Early retirement is a dream for most Americans, but most would settle for knowing that they’ll have enough savings and investments to let them comfortably enjoy their families, friends, hobbies and travel once they choose to transition out of work life. Yet, according to the Employee Research Institute, in 2015, only 48% of workers (and/or spouses) had tried to calculate how much money they would actually need to save for a comfortable retirement. If you’re still putting off that exercise, or you’re simply guessing, you may be in for a shock. What you think you’ll need and what your savings patterns point to are often two completely different numbers.

Thanks to medical advances, nutrition and many other factors we’re living longer – a sharp two-edged sword when it comes to retirement planning. The average life expectancy in 2010 was 85.2 for a woman and 82.6 for a man, according to the Social Security Administration and that number will continue to increase. It’s also far from an end-point number: you may live a good 30+ years after you wave good-bye to your employer. Add uncertainties about safety nets like Social Security and Medicare, inflation and the future impact of our growing national debt and most adults would rather avoid the retirement equation conversation altogether.

However, it’s arguably the most important discussion you should have with a financial expert. If you haven’t yet had that conversation, do yourself and your loved ones a big favor and schedule that appointment today. You’ll walk away with a clear vision of today’s most effective retirement saving strategies.

Here are just a few of the questions that you’ll need to answer in order to stay the course:

  1. Did you start saving early enough? Compounding is one of the most beautiful words in the English language and if you’re not taking full advantage of its power, you’re significantly short-changing your retirement goal. Steady contributions to a retirement plan or investment portfolio from the day you start your first job will get you to your magic number faster than larger contributions later on. Unfortunately, data shows that Americans are savings well below the annual 10 to 15% rate required for meeting retirement goals.
  2. Are you putting your money to work? Once upon a time parking money in a Certificate of Deposit was a valid retirement strategy. Today, record low interest rates mean that you have to look elsewhere for higher-yielding returns. There are many options that will safeguard your capital but boost your return on investment – make sure your savings aren’t stagnating.
  3. How will rising healthcare costs impact your plans? If you’re counting on Medicare to save the day, you’ll want to change your thinking. Soaring costs impact Medicare, too – to pay for bigger premiums and out-of-pocket costs, your retirement portfolio may need to be tuned up for growth, not just income.
  4. Are you paying yourself first? If you’re just starting your career or you’ve been too busy to sign up for your company’s 401(k) plan or an Individual Retirement Account, you’re doing yourself a disservice. One of the very best practices is to look at retirement savings as a paycheck to yourself. Before you spend your salary on anything else, take the first slice of those dollars and direct them into a tax-qualified account.

Whether you’re 22 or 42, if you don’t know your target retirement age and the monthly income you’ll need to enjoy it, it’s high time to fire up a calculator or meet with a financial professional.

 

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