You may be in good physical health. But how’s your financial wellness?
It’s an increasingly important answer to know for baby boomers rocketing toward retirement (almost 10,000 hit age 65 every day). While many have planned and saved and are eager for their next chapters, others are headed for serious financial anxiety.
As a group, the median boomer 401(k) balance is just under $180,000, according to a newly released Vanguard report. That by itself — following the 4 percent withdrawal rule — equates to a meager retirement income of just over $7,000 per year. Worse yet, 45 percent of boomers report having no retirement savings at all.
We asked chartered retirement planning counselor Joe Hearn for five smart things those 55+ can do today for better financial health tomorrow.
1. Know your why
“We spend a lot of time thinking about ‘how’ we’re going to retire and how much we’ll need — and that’s important — but don’t forget about ‘why’ you want to retire to begin with,” Hearn says. “You shouldn’t just retire from something. You need to retire to something. That means figuring out what is important to you; what will bring meaning, purpose and fulfillment in retirement. That’s your why, your motivation.”
2. Make a written plan
Retirement plans are complicated with a number of moving parts. Hearn says having a few vague plans in your head simply won’t cut it. “You should have a written retirement plan that, at a minimum, answers where am I, where do I want to be and how am I going to get there? It’s creating a retirement budget and a distribution strategy. It’s considering things like Social Security, inflation, longevity, market risk and dozens of other variables. If you need help, hire a qualified adviser.” Planning for your health care needs is critical as well, from budgeting costs to understanding the different types of coverage. Consulting with a licensed representative can help you decide what fits best into your plan.
3. Take advantage of peak earning years
“When you’re in your 50s, you’re likely earning more money than in previous decades and some major expenses, like college tuition, are likely gone. These are your peak earnings years. Make them your peak savings years as well,” Hearn advises. If you’re over 50, you can save $25,000 per year in your 401(k) and $7,000 per year in your IRA. “These types of accounts make saving simple and automatic. Just decide how much you can save and then have it automatically deducted from your paycheck or bank account each month.”
4. Retire your debt
“Debt allows you to bring future purchases into the present. You get the fancy doodad now in exchange for the promise to keep working and pay for it over time. If you eventually want to retire, you need to stop exchanging future years of your life for current consumption,” Hearn says. “Add up your debt and make a plan to retire debt free.”
5. Tighten your budget and reverse lifestyle bloat
“Most people allow lifestyle bloat to creep in as they get older. Bigger paychecks mean better houses, cars, vacations, wardrobes and gadgets. If you’re going to save more, that means you’re going to have to spend less.” Hearn says the idea isn’t necessarily to live like a miser. It’s more of “a deferred life plan” to define your priorities and goals (your ‘why’) so you can allocate resources more efficiently. “You want to spend on things that are important to you and stop investing in things that aren’t.”