How old will you be when you retire? Will you be 55 or 60? Will you be 65 or 70? And is the number you've settled on today larger than the one you might have picked a year or three ago?
The market may have come roaring back -- as I write this, the Dow Jones Industrial Average is over 11,000, 68% higher than its March 2009 low. And many people who have continued to contribute to their retirement accounts have seen a return to 2007 levels. But the number of people who are planning to postpone retirement is up 24% in the past year, according to the Retirement Confidence Survey from the Employee Benefits Research Institute. The top two reasons? The poor economy (29%) and a change in employment (22%).
Retirement Expert Bill Losey, author of Retire In A Weekend, isn't surprised. He's heard those reasons -- and two other biggies from the clients he's helping transition into retirement. The first is that many people got "significantly more defensive in their investing in the last year so their portfolios are still 10% to 25% off their highs. They haven't participated to the extent that they would have if they had left well enough alone."
The second has less to do with money than mindset. "There are a lot of people who don't know what they'd do in retirement," he says. "They're afraid they'll be bored." Losey cites a client of his, a 66-year-old man who has been with the same company for 40 years. He approached Losey four years ago to start planning so that he'd be able to retire at age 66 and maintain his standard of living. He could well afford it, Losey says. But he's still working. Why? He doesn't know what else to do. "This guy has always said he likes to do odd jobs around the house, but he's done them all. And he's done all of the odd jobs his two kids have for him, too. So he's leery about putting in his notice."
But let's say, you're not leery. You have a list of things you'd like to tackle in retirement. And you would like to do it at age 55 or 60 or 65 -- without postponing. Is that still possible? Losey says yes --- if you do the following:
Put pen to paper. If you stopped working, how much would it cost you to live out your retirement dream -- and what potential sacrifices or changes are you willing to make to secure it? For instance, let's say you've always figured you'd maintain a home in New York but spend a good part of the year in Arizona. Would you be willing to give up that New York residence and live in Arizona full time? You could pocket some cash from that primary residence because Arizona properties are cheaper, plus you'd face lower property taxes and no income taxes. On a smaller scale, could you go from two cars to one? Losey's retirement mantra: Downsize and simplify. "People who have the best retirements don't have the big house, multiple cars, big overhead. For them, it's more about experiencing life."
Ramp up your savings now. If making cuts in your future lifestyle isn't enough to secure the dream, you need to save more starting right now. How? Check out lozo.com a new site devoted to saving money on everything from auto repair to internet service to the family pet. Once you figure out how much you can trim your monthly bills, automatically transfer the money out of your spending (i.e. checking) account -- do it the day your paycheck lands-- into a place you won't touch it, like your IRA. Beef up your savings even more by depositing any windfalls, tax refunds, bonuses, birthday checks (if you're still fortunate enough to receive them!)
Protect yourself from the market's moves. Finally, three to five years before you retire, start moving money out of your investment portfolio into safe havens like cds and money market accounts. By the time you slow down, you want to have three years of living expenses in cash if you'll be drawing income from a pension plus Social Security and five years of living expenses in cash if you'll be drawing down a 401(k) (or other similar retirement account) and Social Security, says Losey. "That will allow your portfolio to weather the ups and downs," he says.
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