Planning for a retirement that can last 20 years or more can be a daunting task. It's easy to get lost in the details and not see the forest for the trees. Your first step is understanding the big picture, so you focus on what really matters to you.
Here's your goal: You want a reliable, lifetime retirement income that covers your living expenses for a good life, no matter how long you live and no matter what happens in the economy. While that's easier said than done, of course, it's what you should be striving for.
These four steps will help you achieve this goal:
- Develop sources of reliable, lifetime retirement income.
- Manage your living expenses.
- Protect against things going wrong.
- Plan for a good life.
Step 1: Develop sources of reliable, lifetime retirement income.
For most people, there are five possible sources of retirement income:
- Social Security benefits
- Income generated by retirement savings, such as 401ks and IRAs
- Income generated by home equity
Step 2: Manage your living expenses.
The following sources make up 75 percent of the average retiree's budget in America, in order starting with the highest amount:
Steps 1 and 2 combined represent the magic formula for retirement security: I > E, or your income should be greater than your expenses.
Step 3: Protect against things going wrong.
You can make well-thought out plans to manage the magic formula described above, and then life can throw you a curveball and upset those plans. To help protect against the unknown, you'll want to put strategies in place to survive life events that can derail your retirement plans. For most people, these are the most common events they should protect against:
- High medical bills
- High expenses for long-term care
- Poor health
- Investment losses
- Death of a spouse
Step 4: Plan for a good life.
I contend that what people really want in their retirement years is to be happy -- and that may or may not translate to the traditional retirement of "not working." What makes you happy? I'm not talking about the temporary pleasures that come from watching a good movie or eating a tasty meal. I'm talking about the things that give you deep satisfaction in life.
For most people, satisfaction with life involves meaningful relationships with family and friends, helping others, learning new things, devoting yourself to a cause you really believe in, and/or applying your skills and experience in a way that's consistent with your values.
It's also important to distinguish between happiness and the lack of unhappiness. You can become unhappy if you don't have enough money to meet your personal living needs, or if you become unhealthy. So it's important to make sure you have enough money to meet your needs and to do everything possible to improve your health (which itself will help you save money).
But once you have enough money and if your health is good, most people want more out of life. Thinking about the things that will give you lasting satisfaction in your later years will provide guidance about just how much money you really need, how to spend your time, and where you should live.
One reader left a comment on one of my recent blog posts that summed it up well:
"I may not have enough retirement income to take a cruise around the world, but I'd rather take a drive around the state with my grandkids anyway."
There are many details you need to learn with each of these steps, and the links in this post are a good place to start. Successfully plan for all four of these steps, and there's a great chance you'll live long and prosper!
More on MoneyWatch:
- The Magic Formula for Retirement Security
- IRAs and 401k: 3 Ways to Generate Lifetime Retirement Income
- When Should You Start Social Security Benefits? Do the Math!
- Asset Allocation: My Grandfather Had it Right
- Will Good Health Save You Money in Retirement or Not?
- Should You Buy Long-Term Care Insurance?
- Retirement Planning Advice From Maslow: How Much Do We Really Need?