8 Questions to Ask Yourself When Planning a Comfortable Retirement
By Michael Vaughn, CFP®
It’s hard to define exactly how much you will need to save in order to retire comfortably. Some researchers say to expect to spend between 55-80% of your pre-retirement annual income per year during retirement. (1)
But everyone’s situation is different, and this number will depend on a number of factors, such as your healthcare needs, how much debt you have, and what you want to accomplish during retirement. Let’s break down some of the factors with the following important questions to consider as you plan for this important life milestone.
When Do You Want to Retire?
Your age (now and in retirement) is one of the most significant factors to consider when determining how much money you need to save. If you want to retire early, you’ll have fewer years to save for a longer retirement. And if you start claiming Social Security benefits before full retirement age, you’ll also have to factor in a smaller monthly benefit amount.
The state of the stock market can also play a role in how much money you need and how long your money lasts. A Vanguard study found that you have a 31% higher chance of running out of money if you retire near or during a bear market. (2) Of course, you have no way of knowing if we’ll be in a bear or bull market when you retire—but this is a scenario you must account for in your retirement planning.
What Do You Want to Accomplish in Retirement?
Have you thought about the type of lifestyle you want to have in retirement? If you know you want to travel, play golf, or spend time with your grandkids, you need to factor in what that looks like and how much it will cost.
For example, if you plan to travel, you’ll need to consider:
- Will you be traveling stateside or internationally?
- How often do you want to travel?
- How would you like to get there? (e.g., car, plane, or RV)
- Where would you like to stay? (e.g., 5-star hotel, Airbnb, with family members)
- Will you be traveling with your family? Would you like to cover their expenses too?
- Will you maintain your primary residence? If so, who will watch your house and maintain it while you’re gone?
Even if your dream is simply to spend time with your grandkids, you’ll still need to think through your expectations and expenses. To some people, “spending time with grandkids” means babysitting a few times a week. To others, it means footing the bill for all-expenses-paid trips to various destinations of their choosing. Whatever it is you want to do with your time, map out the details so you can have a clear picture of how much you’ll need to make it a reality.
Will You Work During Retirement?
Working during your retirement is a great way to stay active, keep your mind sharp, and maintain a sense of purpose. Some retirees choose to build a second career through consulting. Others decide to pick up a low-stress, part-time job at a family office or retail store. No matter what you do, if you plan to work during retirement, you won’t have to save as much to live comfortably.
Will You Have Debt in Retirement?
Bringing debt into retirement has two major drawbacks:
- It reduces the amount of cash flow you have for housing, travel, hobbies, and other non-essential purchases.
- It can potentially drain your retirement savings quicker, which means you may run out of money or have to adjust your lifestyle down the road.
If you carry debt, take a close look at what you owe and figure out how much cash flow you’ll need in retirement to cover these expenses. Some people prefer to pay off any high-interest consumer debt before they retire. Others will take it one step further by paying down their mortgage and auto loans too.
How Should You Plan for Healthcare Costs?
Right now, you most likely have health insurance through your employer. When you stop working, you’ll need to have a plan for healthcare coverage another way. You may be able to hop on your spouse’s plan, if he or she is still working. Or you can get coverage through the healthcare marketplace. You qualify for Medicare starting at age 65, but even then, you may want additional coverage to pay for prescription drugs, dental care, eye exams, and other expenses.
Retirees sometimes fail to fully plan for expenses during the later stages of retirement, and medical care often tops the list. It’s estimated that retirees will use 15% of their income for health expenses, and the average retired couple could see healthcare expenses of approximately $300,000 after age 65. (3) Don’t let this be a planning oversight that prevents you from retiring comfortably!
Will You Still Support Your Adult Children?
Your kids may be grown and out of the house by the time you retire, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll stop supporting them financially. Over 79% of parents said they still give financial support to their adult children (ages 18 to 34), according to a Merrill Lynch study, (4) and the COVID-19 pandemic caused a boomerang effect, with 67% of adult children still living at home with their parents after returning home in need of financial help. (5)
Even if you aren’t helping your kids out with daily expenses, you may want to contribute to their weddings or down payments on home purchases down the road.
Where Will You Live?
Housing may be your biggest expense in retirement. And even if your home is paid off, you might want to consider downsizing to a smaller place that requires less maintenance and has cheaper utility costs. To save even more, you can think about relocating to an area that has an overall lower cost of living.
What Is Your Family’s Health History?
The average 65-year-old man has a 35% chance of living until age 90; that rate goes up to 46% for a woman the same age. And while life expectancy is unpredictable, if your family has a strong history of living to age 90 and beyond, your chances may be even greater than these odds. In this case, you’ll need to determine if your planned retirement savings will last long enough.
Similarly, if you have known health conditions and/or a family history of health problems that could affect your life span, you’ll want to consider this too.
Plan for Your Unique Needs
Retirement looks different for everyone. Whether you want to travel the world, pick up a new hobby, spend more time with family, or give back to a charity close to your heart, these factors all need careful consideration.
The above questions will help you figure out how much money you might need to retire comfortably. To find the best solution, though, you need to have a retirement income plan that is specifically made for your needs. I would love to help set you on the path to a comfortable retirement. To learn more, schedule your complimentary meeting by emailing me at [email protected], calling (417) 351-2942, or using my online calendar.
Michael Vaughn is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional and Vice President at Pinnacle Family Advisors (PFA) with 21 years of industry experience. Before joining the PFA family, he served clients with investment management and retirement planning at The Mutual Fund Store for 14 years. Michael graduated from Missouri State University with a bachelor’s degree in business administration and management and earned his CFP® certification in 2004. He also served 20 years in the Missouri National Guard, retiring in 2007 as a Major. He currently volunteers on the board of directors for Good Dads and Fellowship of Christian Athletes. Michael is married to Lori and they have two daughters. To learn more about Michael, connect with him on LinkedIn.