Mark Paller is a CPA/PFS and Certified Financial Planner. He has worked with individuals and businesses across the US for more than 20 years
With temperatures surging and kids released from their in-person and Zoom classrooms, it’s safe to say summer is in full swing. The joys of summer include family vacations, road trips and the age-old question, “Wouldn’t it be nice to be on vacation forever?”
When we talk about that “vacation forever” in the financial planning world, we’re talking about retirement planning — that 401(k) account you likely started at your first or second job and didn’t put much thought into until perhaps the pandemic. So with that in mind, how do you plan so that one day you’re on that “permanent vacation” you’re dreaming about?
You can do so by creating a “retirement strategy playbook,” a series of documents that helps you determine what you want out of your retirement, when you can retire and how you’ll achieve those goals.
Establish where you are.
In preparing for a season where you no longer have to go to work every day, it is essential to take a full accounting of where you currently stand. That means creating a complete picture of all your financial resources. Your playbook should include the following documents:
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o A net worth statement, which is a document that analyzes your potential cash flow needs required to support your retirement lifestyle.
o An analysis of your company-sponsored 401(k) plan and your current investment allocation.
o And a portfolio review, a document detailing and analyzing all of your funds outside of your company 401(k).
As a certified financial planner, I am often surprised at the resources clients have that they do not view as important or have not considered when creating a retirement plan. These can include:
o Social Security benefits: Make sure to log into the Social Security Administration and determine your benefit level.
o Mortgages: You’ll also want to do an evaluation of your home’s mortgage, if you have one.
o The cash value in permanent life insurance policies.
o Benefits (e.g., life insurance, retirement benefits, beneficial interests in accounts) from ex-spouses or previous partners.
Having a clear understanding of the resources available to you can have a significant impact on the options that will be available to you in retirement.
Analyze your options.
After a full accounting of your available resources has been established, it is now time to start painting the picture of possibilities of what you would like the next phase of your life to look like. This is the time to get creative.
Leave no option off the table, and have fun with it. Do not be afraid to dream. Far too often people are so full of zest for life when they are young, and as life comes at them and they work through a career, they lose that spark. This is an opportunity to challenge yourself to recapture that zeal for life. Your life may literally depend on it. Large-scale longitudinal research has found that around a quarter of retirees in the U.S. see a significant drop in health and well-being as they transition to retirement. Analyze your options, and find your spark.
Decide where you want to go, and develop the plan to get there.
Now that the cupboard has been laid bare with potential options, it is time to get specific about what it is that you want for this next chapter in life and define the nuts and bolts of how to get there. Goals generally aren’t achieved without a plan to accomplish them. Don’t get me wrong, occasionally goals are achieved by accident, but then by definition, was it ever really a goal?
A study by psychology professor Gail Matthews showed that 76% of participants with written goals achieved those goals, compared to 43% of people who did not write them down. Design the plan, define the steps to get where you want to go, and work the plan. You can do it — draft a written plan.
Implement and work on the plan.
Now that your road map has been designed, get to work on navigating to your destination. You are in command of the vehicle that is your future, and you get to choose where it goes. Continually remind yourself of the steps necessary to get to where you want to go and be willing to take those steps.
Frequently review and modify your plan as life changes occur.
Having a plan is critical to achieving almost anything in life but be OK with frequently reviewing and potentially modifying your plan. As stated earlier, life is dynamic and filled with all kinds of surprises. Be willing to be flexible as your circumstances and the circumstances of those around you evolve and change. Life events such as a family illness, the birth of a child, a marriage or the dawning of a new business opportunity can have a substantial impact on your plan and what you perceive to be important. Be open to change.
It’s not just about finances.
As you can tell, I am a big proponent of creating a plan and working the plan, but don’t forget to have fun along the way. Life can change in an instant, and as one of my college professors used to say, “We need to have a healthy balance of planning for our future while living joyfully for today.”
Planning for a successful transition from your formal working years to the next chapter in life is not just financial. Sure, as is expressed in this article, you need an accounting of your resources and a plan for how those resources will be utilized, but a successful retirement is often not torpedoed by a lack of financial resources but by a lack of vision for what you want your post-working years to look like.
The steps mentioned in this article not only apply to your financial plan but also to your holistic retirement plan and how you will spend your time. Recapture that spark and zest for life, and go make an impact in your life, the lives of your family and friends, and your community. Have fun with the process — your life depends on it.
The information provided here is not investment, tax or financial advice. You should consult with a licensed professional for advice concerning your specific situation.