If you Google "How much money do you need to retire?", you'll get a host of retirement calculators that promise to deliver your own personal retirement "number". While many of these calculators ask good input questions and therefore deliver pretty decent outputs, determining how much money you will truly need is not as easy as filling out an online assessment. After all, many of these calculators even rely on you to tell them "how long you plan to live"! Retiring with enough money really comes down to finding a process that makes sense for you and matches with your lifestyle.
Below is a basic four-step process to set you on the right path, but since retirement is such a personal decision, it is always a good idea to meet with a financial planner who can sit down with you and take a true financial assessment. You'll want to work with someone who will review your current income, expenses, and savings, as well as help you determine how much your standard of living will cost you in retirement.
The first step is analyzing what you spend now because spending is unlikely to slow down in retirement. What does often change is how you spend your money. Start with the essential living costs for keeping a roof over your head and your health in good order, and then list out every other expense (break them down into "necessities" and "non-necessities"). This will help you gain a general understanding of how much you will realistically need to retire.
The second step is putting together a savings plan that is realistic for you and your family. You'll want to contribute to retirement savings and investments that balance risk and reward, all without draining your current lifestyle. If your plan is to rigid and leaves you no room for discretionary spending, it'll be much more difficult to stick with it and you may end up setting yourself up for failure out of the gate. The challenge is finding a balance and managing how and what you spend now to accrue enough money towards retirement.
The third step is setting up your portfolio investments so that they continue to earn money even as you enjoy retirement one day. Instead of watching your paycheck, you’re watching the performance of your portfolio. This where you get your money working for you, by creating a rate-of-return strategy each year to cover your retirement living expenses, without depleting your savings.
Your financial planner will put you in a better position to make retirement decisions, by helping to manage the portfolio and improve your investing strategies. The goal is use their knowledge to navigate your portfolio by keeping your investments on track to support retirement life.
The fourth step involves working with your financial planner to set up a program that continues saving throughout retirement, while taking care of your living expenses, including emergencies, one time out-of-pocket, or unexpected costs.
Whether you’re just starting to save, or you're already retired and need some guidance on maximizing your savings — it starts with a plan. Ask a financial planner with the knowledge of real market events for suggestions about building a solid retirement plan based on your numbers.