Wrapping your head around retirement isn’t too hard. With a little bit of discipline and organization, you can set up the 15-minute retirement plan of your dreams—without actually setting any money aside.
Of course, actually getting your finances, lifestyle and expectations in order for retirement takes more effort. Whether you’re beginning your retirement journey in your 20s or just getting around to planning in your 50s, you need to do these six crucial things now.
1. Make a Household Budget
Just do it. You instinctively know the most important rule of budgeting: Don’t spend more than you earn. Take stock of your recurring and one-off expenses, and build a sensible, reasonably frugal budget around that core concept.
2. Start Saving
Once you’ve got a firm budget in hand, you can start socking some of the surplus away. Nothing fancy—for starters, you can simply dump the money left over at the end of the month into an FDIC-insured savings account. It won’t grow much, at least not in the current low-interest environment, but it’ll be there when you need it.
3. Start Investing
The next, scarier step: Start investing. At this point, you’ll likely need to speak with, and probably hire, an investment adviser. Make sure you’re working with someone you trust and understand. It’s your money, after all—your best interests are all that matter.
4. Visualize Your Retirement
What do you want your retirement to look like? How long do you expect it to last? Do you have any special needs that will raise its cost? What, if anything, do you want to leave to your children?
All these questions, and many more, will inform your retirement planning. Don’t be shy about talking any of them through with your adviser—that’s what they’re paid for, after all.
5. Improve Your Financial IQ
Knowledge is power, no matter the subject. The subject of retirement is more important than most, so it stands to reason that you should do everything possible to arm yourself with financial knowledge ahead of your retirement push. Learn the lingo, even if it seems overwhelming at first. You’ll get more comfortable as you go.
6. Avoid Unnecessary Debt
Some forms of debt, like first mortgages, are fine, even useful. Others, like credit card debt accrued from personal shopping habits, are questionable at best. Those forms of debt are the ones to avoid.
If you’re already in debt, you know firsthand that the road to debt-free living is long and winding. Attractive solutions, like debt consolidation, have significant drawbacks that may give you pause. The one thing you absolutely need as you attempt to extricate yourself from debt is discipline.
Retirement Is a Marathon, Not a Sprint
You might draw up your retirement plan in 15 minutes, but saving and investing for retirement is a years-long affair—a true marathon, not a sprint. If you haven’t gotten started yet, there’s still time, but you need to be prepared to stay in for the long haul.
What are you doing to prepare for retirement right now?