No matter where you are on the getting-close-to-retirement age continuum, chances are you’ve given some thought to what happens next. Will you work part time? Spend more time with family? Buy a boat? Learn to quilt?
Now that you are approaching retirement, supplement your casual thoughts and wishful thinking with some planning and action. Here are eight tips to get you started.
Tip 1: Save, Save, Save
Hopefully this isn’t the first time it occurred to you to put some money aside for your later years. If you have at least a couple left before you retire, now would be a good time to ramp up savings.
If you are not already contributing the maximum amount to your IRA or 401(k), try to do it from here on out. You won’t see the compounding value you would have seen a decade ago, but any amount will help.
Tip 2: Dream, Dream, Dream
You have likely already done plenty of this, but now it’s time to formalize the process. Don’t just imagine how you will spend your retirement years; write it down. Make a list of things you would like to do after you leave the workforce.
Be as specific as possible. Don’t say, “Go on a cruise” if what you really want to do is go on a month-long Alaskan cruise. Instead of “relax,” say “relax on the porch of my lake house.” The idea is to create a to-do list that you can visualize.
Tip 3: Check Your Health
Schedule a checkup with your family doctor, optometrist and dentist. Check for cataracts, have your teeth cleaned and take care of any major medical procedure covered by your existing health insurance. This includes big-ticket items such as a crown or hip replacement, assuming you have sufficient accumulated sick leave and the procedure is covered.
Tip 4: Take an Asset Inventory
You may have funds in several places including a pension fund, savings, IRA or 401(k). This could also include accounts with multiple past employers. Locate the paperwork, make phone calls if necessary and total up your assets.
Are you a skilled woodworker or good at sewing? Have you become an amateur expert on wildlife? Do you garden well enough to qualify as a master gardener? Skills are assets, too, and they can turn into part-time employment in retirement or a focus for a hobby or volunteer efforts.
Tip 5: Review Social Security and Medicare Rules
Learn and study the rules for Social Security and Medicare to avoid being penalized. For example, you can enroll for Social Security as early as age 62, but benefits will only be 75 percent of what they would be at full retirement age. Wait until 70 to enroll for maximum benefits. Unless you qualify for an exception, you can be penalized for failing to sign up for Medicare when you turn 65. And if you miss your Medigap window, you miss the chance to sign up for any program you choose without a health exam. Medicare Part D (prescription drug coverage) also has penalties for signing up too late.
Tip 6: Create a Basic Budget
Create a simple paper-and-pencil or software-based retirement budget that includes monthly income on one side and expenses and debt on the other. Sources of income, in addition to Social Security, should be pension (if you have one), IRA, 401(k) or other investment funds.
Subtract expenses and debt payments from income. This will give you a ballpark picture of finances in retirement. Feel free to download and use any of the many budget tools available online to fine-tune results or create what-if scenarios.
Tip 7: Adjust as Needed
Your initial budget is just a starting point. Dig deeper into sources of income and how you might want to maximize them, avoid or reduce taxes, and so forth. Consult with a trusted financial advisor to make sure you aren’t overlooking anything on the income side.
Examine expenses to determine where cutbacks can be made. Which debts can be reduced or eliminated before retirement? Merge your budget with potential lifestyle changes, including downsizing or moving. Determine whether you will need (or want) to work part time.
Tip 8: Prepare for the Unexpected
There’s almost no chance you will be able to foresee everything that might happen to you during retirement. Therefore, it’s important to plan for the unexpected. Think about how you would cover everything, from a medical emergency to a major house fire.
How much would insurance cover and how much would you have to cover from other funds? And how would you do it? Answers to these questions will help you avoid a panic situation in the event the worst happens. For ideas, check out the Social Security Retirement Planner.