Are you planning for retirement? No matter your age or income, the answer should be yes! It’s never too early to get started, and the longer you commit to saving, the better off you’ll be when you’re ready to stop working. It’s never too late to start planning, so don’t let a fear of the future stand between you and the retirement plan you need to live life to the fullest when you hit your golden years.

One of the biggest problems for those approaching retirement is balancing the life they want to live today with the life they want to live in retirement. With a little bit of strategic thinking, you can avoid making mistakes that can postpone or derail your retirement. Here’s what you need to know.

Saving for Retirement

When it comes to saving for retirement, there’s no time like the present. As soon as you have a job, you’re eligible to open an Individual Retirement Account (IRA), which allows you to take advantage of the stock market and other investments in a tax-sheltered account so your earnings grow faster. These investments are not FDIC-protected, so you are at risk of losing money in your ventures, too. That’s why most experts recommend diversifying your holdings to include a mix of stocks and bonds, along with other types of investments like commodities, gold and real estate.

The earlier in life you begin to invest, the more you’ll reap the benefits of compounding interest. This basically means that the interest you earn on your investments will also begin to earn interest, and this boosts your total earnings exponentially over time. If you start saving later in life, you’ll need to save more each month to try to make up for lost time. No matter what your age, you should aim to set aside a portion of your income automatically each month for your retirement — most experts recommend at least 10 percent.

Getting Professional Investment Help

You don’t need an investment planner to set up an IRA or other investments, and most banks and brokerages have made it easier than ever to get your accounts set up online on your own. However, if you feel like you don’t understand your investment options or want help choosing mutual funds, bonds and other investments, talking to an expert can help you understand your financial outlook and devise a strategy for your savings.

Before you seek financial advice, be aware that not all financial planners are created equal. To be sure that you’re working with someone who’s on your side — and who isn’t earning a commission by recommending certain investment products to you — choose an advisor who adheres to the fiduciary standard. A fiduciary promises to work in your best interests and is usually compensated by a set fee to eliminate the conflicts of interest that arise from commissions. This is a great way to make sure the advice you get is trustworthy.

Are You Ready to Retire?

At its most basic, the answer to this question depends on how much income you can expect to earn off of your retirement investments each year and how much money you will need annually for the lifestyle you want. To get a sense of your retirement readiness, start by estimating your spending in retirement. Will your house be paid off? Will your monthly rent and utility needs change? Do you plan to travel more or commute less?

Next, consider your sources of income. Will you work part time, or do you have a passive income source like an investment property? What’s the status of your pension and Social Security benefits? Total up the income you can expect to receive from all sources, including your retirement savings accounts. If you have a gap between what you’d like to spend and what you’ll have in your savings, you’re not quite ready to retire. You’ll either need to increase the amount you save each month right now, or dial back your expectations about how much you can spend.

Choosing Your Housing

In addition to figuring out how much cash you’ll need to retire, it’s important to think through your living situation. Is your current home the one you want to stay in, or would downsizing help you achieve your financial goals more quickly? For many people, selling a large home and moving into a smaller living space gives them the nest egg boost they need to retire the way they want to, and maintaining a smaller household keeps costs lower for the rest of your life.

An adult living community is one way to embrace downsizing while not giving up an active lifestyle. These communities provide modern living amenities without the hassle of doing yard work — unless you like gardening, of course! — and maintaining a building on your own. They also provide a group of like-minded people to spend time with, and you can search for a community based on mutual interests, price, location and much more.

Planning for Long-Term Care

Some retirement communities are connected to assisted living facilities and offer a whole gamut of options for aging in place. If you’re concerned about mobility or health care as you age, a community with on-site nursing, physical therapy and medical care can offer great peace of mind. If this type of living arrangement isn’t ideal for you, it makes sense to put a plan in place for future decades. If you want to stay in your home for the foreseeable future, you can consider adding universal design principles like easy-to-operate door handles and retrofitted ramps now.

It’s also a good idea to include health care costs in your retirement budget. These have only continued to rise over the years, so it’s smart to budget for this. Add a health care cost line to your budget and research the price of prescription drugs and other care you might need to make a reasonable estimate. You may also want to speak to a financial advisor or accountant about tax deductions if you end up spending a certain portion of your income on medical expenses.

The Bottom Line

From where you’ll live and how you’ll spend your time to the nuts and bolts of your retirement investments, there’s a lot to think about when it comes to planning for life after you stop working full-time. Your vision of retirement may change over the years as it draws nearer, so it’s important to be willing to revisit your plans and investment strategies over time. Talk to others to learn about their experiences around housing, medical care and money to help you understand what you want to achieve — and what you want to avoid. The more you learn about retirement, the better prepared you’ll be to live the life you want.

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