You wake up one morning and it feels like you’ve slept through the past decade with retirement either in full swing or around the corner. Sound familiar? Unfortunately, there’s no easy button to press, only a reality that you don’t have near enough for a comfy retirement. Or at least, you think you don’t.
Let’s explore for a moment what is deemed enough for a comfy retirement. A financial planner may advise you that a 401K is not nearly enough to fund your retirement, while a frugal person might be ecstatic to have a mere fraction or less of that amount.
If you’re the type that likes to keep up with the Jones’ and they have a pretty healthy money tree growing in the back yard, expect that enough, will never ever, really be enough. I’m sure you get my point. You can still have a comfortable retirement, but you may have to downsize your dreams somewhat.
What you really need for retirement depends on what expenses you have at the time, what special on-going needs you must fund and how you intend to spend those golden years. A hermit and a frugal one at that, will have ample to live on with a fraction of their previous employment earnings.
But someone who loves to travel and plans on throwing caution to the wind, well – they’ll obviously need a lot more. So in fact, you can have a comfy retirement anywhere in between those two ends of the spectrum. After all, comfy is subject to interpretation. It just may mean you have to downscale your plans a bit, to live within your means.
Maybe you were well on your way to that 401K but by no fault of your own, life happened and you’ve found yourself back at the bottom, wondering if your planned comfy retirement is now a pipe dream. It doesn’t have to be. You may have to realign your sights and alter your course somewhat, but a comfy retirement can still be a reality. Comfy doesn’t have to be pricey.
5 Ways to Trim the Fat but Keep it Comfy:
- Downsize the Dream Home: Just as life happens and we have to take a different course, dreams are also ‘subject to change without notice’. I’m sure you have a vision of your retirement home and it makes all others look skimpy. Sorry, but in today’s economy, a sprawling mansion is just not viable anyway. Even if you can afford to build it, can you cover the ongoing monthly costs of mortgage payments, energy, security, property taxes, insurance and maintenance? Revise your plans to a more modest home – one you can afford, but customize it to suit your lifestyle. A smaller abode will be much easier and cheaper to maintain (and clean) in the long run.
- Pick an Affordable Locale: Some cities have terribly high housing markets. For many, rural areas offer affordability, tranquility, a change of pace and neighbors you actually get to know. Train your sights on an affordable area with those amenities you hope to frequent. Small towns that have health care facilities and reasonable shopping are a good choice. Moving to a new area can be a wonderful adventure.
- Scale Back the Fluff; Go for Memorable: If you were hoping to travel, you still can. Simply scale back your plans a bit and enjoy a few choice places you’ve always wanted to visit. Take trips that mean the most to you and plan more family-oriented vacations, saving money while building memories. Watch for the best deals, without sacrificing security. And avoid debt. If you can’t afford to go abroad, travel closer to home.
- Frugal Doesn’t Mean Doing Without! Many have welcomed a return to the basics – homecooking with occasional meals out; reducing energy, water and food waste; economical or free outings rather than expensive club memberships; and simply getting together with friends…at home. You can easily cut a few frills and still have fun. The last thing you want to do in your golden years is become a ‘couch potato’. That said, not everyone is healthy or able to run a marathon, but being active in mind and spirit is important. Learn a new hobby, revive an old one, become active in seniors’ clubs or be a social butterfly.
- Part-Time Work Can Fill a Social Gap: Many retirees have returned to work part-time, not necessarily because they had to – though the money helps, but they had to ‘get out of the house’. Some miss the social connections and family atmosphere they had at their workplace. A part-time job can provide extra income, social contacts and a sense of helping or passing on skills to others. If you don’t need the money, volunteer programs can be very rewarding.
Preparing for Retirement Tips:
If you expect to retire in the near future, even if a large nest egg is beyond your wildest dreams, you may still have time to get your financial house in order. The object is to reduce your monthly expenses to a manageable point on your expected retirement income.
- Pay Off Your Mortgage: Having a mortgage is tough on a pension, if not impossible. Talk to your banker and revise your monthly mortgage payments either to bi-weekly or weekly payments. Keep it reasonable and manageable, but paying it down is the object of the game. That may mean deferring other frills for now. Mortgage-free is where you want to be.
- Reduce Monthly Expenses: Review where your money goes, pay down small loans and credit card balances. Avoid late payment charges. Start paying cash for gas and other things and avoid debt like the plague. Paying down debt will help you prepare to live on a smaller income.
- Refresh Your Wheels: It’s easier to enter retirement with a vehicle that is maintained and has a hopefully long lifespan. If you’ve been thinking of upgrading your wheels, now may be a good time to do it. But, avoid buying expensive ‘fun’ wheels and go for practical, sensible and smart. Fuel economy, durability, comfort and affordable should be your mainstay. Think of it as your golden chariot (minus the golden part).
- Renew & Review Assets: If your retirement home will be downsized, you’ll need to do the same with appliances, furniture and other assets you own. Put on a retirement ‘cap’ for a moment and have a look at what you have, what you’ll likely need and what should be fixed or replaced. The biggest mistake retirees make is moving to a small house with everything they just can’t seem to part with. Trust me, Sally will understand if you don’t move the five boxes of toys she had as a child. Let her store them.
- Do a Practice Retirement Run: Sound strange? The best way to know for sure if you can manage with a certain amount of monthly income – that is if your future retirement is optional, is to do a test run. I’d recommend at least six months, cause life happens and things tend to break down over time. Set your budget, get set and see how you manage (or not). This may cause you to go back to the ‘Reduce Monthly Expenses’ step above.
Living on a reduced income isn’t easy or pleasant at times, but you can do it with a good attitude, a manageable budget and a few retirement plan tweaks. Above all, keep a sense of humor, enjoy life and believe that you can make it through retirement, regardless the size of your nest egg…be it robin blue or golden hue.