Save as if you are going to live forever. Live as if you only have today.
Too often, we find ourselves doing one or the other and that just doesn’t work.
If you save as if you are going to live forever, but you forget to enjoy your life and live it to the fullest, you may have plenty of money, but you will have missed out on valuable experiences and many of the rewards of working hard and being responsible.
If you live as if you only have today, but you do not save, you better plan on working on your last day because you won’t have any money to spend anyway.
Like so many things in our lives, it boils down to balance…achieving the right mix between taking responsibility and having fun, planning and leaving time for spontaneity.
This is a particularly relevant topic these days given the uncertain economic times we have been in and will probably continue to face for several more years. If you are thinking about retiring or you plan on doing so in the next 5 years, you are probably very concerned about what your future will hold. Unfortunately, there are no magic answers, but if you have a plan and you have followed that plan, then chances are you will be just fine in your golden years.
Whether times are good or challenging, sound financial plans are going to carry the day. It’s just easier to relax and not worry when times are good. If you have lived within your means, adhered to your budget, and set money aside for future needs, you should take a deep breath. Everything is going to be okay no matter how rotten the economy is, but if you have not done those things and retirement is beckoning, you have some additional steps to take.
A common mistake in retirement planning is to assume that you will be able to change habits and make do with less once you are no longer working full-time. The fact is that if you have spent your whole life living a certain way, you will simply not be able to change your ways just because you are no longer working. Planning for retirement and saving your money is a skill, not unlike learning to fly a plane or run a restaurant. You probably don’t believe that you could jump into the seat of a 747 and fly it without any training. Most people don’t think they can run a restaurant just because they have eaten in one. Retirement planning is no different so forget the idea that you will simply adjust your spending habits or your living needs.
It would be a much better exercise to reasonably project what your expenses will be and what you would like to accomplish during your retirement, then try to figure out how you will make it work. This, of course, is much easier to do if you took the time to develop a plan earlier in your working career, however, as long as you are still in the planning stages it is not impossible to come up with a plan late in the game as long as you are open to what the solutions will be. For example, you may have to be prepared to work longer than you had originally thought. You will almost certainly have to start working on new saving habits if you didn’t already have an established savings goal, but these are problems with a solution and that is good news for anyone facing any type of challenge. The real worry is when you face a problem for which there is no solution.
Another common mistake in retirement planning is underestimating the impact of the changes that will occur in your expenses and needs as you get older. Your retirement age plays a big role here. If you plan to retire at a younger age, be sure to account for higher insurance premiums and lower social security benefits. If you retire at an older age, you should be prepared for higher overall medical expenses and potentially higher taxes as you gain access to retirement funds.
Additionally, many people mistakenly believe that one source will carry them through their retirement years. Some people think that their social security benefits will cover their needs. Others believe that if they have a pension, it will be enough to ensure that their financial needs are met when they are no longer working full-time. They may be right, but why risk it?
An essential part of financial planning is the back-up plan, the part of the plan that you rely on when things don’t go exactly the way that you thought they would. Heading into retirement and needing everything to be what you planned for it to be does not sound like a very realistic or dependable strategy. You will greatly increase your peace of mind and your chances for a successful retirement if you have a contingency source or back-up funds.
Lastly, don’t assume that you will not live a long and fulfilling life. Our life expectancies are constantly rising. Embrace the thought of a long life, don’t bet on a shorter one and then end up disappointed because you are out of money. When you are looking at your plan and determining how reasonable it is for your needs, be sure to include plenty of happy retirement years for your self.
The common theme in a strong financial plan is to develop one as early in your life as possible. Prepare as early as you can without losing sight of today.
Make adjustments as necessary, but allow yourself to enjoy the full rewards of your hard work and fiscal discipline. A well thought out financial strategy that is tailored to you and your lifestyle is going to carry you through all different types of challenges and set you up nicely for a happy retirement.
If you haven’t taken the needed steps, don’t live in the past and dwell on what might have been, take charge of your situation and make every day your own going forward.
This article is part of Scott Arney's educational series, entitled The Serial Decision Maker.