Retirement is a black box that is part financial services and part religion. There are gurus promoting their particular brand of retirement strategy everywhere you turn. It is easy to find retirement advice, but difficult to find anyone other than a salesman who seems to be perfectly comfortable with their retirement strategy, if you happen to find someone who even has a retirement strategy.
There are a number of factors that make retirement a challenging subject:
- It deals with large amounts of money we can hardly fathom.
- It deals with a future timeframe we may never see.
- It is not a concept we fully understand.
That last one is particularly challenging since not everyone agrees on what retirement actually means. We have just had it drilled into our heads that it is something that we are all supposed to do at some point in our lives. Not knowing what it is exactly we are planning for makes it that much more difficult to plan for.
Right now, retirement probably feels a lot like something that is completely out of your control. You have to look to the experts to define it for you, and to more experts to tell you how much money you are going to need, and to more experts to tell you how you need to save every month, and more experts to tell you how to invest… When it comes to retirement, the parade of experts never ends, and you are just along for the ride. Here are some things you can do to take control of your own retirement:
Do Your Own Research
If you have to rely on the opinion of experts, don’t just get a single opinion. BankingSense.com is a place where you can find many opinions and insights on matters of finance. If you are trying to figure out how much you will get from Social Security, you will want to check out this piece by Natalie Cooper, where she says “If you are like most Americans, you are working hard and dreaming of the day when you will be able to retire. However, you need to plan ahead and start thinking about how you are going to live comfortably when you are no longer working, and Social Security is part of the plan to manage your golden years.”
That is not to say that there is no value in sitting down with an expert or two. But before you can get the most out of that kind of meeting, you need to already be informed on the important issues. The best way to take control of your retirement is by taking control of your education process.
Create Your Own Definition
How old do you have to be to retire? There are people retired at 50. Others live to be 100 and never get around to it. Does retirement mean that you stop working for a paycheck? Plenty of retirees quit their lifelong jobs, then pick up part time work at Walmart, just to stay active and useful. What if you don’t want to travel the world and be a professional beach bum for the entirety of your golden years? That seems to be the only model of retirement sold by investment brokers.
Here’s a thought: Throw away the playbook everyone else is using, and define retirement for yourself. Maybe you don’t actually need to save $10 million for retirement if you don’t plant to be a jet-setter living the lifestyles of the rich and lazy for your last 35 years of life.
Don’t Forget Your Health
When a 21 year old thinks about retirement, he thinks about himself with the mind and body of a 21 year old. The people on retirement brochures look like they are 45 at most. If you really do plan to spend the final 20 to 30 years of your life without putting in an honest day’s work, you are going to need to budget more than money. You are going to need to budget your health.
You are going to have to do fewer of those things that will result in constant knee and joint pain in your later years. Smoking is going to have to stop right now! And healthy eating has to be on today’s menu. By educating yourself, defining your goals, and minding your health, you can take control of your own retirement.