recommend putting your retirement income plan in writing. This can give you peace of mind about your financial freedom in retirement. It can show you an estimated projection of multiple scenarios and help you decide how you’re going to approach your future.
We often have clients approach us who feel uncertain about what’s possible for them in retirement. After seeing their “what ifs” played out and how we take different parts of your finances into consideration, they leave feeling far less stressed and optimistic about their future.
So, those are the nine key things you should think about when planning your retirement. We hope that this checklist comes in useful and helps you on the road to retirement.
If you want to learn more about preparing for retirement, consider getting our complimentary online masterclass, 3 Keys to Secure Your Retirement. You’ll learn how to create your own Lifetime Retirement Income Plan and start your journey to a confident financial future.