It's your retirement -- start planning now

Considering that retirement is a period of your life that can last 20, 30 or even 40 years, no wonder planning for it is a complex and significant task. To help you with this task, I wrote a series of posts during the first four months of 2013 aimed at helping you plan for a healthy, secure and happy retirement. This post updates that series by adding links to useful posts that I've written since the series was originally published.

Taken together, this series is an example of a new form of digital publication that organizes posts on a complex topic and periodically provides updates to reflect the latest thinking. This new publishing form even has a creative name -- a "blook."

This series describes retirement planning steps you can take each week for 16 weeks. Each post contains links to additional articles for further reading, so you can control how much detail you want to read.

You don't need to finish in 16 weeks. You can pace yourself to take the time you need and fit the steps into your schedule. When you're ready for each week's steps, the posts will still be there. And you don't need to follow the weeks in order -- you have the flexibility to pick and choose the topics that are most relevant for you.

In effect, the entire series is a free, online retirement planning book, written by an actuary with 35-plus years of experience working with retirement plans. I don't sell insurance or investments. Rather, I just prepare retirement education and research. I write this column, publish books, conduct research at the Stanford Center on Longevity and deliver workshops on retirement planning. This enables me to use my skills and experience to help you, without being influenced by how I'm compensated.

Today's post contains links to the entire series, plus relevant posts that I've written since the original publication. Before the 16-week series started, I wrote a series of posts describing the trends that affect retirement planning in today's environment. In effect, these first three posts act as an introduction.

Introduction: Trends, strategies and a new vision for retirement

These posts triggered a lively debate that you can read in the comments.

Why traditional retirement is dead

Create a better vision for your retirement

Planning for the lean and mean retirement

Also, you might want to review my recent post that discusses how to use behavioral finance research to help you stay motivated and on track -- so you can persist for the entire 16 weeks.

Week 1: Plan for a long life

Estimating your life expectancy is an important first step.

How long will you live?

Estimate your life expectancy -- change your life

Week 2: What kind of retirement do you want?

Thinking about what you'll do with the rest of your life will help you decide how much money you need.

The 6 most important retirement planning questions

The ultimate retirement guide

Week 3: Get the right help that you need

Because retirement planning is so complex, it's reasonable that you might need some professional help, but make sure you find people who are qualified to help you and have your best interests at heart.

Retirement planning: Get the right professional help

Retirement planning: Get non-financial help

6 questions to ask about Social Security

What does it mean if your advisor is a fiduciary?

Consider retirement planning advice offered in 401(k) plans

Week 4: Invest in your health

It's well worth your time improving your health. You'll enjoy life more, and you might save lots of money on medical bills.

Retirement planning: Invest in your health

Strategies for healthy aging

Week 5: Take inventory

Spend some time documenting all your financial and nonfinancial resources.

Planning for retirement: Take inventory

Retirement planning: Nonfinancial inventory checklist

Week 6: Will you work in retirement?

Many people will need to keep working, but this doesn't need to feel like a jail sentence.

A guide to the working retirement

How to find work (after retirement)

How to find work you enjoy in retirement

Week 7: Social Security basics

For most people, Social Security is one of the most valuable retirement resources. Take the time to learn the rules, so that you can improve your retirement security.

What you need to know about Social Security

What you need to know about spouse's Social Security benefits

Can you work while collecting Social Security benefits?

Week 8: Strategies for optimizing your Social Security benefits

With a few hours of work, you can figure out how to add thousands of dollars in Social Security benefits.

Boost your Social Security payout by $100,000

How married couples can earn more Social Security benefits

Boost your spouse's Social Security payout by $90,000

A smart strategy for collecting Social Security

Week 9: Turn your savings into income

With the decline of traditional pensions, learning how to generate retirement income from your savings is one of your most critical planning tasks.

The best ways to generate lifetime retirement income

Facing up to the risk of living too long




Week 10: Investing strategies for retirement

Take the time to learn how to shop for the best investments for generating a retirement paycheck.






Week 11: Manage your living expenses

Managing living expenses is the most common financial strategy that retirees employ to make ends meet. Read here for ideas and strategies.



Week 12: Where will you live?

Housing is most people's largest expense, yet also the most personal. Think about the home and community that will work best for you in retirement.



Week 13: Manage your medical costs

For many people, medical costs will be the second-largest expense behind housing. It's essential to make smart choices regarding medical insurance and Medicare. Your medical insurance situation changes at age 65 when you're eligible for Medicare.



Should you buy Medicare Parts B and D?


Week 14: Addressing the long-term care threat

Long-term care can blow up well-made plans for retirement. Learn how to protect yourself.

Long-term care: Ignore it at your peril

Week 15: Putting it all together

Now you're ready to add up all your sources of retirement income to see when you can retire.

When can you afford to retire?



Week 16: Make the numbers work

Making sure your retirement income covers your living expenses.



How to make the numbers work

As you can see, you'll have to do a lot of homework to properly plan your retirement. Some people will find it helpful to form small study groups, so they can share the legwork and kick around ideas. Don't forget to include your spouse or partner in your planning. It always helps to discuss things with people who care about you and are in the same boat.

And don't be surprised if it takes longer than 16 weeks to complete all the steps. Even if it takes you six months, you're planning for the most important part of your life: your rest-of-life! Take the the time to put good plans in place for a healthy and secure retirement so you can relax and focus on the things that are really important to you.

Good luck!

P.S. If you want to learn more about retirement planning topics, check out my latest books.

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    Steve Vernon helped large employers design and manage their retirement programs for more than 35 years as a consulting actuary. Now he's a research scholar for the Stanford Center on Longevity, where he helps collect, direct and disseminate research that will improve the financial security of seniors. He's also president of Rest-of-Life Communications, delivers retirement planning workshops and authored Money for Life: Turn Your IRA and 401(k) Into a Lifetime Retirement Paycheck and Recession-Proof Your Retirement Years.

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