10 Items for Your Retirement Checklist

Don't retire without making these important decisions first.

10 Items for Your Retirement Checklist
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By Tom Sightings

A typical job lasts for about five years, according to Forbes magazine. The average marriage lasts about eight years, according to the Census Bureau. But figures from the Social Security Administration show that the average American is retired for over 20 years.

Deciding when and where to retire is one of the most important decisions of our lives, and everyone should do their homework before taking this big step. If you're already retired, you should continue to reassess your situation and be ready to adapt to changing conditions as well as your changing aspirations. You will probably want to look deeper into certain issues. But this checklist is a good place to start.

1. Figure out what you want to do in retirement. If you approach retirement like an extended vacation, you'll probably be disappointed. There's nothing wrong with wanting to do more gardening or play more golf. But most satisfied retirees also look beyond themselves to set real-life goals, whether it's starting their own business, writing a family history, traveling to all seven continents or taking care of their grandchildren.

2. Are you going to work? According to one survey, three quarters of today's workers expect to work part time after they retire. But only about one quarter of retirees actually do. Why the difference? Many people believe their old employer will hire them back as a consultant, or they think they can land an interesting new job. But expectations often don't match reality. If you plan to work after retirement, scope out your opportunities ahead of time.

3. Decide where you're going to live. The typical retirement dream involves riding off into the sunbelt, golf clubs and beach umbrella in hand. Many retirees do take that route and are happy for it. Others decide to move near their grandchildren or retire overseas. But the majority of retirees never leave home. They may downsize, but they stay close to friends and relatives.

4. Figure out your health insurance. For most people this means signing up for Medicare at age 65, along with a supplemental insurance plan. But if you retire before age 65,
you need to obtain your own health insurance. Many people can keep coverage from an old employer, or get insurance through a professional association. The Affordable Care Act also now brings new options to early retirees. Whatever your situation, make sure your health insurance doesn't lapse.

5. Take inventory of your assets. The main difference between working and retirement is that you no longer get a paycheck in retirement. Many experts insist you need $1 million in assets to support a comfortable retirement. Some say less; others say more. You should take a realistic picture of your financial assets, including pensions, retirement accounts and all other resources (don't forget to factor in your debts) to see if you have the resources to support yourself for 20 or 30 years.

6. Determine where your retirement income will come from. You must turn your assets into the stream of income you'll need to pay your bills. Add up your monthly income from pensions, Social Security and any other sources. Then figure out how you're going to produce income from your retirement accounts and personal savings. It can be a complicated process, so consult a professional if you need help.

7. Decide when to sign up for Social Security. Conventional wisdom says you receive full benefits once you hit full retirement age, which is 66 for most of us. The better way to look at it: you're eligible to begin benefits anytime between age 62 and 70, on a sliding scale. The longer you wait, the bigger your check.

8. Account for unexpected expenses. Consider how you'll handle non-routine expenses in retirement such as a large medical expense or major home repair. Will you have to help support a grandchild? Do you want to leave an inheritance for children or a favorite charity? Also, consider the effects of inflation over time and the risk of outliving your assets.

9. Consult your spouse. Retirement planning is nothing but a pipe dream if you haven't talked it over with your significant other. The sooner you start talking, the better your planning will be. Also, share your hopes and aspirations with your children and close friends so they know where you're headed.

10. Make a plan. Now that you've collected your thoughts and analyzed your situation, don't just sit there. Make your retirement plan. Dream big. Think outside the box. Share your thoughts. Then get ready to enjoy the retirement of your dreams.

Tom Sightings is a former publishing executive who was eased into early retirement in his mid-50s. He lives in the New York area and blogs at Sightings at 60, where he covers health, finance, retirement and other concerns of baby boomers who realize that somehow they have grown up.

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Retirement??? What's that?

December 29 2013 at 10:58 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Don't trust Poker Players or invest your money in a Poker game!

December 29 2013 at 7:55 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

11. Don\'t get laid off before you retire. 12.Don\'t get sick. 13. Don\'t get swindled like Madoff investors.14. Don\'t get hit with a major disaster like Katrina or Sandy.

December 29 2013 at 5:26 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

My checklist was easy . . .

Unemployment running out? Yup!
Turning 62 a week after it does? Yup!
Hows the money? Extremely tight but barely doable!
Any other choice (other than losing everything and ending up in a cardboard condo)? Nope!

There, see? That was easy.

December 29 2013 at 2:13 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

I retired from the active military after 24 long years in the service, to include tours in Vietnam, Grenada, Panama, Korea, Germany, and Honduras.

I was 41 years old at the time (enetered active service at age 17) and within a year met my current wife and married her. We both worked for the County Welfare Office where we lived and I retired at age 62 with 20 years retirement. Now I have to wait another three years for her to retire.

Bottom line is that I decided to draw on my SSA-Retirement at age 62 instead of 67. If you crunch the numbers, you will find out that you will have to wait until about the age of 80 years to reap the benefits of waiting. I am now making more "take Home" pay being retired than when I was working.

And yes...I am still working part time......... in the same position that I was in at the welfare office but working only 16 hours per week (cannot earn more than $15, 240.00 per year or they will take one dollar for every two dollars I earn from my SSA-Retirement). However, next year when I turn 66, I will be able to work as many hours that I want. Not bad, really!

December 29 2013 at 10:46 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

I am 56, have an MBA and up until earlier this year had a very good management position and 6 figure salary. That's when my brother contacted me about his Hep C. He carried this for several years but was forced into retirement since he can no longer function on his own. That's when I made the decision to resign with my 750k in 401k dollars, small pension and 105k in my Schwab account and move 90 minutes to live with him. He needs constant care, rides to dialysis and doctors appointments and other support. Not how I envisioned early retirement but sometimes this is what life deals us. He is my only brother and single. I have no regrets.

December 28 2013 at 9:58 PM Report abuse +6 rate up rate down Reply

Life is all about the choices we make and the paths we choose. I started looking down the road towards retirement in my early 40s. As soon as I was eligible for my company\'s 401K I started putting in as much as I could. Every year when I got a raise I always gave half to my 401K and I kept half (you have to reward yourself too). In January when I get my annual raise I will be puttintg in 30 percent every paycheck. I also contribute to a Roth IRA every month. When I turned 50 yrs old I took out long term care insurance through my employer to take avantage of the group rates. My daily benefit is now at $200 per day. My premium is $22.48 twice a month. Next month when I turn 66 I still will not draw my SS but instead reach over and draw my spousal benefit from my husband and leave my SS alone to earn delayed retirement credits of 8 percent a year until I am 70. While drawing my spousal benefit, I can continue to work and earn as much as I want and keep right on contributing to my 401K. I plan on working 2 more years. Why am I still working? I have 6 weeks vacation a year with an optional week if I want to take one (that one is without pay) which gives me plenty of time to go up to summer home on Lake Superior , spend time with the grandkids and do all that I want to do. I enjoy my job, it keeps me engaged and out in the community. I like getting up every day and having a purpose and a place to be,. And, I have great health and figure why not! Like I said, life is all about the choices we make and the paths we choose.

December 28 2013 at 8:23 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to CommonSense's comment

That's all fine and good but it seems like you have a bit of an attitude

I'm so glad that your life has worked out as planned. However, I find your attitude to be presumptuous. I'm sure you have heard the saying "The best laid plans of mice and men". There are circumstances in life beyond our control that impact our plans. People plan and they lose jobs, illness strikes, family emergencies arise and so on. Keep knocking on wood to keep your plans on track. God forbid you should have to take a different path.

December 29 2013 at 2:32 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to ddbphd4's comment

I don't see an attitude there - just a bit of (justified) bragging from someone who has planned diligently and carefully, and so far is reaping the benefits of that careful planning.

On the other hand, my husband and I did the same kind of careful planning and retired early. We bought a condo on the beach. Two years later, he had triple bypass surgery - and 2 years after that, he was diagnosed with late-stage cancer.

We aren't able to travel, golf, or enjoy activities we previously enjoyed; on the other hand, my husband is convalescing in a recliner overlooking a warm beach (rather than being holed up in our old house, surrounded by snow).

Life is what you make it!

December 29 2013 at 4:34 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down

even some people with lots of money love to work to keep busy its up to the person ,just do the best you can and have a good time in life.

December 28 2013 at 7:49 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to trs51061's comment

I retired at age 62; have enough dollars to not worry about it.

THAT is when the problems started. Wife can't retire for about another 4 years, and sitting around the house was taking its toll.

I was rehired as a part time person in the same job I had when I retired. Working only 16 hours per week but the extra coinage and work really helps the soul.

Don't retire until you can start doing things, like traveling or whatever. It could be an early death sentence!

December 29 2013 at 10:49 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

I retired at age 62 and I am happy I did.

December 28 2013 at 6:47 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply

I think the biggest thing that I hadn\'t planned for was the minimum amount the government requires people to take from their 401K when they reach 70 and a half. I didn\'t know that was required. I had planned on letting that accumulate till I needed it. I don\'t need to take out 20-25 thousand when I\'m that old. Now I plan on taking more leading up to my 70\'s so I won\'t be required to take as much later. I know it\'s a horse apiece but the requirement came out of left field.

December 28 2013 at 6:05 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply